National Stalking Awareness Week is taking place this week (22 – 26 April 2024). The theme this year is “Join Forces Against Stalking” and highlights the importance of multi-agency approach to help support victims. In support of this campaign, FM Family Law will be sharing content across our platforms to raise awareness around stalking and what can be done to combat it.

In this article, we explain what stalking is, the types of behaviours to look out for, practical tips for staying safe and where to turn to for help. The sophisticated ways in which digital technology is currently being used by perpetrators is also addressed.

What is stalking?

Stalking and harassment is when someone repeatedly behaves in a way that makes the victim feel scared, distressed or threatened. It can often be combined or overlap with other offences such as harassment. There are different types of stalking and harassment and anyone can be a victim. 

Stalking and harassment are criminal offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Stalking and similar behaviours that take place in the context of relationships or former relationships are considered to be forms of domestic abuse. An application can be made to court for an order preventing a perpetrator from contacting the victim or coming near the victim if they need protection – this is known as a non-molestation order.

Examples of stalking behaviours

  • Fixated, obsessive, unwanted and repeated behaviour that makes the victim feel pestered and harassed
  • Following the victim
  • Standing/loitering around places the victim frequents (whether public or private)
  • Unsolicited post and gifts
  • Repeatedly texting, emailing and leaving voice messages
  • Befriending the victim’s friends and family
  • Digital stalking – Cyber-stalking or ‘tech abuse’

Digital stalking

Common internet-connected devices such as smartphones and laptops are routinely used for online stalking and other forms of abuse. Perpetrators may exploit location tracking features of certain apps such as Apple’s ‘Find My’ function. Perpetrators may also use dedicated spyware designed to covertly monitor and gather information about a device, allowing them to look at messages and photographs, access a device’s camera, record screen activity and track its location without the victim’s knowledge or consent.  

Home security systems, wearable devices and remote control of internet-connected home appliances can also be used by the perpetrator.

Things you can do

If any of the above examples apply to you, and the behaviour is making you feel fearful, harassed or anxious, then know that it is not something you should have to live with, and there is help available for you.

  • Keep a diary– Write down the date, time, location and details of what happens. It’s also a good idea to include information about any other witnesses who can confirm what happened.

  • Keep copies of all communication – letters, text messages and emails, and take screenshots of other online messages (e.g. on Facebook or WhatsApp).

  • Do not engage your stalker.

  • Be physically safe  – carry a personal alarm, vary your daily routines, instal an alarm or security camera at home and make sure windows and doors are locked.

  • Don’t block your stalker on social media – this can escalate their behaviour if you are already connected. Instead, limit what you post, who sees your posts, or set up a different account.

  • Don’t give away personal information – You can carry out an online search of yourself to see what information is already published about you and take any necessary steps to remove or secure it.

  • Digital check – Turn off location and tagging settings, keep antivirus software up to date and, if you think your phone or laptop has been hacked, stop using them and either take them to a specialist or replace them.

  • Inform & report. Secrecy fuels stalking behaviour – if nobody knows what is going on that gives the stalker the power to keep going. If people around you know, they can help keep you safe. You can report what is happening to the police either by calling 101 (if it’s not an emergency) or 999 (if you are in immediate danger).
  • Get legal advice – consider the possibility of a non-molestation order.

If you are, or someone you know is, being stalked or harassed, get in touch with our team of approachable family law experts at FM Family Law. We have extensive experience in obtaining personal protective injunctions such as non-molestation orders to achieve an end to unwanted behaviours, as well as working with criminal law specialists who can advise on the criminal process.

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Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any specific circumstance.