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Stalking and Harassment

As of November 25, 2012, when The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was amended under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, stalking is a criminal offence.

Stalking can consist of any type of behaviour such as regularly sending flowers or gifts, making unwanted or malicious communication, damaging property and physical or sexual assault.

If the behaviour is persistent and clearly unwanted causing you fear, harassment or anxiety then it is stalking and you should not have to live with it.

If you think you're being stalked, read more about the definition of stalking and harassment, and what options are open to you to stop it.

Digital Stalking

A social media website being viewed on a computer monitorStalking can take a number of forms.

We’ve all heard about cases of people turning up unexpectedly at home/work or when out with friends; of unwanted gifts being sent; numerous unwanted phone calls and text messages received. 

But have you ever thought about the problems caused by digital stalking?

What is it?  Nowadays most stalking includes a cyber or technology aspect. Stalkers will usually use some form of technology, mobile phones, social networks, computers or geo-location tracking. This can be characterised as digitally-assisted stalking.

Who’s at risk? Anyone could be. However research has shown that stalking is a common part of domestic and sexual violence and stalking disproportionately affects women.  Women are also most likely to be at risk of physical assault, serious harm or death.

What methods are being used by the stalker?

  • Social networks - Facebook is used by friends and family to exchange photos and update people on their latest news. Information can leak from the profiles of friends and family. So even if you tie down your privacy setting it won’t be effective unless all your contacts do the same.
  • Mobile phones - The technology used most to harass victims is the mobile phone. New features and applications are being developed without properly considering the privacy or security implications. New technology is sold to consumers based on the benefits it offers but they are given no explanation of the risks, especially for potential stalking victims. 
  • Digital footprints - When using mobiles, websites, social networks and any other online services you leave behind a digital footprint, everything you do online leaves a trace. This gives stalkers chance to view your lifestyle and find out what they want about you.
  • Social engineering - Social engineering can be used to trick you or others into divulging information, harassing or humiliating the victim. 
  • Geo-location - This is the ability to identify the location of a device such as a mobile phone, camera, computer or tablet. The location information can be accessed by an application or stored within a picture.  If a stalker has had access to your mobile phone they could download tracking software onto it. Or you could be using an application such as Facebook Places, which tells anyone who can view your profile where you most recently ‘checked in’ from your mobile.
  • Computer spyware - Computer spyware is another threat for victims of stalking. It is often sold as legitimate employee or child-monitoring software.  It can allow stalkers to control your computer, read e-mails, see passwords, and access stored information. The stalker just has to trick you into opening an e-mail. The software is then installed onto the PC. It is often undetected by their anti-virus software. Victims will say, “I don’t know how he is finding out all this information”, “My passwords keep changing”, “He seems to know everything that is happening”.

Signs to alert victims to digital stalking

  • Money starts going missing from your online bank account or charges appear with online stores.
  • Some websites (e.g. banking) have ‘last accessed’ dates which are not correct.
  • Emails disappear or are being marked/unmarked as read behind your back;
  • You receive an email asking you to confirm a new password request.
  • Someone seems to know information that you haven’t told them or know what you do online, such as websites you’ve visited, people you’ve chatted with or sent emails etc.  If so, suspect spyware on your computer.
  • Your passwords stop working or keep changing.
  • Information is deleted such as friend’s contacts, computer files and emails.
  • Someone seems to know when you are at an unusual place – they could have put some geo-location software on your phone.
  • Your battery isn’t lasting as long. Spyware tends to drain your battery
  • Your mobile turns on unexpectedly. If your mobile 'lights up' and doesn’t ring that is a warning sign. Again this could be a sign of spyware.

What can I do to prevent this from happening?

  • Protect your computer and phone.
  • Use/or change PIN/passwords on email accounts/mobile phones – don’t use   family or pet’s names, use something that the abuser cannot associate with you.
  • Install anti-spyware software on any computer.
  • Create separate email accounts for:  your most trusted friends and family; social networking – other friends; online registrations; financial accounts.

What can I do to stop it if I'm being digitally stalked?

  • On Facebook block the abuser and his friends and family.
  • Ask friends to block the abuser and his friends and family and make sure that they have their privacy settings on friends only.
  • Reduce your friends list.
  • Do not to post any contact details or respond to anyone who asks for them.
  • If you think your smartphone is compromised, don’t use it. Turn it off and remove the battery. In the meantime, buy a cheap mobile phone, because spyware cannot be installed on these.
  • Check your car for a GPS tracking device.
  • Consider using a taxi/bus so your car can’t be followed or tracked.

What can I do if I cannot stop it?

Call the police and report it. Since November 25, 2012, stalking is a criminal offence.

There is also a civil route should the victim not want the police involved.

A civil injunction can be granted if the defendant can be proven on a balance of probabilities to have committed just one action which a reasonable person would consider would cause alarm, distress or harassment, if the defendant knew this would be the effect or ought to know.

The injunction is made for the purpose of restraining the defendant from pursuing any conduct which amounts to harassment. Also, damages can be awarded for any anxiety caused by the harassment and any financial loss resulting from the harassment.  Breach of a civil injunction issued after 1 September 1998 is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.

What support is out there?

If you are in immediate danger call 999.

You can also call Derbyshire Constabulary on our non-emergency number of 101.

National Stalking Helpline

Tel: 0808 802 0300 or e-mail the Helpline at

advice@stalkinghelpline.org

National Domestic Violence Helpline

0808 2000 247or log on to

www.womensaid.org.uk

Digital Stalking

Website of Jennifer Perry, cyberstalking expert

www.digital-stalking.com

 

 

 

 

Do you need a quick answer to a general question? Then we recommend you visit the national Ask The Police web site.