Any unwanted and repeated observation by an individual or a group towards another person is called stalking. It is interrelated to intimidation and harassment, and includes following and monitoring the victim. Stalking is defined differently in psychiatry or psychology and in legal term for a criminal offence.
As per a report by the National Centre for Victims of Crime, any unwanted contact between two people that directly or indirectly transmits a threat or puts the victim in fear is considered stalking. According to stalking defence attorney, though, the standard is usually somewhat stricter.
Typically, offenders stalk or harass their victims online, by telephone or post, by direct personal contact or through a combination of these methods. Men and women are both victims and offenders of stalking. Offenders generally remain anonymous for long periods of time.
A recent survey for crimes in England and Wales suggests there may be around 120,000 victims of stalking every year. Over this period police recorded 52,500 offences involving harassment. Conviction rates are quite low, around 4% or less depending on which of the above two figures is taken into account.
What is Stalking?
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was amended by the Protection of Freedoms Act to include stalking as a criminal offence. The amendments came into force in November 2012. The new Act of 2012 added two new offences to the 1997 Act.
These are stalking and a more aggravated form of stalking which causes the victim to fear violence or suffer serious alarm or distress. To be pronounced guilty of stalking, the offender must, on at least two occasions, indulge in behaviour that causes harassment or distress to the victims. According to the 2012 Act, stalking is considered as harassment that may include persistent and repeated contact or attempts to contact a victim. Lawyers for harassment cases have provided a list of examples;
- Contacting, or attempting to contact a person by any means
- publishing any statement or other material relating or pretend to relate to a person, or appear to originate from a person
- Monitoring of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication of a person
- loitering in any public or private place
- Interfering with any person’s property
- keeping a watch or spying on a person
The above mentioned types of behaviour will not be considered as harassment charges if conduct is for lawful purpose, like police and other agencies engaged in maintaining law and order. Also, if the course of conduct was reasonable in the particular circumstances, then also it will not amount to harassment.
Additionally, the 2012 Act has also clarified references to harassment causing fear in the 1997 Act. It has used the phrase ‘substantial adverse effect on the usual day-to-day activities’. For example, victims fitting more security devices, changing routes to work, etc. They may even arrange for others to pick up children from school to avoid the attention of a stalker. All these can affect the lifestyle of the victim. They live in constant fear and have less freedom.
Normally stalking is punishable by a fine and/or up to 51 weeks imprisonment. The second one, which is aggravated and more serious offence,(causing fear of violence or serious alarm or distress) is punishable by up to five years imprisonment. The police have the authority to get a warrant from the Magistrates to enter and search premises for evidence of both the offences.
What to do when you are stalked?
- Contact the police at the earliest. The sooner you take help from the police or send a stalking defence attorney’s notice the more likely are they to stop. Ignoring repeated harassment is not a solution.
- Do not agree to communicate with or meet the stalker. This may put you at risk and weaken the prosecution’s case against the stalker. Try to be normal and not get upset. If you show any emotions, that may embolden the stalker to repeat the offence.
- Let neighbours, friends and colleagues know about it. They can act as witnesses besides protecting and supporting you.
- Keep details of what is happening with time and dates. Also, record phone conversations and keep a record of any encounter with the stalker and their behaviour. Note down the registration number if any car was used. Also, if possible, use a camera as it will help in identifying the stalker and locations and the frequency of the incident.
- Always keep personal attack alarm to use when in imminent danger.
- Save emails and other harassment causing materials. Only open emails if you know the origin. Make sure your computer is properly secured.
- If you are not sure about any post you receive, give it to the police without opening it, or wear gloves to avoid erasing any finger prints.
All the above points will help your stalking defence lawyer in your case.