Stalking has been in the news recently due to Lily Allen’s seven-year long ordeal and this week is also National Stalking Awareness Week. Recent figures suggest that as many as 700,000 women in England and Wales are stalked each year, but the figures could be far higher.
Stalking can take many forms and behaviours, including, for example, persistent calling by telephone, hanging around at the victim’s home or place of work and using the internet and social media to send unsolicited messages to the victim. Stalking causes fear, anxiety and can negatively impact on every aspect of a victim’s life.
Lily Allen was stalked by a stranger due, perhaps in part, to her being a celebrity. However, the majority of people who are stalked are stalked by someone they know. The legal remedies available depend in part on whether and how the person stalking is connected with the victim.
If a victim does not know the stalker, or they know them but have not been in a relationship with them and are not related to them, then they can seek protection by either notifying the police or taking action in the civil courts under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (as amended).
Criminal and civil protection from stalking
The police have the power to take action under the Act. The Act was amended in 2012 to provide for two “stalking” specific criminal offence. Stalking within the meaning of the Act is two or more incidents of contacting or attempting to contact the victim, publishing statements or material about the victim, monitoring the victim (including online), loitering in a public or private place, interfering with property or watching. Where the stalking causes fear of violence or serious alarm of distress, the offence is more serious.
Alternatively, a victim of stalking may sue a person in the civil courts for an injunction. An injunction is an order of the court in which the court forbids the stalker from certain acts, such as contacting the victim. If the stalker breaches the injunction, by doing something which the court has ordered him or her not to do, then the court may either treat the breach as a criminal offence, with a maximum sentence of five years in prison, or as contempt of court with a maximum sentence of two years. A victim can be involved in the decision as to how the court treats the breach of the injunction.
Family law protection from stalking
If a victim is or was in a relationship with someone who is stalking them, or they are living with them, or related to someone who is stalking them, then they may be able to obtain a Non-Molestation Order. A Non-Molestation Order is dealt with under the Family Law Act 1996 and the abusive behaviour can be similar to that under the Protection from Harassment Act although you may obtain a Non-Molestation Order based on a single incident. The abuse may be psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional. The court has the power to grant an injunction similar to that made under proceedings in Protection from Harassment cases.
Ultimately, if someone feels scared or intimidated by the actions of another person whether it is in the form of stalking, domestic abuse or harassment, it is important that they do not ignore their feelings and seek help at the earliest opportunity.