What is stalking?
Stalking refers to a pattern of behaviour, where one person becomes fixated or obsessed with another person. The behaviour is unwanted by the victim and causes them "fear, alarm and distress".
A useful way to consider if behaviour is stalking is if it Fixated, Obsessive, Unwanted and Repeated (FOUR) and intrusive.
Someone who is perpetrating stalking behaviour will know that their actions are unwanted but carry on regardless.
Stalking can cause immense distress and fear to a victim. It is also a warning marker for violent behaviour.
Stalking behaviour is not defined in the law, but examples include:
- Following, surveillance, spying.
- Standing, loitering around victim's home, school, place of work etc.
- Verbal abuse or public humiliation.
- Unsolicited mail, postcards, photographs, gifts (from the endearing to the bizarre).
- Repeatedly texting / emailing / leaving voicemails.
- Planting spyware, viruses into victim's computer.
- Hacking into victim's computer, email, social media accounts.
- Spreading rumours, discrediting.
- Threats / violence against the victim, their family, friends or pets.
- Damage to property, stealing belongings.
- Physical violence, sexual assault, rape, murder.
- Attempting to take the children away, limit access by making false allegations or engaging in parental alienation.
- "Befriending" victim's friends or family to get closer to them.
- Stealing and disturbing post / mail.
- Going through rubbish bins; leaving offensive material in the garden.
- Breaking into victim's car, home or office.
- Interfering and/or damaging personal belongings.
- Threatening freedom by making false allegations to the police.
- Blackmail - threatening to divulge information that would be harmful.
- Invading personal space by standing too close or brushing against victim.
- Seeking physical proximity by applying for jobs where victim work; joining same gym / church / professional / social / sports groups or clubs; moving into neighbourhood or building etc.
- Leaving or sending threatening objects.
- Ordering goods in victim's name and address.
- Identity theft - pretending to be victim.
- Running up debt in victim's name.
- Cyber stalking and bullying - social networks, websites, online forums, online chat rooms, instant messaging.
Stalking is against the law and carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. It also enables the courts to impose a Restraining Order to protect victims.
Why do people stalk?
Research has shown there are 5 reasons or motivations behind stalking behaviour.
Former partners or rejected exes who are fixated/jealous/obsessed. They will do whatever (they think) it takes to resume the relationship. Once they've lost hope of getting back-together, they will aim to punish their ex-partner. This can sometimes involve using any children or divorce proceedings.
Resentful stalkers blame others for a real or perceived grievance. They become fixated/obsessed by the injustice and their aim is to take revenge on others for the suffering they've endured.
Intimacy Seeker stalkers are intent on having a relationship with their victim. These stalking offenders often have a mental illness.
Incompetent Suitor stalking is motivated by a desire to have a relationship with someone - but often without an understanding of how this might be achieved.
Predatory Stalkers are individuals who usually have a deviant sexual motivation. The stalking behaviours in themselves can be a source of sexual satisfaction but they can also escalate into sexual violence.
You can find more about the motivations behind stalking from the team at Stalking Risk Profile: https://www.stalkingriskprofile.com/
The Impact of Stalking:
Stalking has a devastating impact on people's lives - with the impact often spreading far beyond the individual victim. For many people, the impact of stalking will be life-long.
Stalking can affect every aspect of a person's life - causing physical, psychological, emotional, and practical harm. Notably many victims will make significant changes to their life to reduce the risk and avoid contact with the stalker: moving home, leaving work, changing their routines and stopping social activities.
The risk from stalking should not be under-estimated. Evidence shows us that stalking is a 'high risk' behaviour, which can lead to serious violence. Research conducted by the University of Gloucestershire found that 94% of Domestic Homicides featured stalking behaviour. Further information about Domestic Abuse can be found here.
The impact of stalking includes:
- Fatigue and sleeping problems.
- Physical illnesses, such as headaches, stomach and gastrointestinal issues, health palpitations.
- Fear and anxiety.
- Self-doubt and self-blame.
- Suicidal thoughts and/or attempts to harm themselves.
