If someone approaches you or rings/texts you on two or more occasions then they may commit an offence of harassment. The behaviour must form a course of conduct, this means related behaviour on two or more occasions. The further apart the incidents are, the less likely there is to be an offence of harassment. However, all the circumstances of the incident will be taken into account when determining if an offence has been committed.
The law uses a 'reasonable person' test, this means that if it was felt that a person of reasonable firmness, i.e. the average person on the street, would not find the behaviour to be oppressive, alarming or distressing, the offence is not committed. The offender must also be aware that the course of conduct they are pursuing would cause the victim to be alarmed or distressed.
If someone pursues a course of conduct that amounts to harassment as described above, then this may amount to an offence of stalking if the conduct involves acts associated with stalking. Whilst there is no strict legal definition of 'stalking', legislation gives examples of acts that could amount to stalking. This includes, but is not limited to:
- following a person;
- contacting or attempting to contact a person by any means;
- publishing a statement or other material relating to a person or purporting to relate to a person or purporting to originate from a person;
- monitoring the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication;
- loitering in any place (whether public or private);
- interfering with any property in the possession of a person;
- watching or spying on a person.
Fear of violence or serious alarm or distress
If someone is threatening you with violence then there is a more serious offence of harassment with fear of violence or stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm or distress.
For the first offence to be committed, a person must engage in a course of conduct which amounts to harassment and causes another to fear that on at least two occasions, violence will be used against them. The person must know that their behaviour will cause fear of violence on each of those occasions.
In relation to conduct that amounts to stalking, the offence can be committed in two ways. Firstly if the conduct causes a person to fear that on at least two occasions, violence will be used against them; the person engaging in the conduct must know that their behaviour will cause fear of violence on each of those occasions. Secondly if the conduct causes a person serious alarm or distress which has a substantial effect on their usual day to day activities and the person engaging in the conduct ought to know that it will cause serious alarm or distress.
What can be done
If you feel that you are being harassed or stalked then you can contact your local police. If there are any threats of violence towards you, you should always inform the police and they will treat the matter with greater urgency.
In addition to any criminal proceedings, the police are able to apply for a Stalking Protection Order. This is a civil order similar to an injunction, which can impose restrictions on the person engaging in stalking behaviour. The order may prohibit the person entering certain locations or contacting the victim by any means. It can prohibit contacting any family members or friends of the victim or referencing them on social media. The restrictions imposed are tailored to the individual's circumstances. A Stalking Protection Order can be applied for whilst criminal proceedings are ongoing or before criminal proceedings begin to allow early intervention where behaviour could escalate to the committing of a stalking offence. A person who breaches a Stalking Protection Order commits a criminal offence.
There is a Stalking helpline and website which provides advice and support to those who are being stalked. It is run by Network for Surviving Stalking, Protection Against Stalking and the Suzy Lampugh Trust and is part funded by the Home Office.
0300 636 0300
Advice from the website states that you should contact them if -
You or someone you know are being made to feel harassed or intimidated by the behaviour of another person and:
You are unsure what can be done about this person's behaviour?
You feel that you, your friend or family member are at risk of emotional or physical harm?
You think this person has or will damage personal property?
You feel you cannot go directly to the police about this behaviour?
For further information, please see the websites in Related Information.