Stalking – what can you do if someone is bothering you?
Knowing that someone is deliberately targeting you, and is invading your personal space (both physically or electronically) or has your information and is using it to intimidate you, is a deeply unpleasant and sometimes dangerous issue. The most obvious advice is that if you feel a stalker could physically harm you, call the police. However, they will not always take action straight away, and you may have to consider other ways of dealing with the situation.
Minimising a stalker’s opportunities
Stalkers feed on information, so one of the best ways to make it hard for someone to learn your habits is by minimising the amount of personal information you share. Today, stalkers have a direct route into your home via social media and the internet, so limiting the amount of personal information you put out there can stop an online stalker taking that step and becoming a ‘real world’ invader.
Think carefully before putting up pictures of your home that show a house number or street name, for example, and make sure you blank out vehicle number plates so a stranger cannot work out where you live.
What if the stalker is an ex-partner?
Ex-partners will already have a wealth of personal information about you. Again, if there is a risk that they may become violent (especially if there is a previous history of domestic violence) then your first port of call should be the police. You can also use the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to bring a civil action or even a criminal prosecution against your stalker. The Act defines harassment as including behaviour that causes distress or alarm.
Under the Act, you must have experienced at least two incidents by the same person (or group) for it to be defined as harassment. If you want to bring a civil case against a person then you will need to make a claim within six years of when the incidents took place.
If you are successful, then the courts can issue an injunction that orders the person to stop harassing you. If they do not comply with that injunction, then it becomes a criminal matter and the police can push for a prosecution.
The most common form of stalking and harassment now happens online, and the number of cases involving cyber-bullying is on the rise. Once again, the level of harassment will depend on how much access the person has to you and your information, so in the first instance the best thing to do is block them. All social media platforms now give you the ability to block a person quickly and easily, and in the majority of cases, that should solve the problem.
However, if they are determined to harass you online then you can report their actions to the platform provider, who in extreme cases may be able to either remove the individual from the platform or notify the police.
It is important to make sure you have evidence of their actions, so if they are harassing you via instant messaging, take screen-shots of the conversations.
Try not to engage with them, as this only gives a stalker ‘validation’ that their campaign is having the desired effect. In many cases, simply stonewalling the person completely will mean that they eventually lose interest. Remember, stalkers are little more than bullies who get their kicks from causing others to feel uncomfortable or uneasy. By demonstrating to them that their tactics are not working, they will often simply give up.
If, however, they continue to harass and intimidate you, especially if they start to threaten physical violence or that they are going to ‘come and get you’, contact the police immediately. The law takes stalking much more seriously these days, and it is no longer seen as a ‘victimless crime’.
If your stalker is known to you then contact a legal representative who can issue them with a ‘cease and desist’ warning note. If that does not work, then they will be able to advise you on your next course of action either through the civil courts or, if the situation is serious, work with the police to bring the stalker to justice.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.