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Stalking and Harassment

Published Monday, December 17, 2018

Stalking and harassment both involve any repeated behaviour that would cause alarm, distress or fear of violence in a victim. Common stalking or harassment behaviours include unwanted contact online or in person, following a victim, and interfering with property. Stalking is characterised by a perpetrator’s fixation or obsession and can have long-term psychological and social effects on a victim. Stalking also has the potential to escalate to other crimes, such as sexual assault or murder. This POSTnote describes stalking and harassment before presenting evidence on the effectiveness of approaches to identifying, preventing and prosecuting these crimes.

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There are no clear definitions of stalking or harassment in UK legislation and stalking was only made a separate crime in England and Wales in 2012. A joint inspection by the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in 2017 revealed that stalking offences were often being recorded and prosecuted as harassment. Recent developments in how cases will be handled in the future include a new joint police CPS–police protocol on dealing with stalking crimes and the the proposed introduction of Stalking Protection Orders. 

 Key Points

  • The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that 4.9 million adults in England and Wales have experienced stalking or harassment in their lifetime, with women twice as likely as men to experience these crimes.
  • Stalking and harassment can occur in person or online, such as through threats on social media. Perpetrators may also use internet-connected devices, such as mobile phones and smart speakers, to spy on or track their victims. 
  • High-profile individuals, such as politicians or celebrities, are at increased risk of experiencing these crimes, with a 2016 survey indicating that 38% of MPs had experienced stalking. 
  • Studies of individuals charged with stalking indicate over up to 56% go on to reoffend. Stalking may also escalate to other crimes, such as sexual assault or murder. 
  • Motivations for stalking range from fighting a perceived injustice to wishing to pursue a relationship with a victim and may be linked to personality disorders or mental health conditions. 
  • Civil or criminal proceedings can be brought against perpetrators of stalking or harassment. However, stakeholders have raised concerns about how effective these are at stopping stalking and harassment behaviour. A new civil order, the Stalking Protection Order (SPO), has been proposed in the 2017–2019 Stalking Protection Bill.
  • Stakeholders suggest that tackling stalking and harassment requires an approach similar to that used for violence against women and girls, including multi-agency working, victim safeguarding and perpetrator intervention programmes.
  • Evidence around prevention and early intervention for stalking and harassment is limited. However, recent developments include the establishment of multi-agency stalking prevention programmes in three police force areas. These programmes are funded until 2020 and are being evaluated by the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science.

Acknowledgements

  • Anti-Social Behaviour Help 
  • Cheshire Multi-Agency Stalking Intervention Programme* 
  • College of Policing* 
  • Crown Prosecution Service* 
  • Hampshire Multi-Agency Stalking Intervention Programme* 
  • Home Office* 
  • National Police Chiefs Council 
  • Northern Irish Assembly Research and Information Service* 
  • Paladin* 
  • Scottish Government* 
  • Scottish Parliament Information Centre* 
  • Suzy Lamplugh Trust* 
  • Welsh Assembly Research Service* 
  • Welsh Government* 
  • Women’s Aid 
  • Dr Kim Barker, University of Stirling 
  • Professor James Barnes and Dr Emma Short, University of Bedfordshire* 
  • Professor Marianne Hester, University of Bristol 
  • Dr Ben Hine, University of West London 
  • Dr Olga Jurasz, Open University 
  • Dr Jenny Korkodeilou, Durham University 
  • Dr Rachel MacKenzie, Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health* 
  • Dr Troy McEwan, Swinburne University, Melbourne* 
  • Dr Jane Monckton-Smith, University of Gloucestershire* 
  • Dr Simon Parkin, University College London 
  • Professor Amanda Robinson, Cardiff University 
  • Dr Lorraine Sheridan, Curtin University, Perth 
  • Dr Leonie Tanczer, University College London 
  • Dr Holly Taylor-Dunn, University of Worcester* 
  • Professor Nicole Westmarland, Durham University* 
  • Professor Belinda Winter, Nottingham Trent University

*Denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing. 

POSTnotes POST-PN-0592

Authors: Helle Abelvik-Lawson; Rowena Bermingham

Topics: Administration of justice, Civil law, Courts, Crime, Crimes of violence, Criminal law, Sexual offences

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.