Talking about stalking: what you need to know

Browsing through Facebook this morning, amongst all the holiday photos, Barbie nostalgia and “suggested posts” (which if Facebook actually knew me, they would never have suggested in the first place), I stumbled across this video from Gloucestershire Constabulary. It’s called “Stalking: Life isn’t like the movies”.  It is definitely worth a watch.

It reminded me very much of Claire’s recent blog looking at how films and TV programmes can help you understand the many forms of domestic abuse.  The idea behind the video is that as a society we have normalised stalking.  Rom-coms like Love Actually and There’s Something About Mary present stalker-behaviours as expressions of love or play them for laughs.  Don’t believe me? As one commentator says, change the soundtrack and suddenly what was “endearing” becomes quite disturbing . . .

  • There’s Something About Mary – Not only does Ted stalk Mary but the PI he hires to follow her ends up stalking her too.  By sounds of it, most of Mary’s previous relationships have been with stalkers.
  • Twilight – Edward reveals he has been following Bella and has been coming into her room at night uninvited  “just the past couple of months” because he likes watching her sleep
  • Love Actually - Mark turns up at Juliet’s door with placards declaring his undying love despite her being married to his best friend. And he also shoots that slightly creepy wedding video. .
  • The Notebook – Allie and Noah’s brief fling leads to Noah becoming obsessed with Allie and resorting to grand unwanted gestures because he can’t take no for an answer. He then threatens suicide resulting in Allie agreeing to go out with him.
  • All About Steve – Mary stalks Steve across the country as she's decided he's her one true love. His friends think it’s hilarious.  Steve frankly is terrified.

Worryingly, a 2016 study by the University of Michigan suggested that rom-coms featuring men engaging in stalker-like behaviour can make women more likely to tolerate those behaviours in real-life.  This is because the depictions are not scary but are sympathetic; they suggest that “love conquers all”, persistent pursuit is a normal part of a healthy relationship and grand gestures are romantic.  The very fact that the couple ends up together reinforces the idea that stalker-like behaviour gets results.

What is stalking?

So, if we have normalised stalking, what is it? Stalking involves a pattern of unwanted, repeated behaviour that can leave you feeling distressed or scared.  It doesn’t have to involve violence or threats of violence. It can often involve individual actions that seem small by themselves.  The four warning signs of stalking are:

  • Fixated
  • Obsessive
  • Unwanted
  • Repeated

Most victims know their stalker and the majority of reported cases involve partners, ex-partners or family members. Many victims put up with the behaviour for a long time – anything from two to five years. Intervention is often needed to bring it to an end.

What are common stalking behaviours?

In this video, a victim describes some of the tactics her ex-partner used to try and control her during their relationship and after they separated.  The behaviours might seem small or even harmless when isolated but together – plus being combined with being unwanted and repeated - they demonstrate a pattern of stalking.  Some common stalking behaviours are:

  • Following
  • Standing and loitering around the victim’s home, place of work, school
  • Unsolicited post and gifts
  • Verbal abuse
  • Repeatedly texting, emailing and leaving voice messages
  • Spreading rumours including making false allegations to the police
  • Befriending the victim’s friends and family
  • Cyberstalking and bullying
  • Planting spyware and hacking into social media accounts and emails
  • Threats of violence
  • Damage to property and/or stealing belongings including intercepting post and going through their bins

Is stalking a crime?

Stalking is a criminal offence. It can often be combined with other offences, and/or develop following them. For example, it can be very closely linked to coercive control, which can include mind games and entrapment, isolating a victim and intimidating them so they don't seek help.

Are stalking and harassment the same?

There are definitely similarities in what constitutes harassment and what is stalking. They can overlap (and the legal definitions of each offence do overlap).  A  victim may be a victim of both harassment and of stalking because a lot of the behaviours are the same.  The difference is that stalking tends to be more aggressive and more obsessive.  Stalking is often described as an aggravated form of harassment so think about stalking being more aggressive, more threatening and happening more often. Both stalking and harassment should be taken seriously. 

What can I do if I think I’m being stalked or I know someone who thinks they are being stalked?

Our top tips are:

  • Keep a record of events. Record each event as soon as possible afterwards and put the time and date. Add as much detail as you can about the person harassing you, what happened and any witnesses. Take photographs if it is safe to do so.  Keep messages, record telephone calls and make a copy of any contact over social media.
  • Do not engage with your stalker but don’t block them your social media if you are already online friends.  This can escalate their behaviour; instead, limit what you post or set up a different account.
  • Keep yourself physically safe by carrying a personal alarm, varying your daily routines, installing an alarm or CCTV at home and properly locking windows and doors.
  • Check your privacy settings on your social media and make sure only your friends and family can see your posts.  Do not give away your personal information (Google yourself to see what others can find out about you).  Turn off location and tagging settings, keep your antivirus software up to date and, if you think your phone or computer has been hacked, stop using them and take them to a specialist for advice.
  • If you have voicemail, don’t include your name or number in the message and don’t tell people you’re out or away.  If you don’t know the caller, don’t give out personal information however persuasive or honest they might sound.
  • Above all trust your instincts. Stalking thrives on secrecy - if nobody knows what's going on that gives the stalker the opportunity and power to keep on going. If people around you know, they can do things to help keep you safe.  Report what is happening to the police either by calling 101 (if it’s not an emergency) or 999 (if you are in immediate danger)

Where can I find more information?

If you are, or someone you know is, being stalked or harassed, there are a number of support organisations that understand your specific needs. These are some of the ones we know about. 

Protection against stalking

A national charity raising awareness of stalking and harassment and supporting victims and their families.

Suzy Lamplugh Trust

This organisation aims to create a safer society by reducing the risk of violence and aggression through campaigning, education and support.

National Stalking Helpline

Practical advice and information to anyone who is currently or previously has been affected by harassment or stalking.

Phone: 0808 8020300

Revenge Porn Helpline

Advice, guidance and support for adults.

The Cyber Helpline

Free, expert help for victims of cybercrime and online harm.

Paladin Service

Not-for-profit organisation providing support, advice and advocacy for anyone at high risk of serious harm from a stalker.

If you need legal advice, contact our friendly and supportive team.  We have experience in obtaining personal protective injunctions such as non-molestation orders, as well as working with criminal law specialists who can advise on the action the police can take and the criminal process. 

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