- Feeling helpless.
- Difficulties trusting others.
- Avoiding normal activites in life and changing your routine,
- Moving away.
- Changing your appearance.
A 2018 study (Scottish Crime and Justice Survey) found that:
- 94% of victims said they made changes to their life or work patterns.
- 53% said they changed or left jobs.
- 39% said they moved home.
- 83% reported increased anxiety.
- 75% felt powerless.
- 74% had experienced disrupted sleep.
- 55% said they suffered from fatigue.
- 55% had flashbacks and intrusive thoughts.
- 24% had suicidal thoughts.
Recognising the signs of stalking
Many people will imagine stalking to be committed by a stranger, associating it with horror films or celebrities. Understandably, people find it difficult to contemplate that someone they know might be capable of stalking behaviour.
With the most common form of stalking being committed by a current or ex-partner, it is worth additionally considering the signs of Domestic Abuse.
Warning signs for stalking include:
Contacting you constantly:
You might find that someone:
- Is continually ringing, texting, emailing or contacting you via social media.
- Wants to know what you are doing at all times.
- Following you on social media and commenting on everything you post.
Obtaining information about you:
If someone seems to know information about you before you have provided it, this can be a warning sign for stalking. With today's technology, this is becoming easier than it used to be.
Whilst it can sometimes initially feel nice that someone is interested and asking about your day, inquiring continuously about you, your location, and what you are doing is a warning sign.
Showing up unannounced:
Repeated unannounced (and undesired) contact from someone is a red flag for stalking. Similarly, if you receive unwanted, unnecessary or inappropriate gifts, this is a further warning sign.
If you are concerned you might be at risk, please seek advice and support. Further information can be found here.
Safety Advice - Stalking
If you or someone you know is a victim of stalking, it can be a very frightening time. We would urge you to seek advice and support, and to report the incidents to the Police.
Specific information about making a safety plan and advice for victims of Domestic Abuse can be found here.
Remember that responsibility for the abusive behaviour always sits with the abuser - it is not the fault of the victim. The most important thing is to keep yourself safe and the advice below is designed to help with this.
- Take stalking seriously. We know that sometimes - particularly when the behaviour first starts - it can be hard to recognise the risk it might pose, but it is important to not dismiss your concerns.
- Report stalking to the Police. Call 999 in an emergency or use 101 in a non-emergency situation.
- Be aware of how to make a silent solution phone call (see information below).
- If possible, have a phone nearby at all times, preferably one that the stalker has no knowledge of and has never accessed. It can be useful to have specialist numbers and support services pre-programmed.
- Maintain a log / diary of all behaviours and contacts from the perpetrator, even if it seems to be 'innocuous'.
- Keep a record of all Police incident numbers, crime references and the names of any Police Officers you speak with.
- Consider purchasing home security cameras, motion sensor lights, DASH-CAMS and Ring Doorbells.
- Keep all physical evidence you can and screenshot any messages that come in.
- Report ALL further contact to police - even 1 single text!
- Let your employer and trusted family/friends know so that they can offer you support.
- Try to vary routines: such as your route to work or shops.
- Stop all contact and communication with the person stalking you.
It is worth spending time reviewing your IT security and safety:
- Consider all devices - phones, laptops, gaming systems and tablets - and those of your children.
- Change all your passwords.
- Turn off location settings on mobiles and social media.
- Restrict access to your social media accounts.
- Block phone numbers.
- Review all apps on your devices and those of your children.
Making a 'silent solution' phone call:
Sometimes you can be in danger, but unable to speak out loud. In these situations, you can make a 'silent solution' phone call:
- Dial 999.
- Listen to the questions from the 999 operator
- Respond by coughing or tapping the handset if you can
- If prompted, press 55.
This will let the operator know it is a genuine emergency (not a prank call) and send assistance.
Please note: it is not recommended to do this unless it is absolutely necessary - as it can be difficult and slower for emergency staff to locate you. Even speaking a few brief words, such as your location, whilst pressing 55, can help Police get to you more quickly.