Stalking and harassment

Harassment and stalking are often used as interchangeable terms.  However, they relate to similar but different offences that can cause victims, their families and loved ones physical, psychological and emotional harm.

Abusers can stalk or harass their victims in a number of different ways, including:
  • Text, answer phone message, letter or email
  • Making comments or threats in person or online (i.e. via social media)
  • Standing outside someone’s house or driving past it
  • Carrying out an act of violence
  • Damaging someone else’s property
  • Maliciously and falsely reporting someone to the police to purposefully get them in trouble
Harassment is unwanted behaviour from someone else that makes the victim feel distressed, humiliated or threatened.

Examples of harassment include:
  • Unwanted phone calls, texts, letters, emails or visits
  • Abuse (face-to-face or online)
  • Physical gestures or facial expressions
Stalking can be defined as persistent and unwanted attention that makes the victim feel anxious and harassed. It includes behaviour that happens two or more times, directed at or towards someone by another person, which causes them to feel alarmed or distressed or to fear that violence might be used against them.

Stalking behaviour can include:
  • Making unwanted communication
  • Consistently sending unwanted gifts
  • Damaging property
  • Physical or sexual assault   
Stalking doesn’t always have to be ‘physical’ and can affect victims emotionally as well. Social media and the internet are often used for stalking and harassment, and ‘cyber-stalking’ or online threats can be just as intimidating as face-to-face threats.

According to the ONS Crime Survey in England and Wales, there were 472,590 victims of stalking and harassment between April 2019 and March 2020.

If you know someone who is potentially suffering as a victim of stalking or harassment, call 101 or 999 in an emergency.

How to protect yourself

If you are experiencing stalking or harassment, there are steps you can take to help deal with this type of behaviour.

Personal Safety
  • Take a mobile telephone with you when you go out.
  • Carry a personal attack alarm and learn how to use it.  Do not carry anything that is meant for use as a weapon.
  • Try to change your daily routines.  Ask friends to go with you whenever possible, and always try to let someone know what your plans are.
  • Contact your telephone company to see what action they can take against malicious callers.  Register with Telephone Preference Service to have your details removed from direct marketing lists.
  • Review your security settings on social networks
You can find more personal safety advice on the National Stalking Helpline website -

Keep records
  • Keep a record of what happened, where and when, every time you were followed, phoned, received post or e-mail.  Write the information down as soon as possible, when events are still fresh in your mind.  
  • The more details you have the better. How did the offender look or sound? What were they wearing? What is the make and number plate or colour of their car?
  • Keep letters, and parcels as evidence. Even if they contain frightening or upsetting messages, do not throw them away and handle them as little as possible.
  • Keep copies of e-mails, text messages and social network messages. Print copies if you can.
  • Keep a record of telephone numbers. Tape-record telephone conversations if you can.
  • Tell your friends, neighbours and work colleagues about what is happening.
  • Try to get photographic or video evidence of your stalker (especially if they are someone already warned by the police not to come near you).
Unwanted calls
  • Answer the phone by saying 'hello', not your name or number.
  • Try to keep calm and not show emotion. Many callers will give up if they don't think that they are making an impression on you or your feelings.
  • Use an answering machine to screen out calls and only talk to people you want to.
  • If the caller rings again, put the handset down on a table for a few minutes - the caller will think you're listening. After a few minutes replace the handset, you do not have to listen to what the caller has to say.
  • Use 1471 and write down details of calls received, including the time received and telephone numbers (even unanswered calls).
If you know or find out, who is stalking you
  • Do not confront your stalker or engage them in conversation.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, agree to meet with them to talk about how you feel about them bothering you.
  • Do not respond in any way to calls, letters, or conversations. If you ignore the phone nine times and pick it up on the tenth, you will send the message that persistence pays. Once they have your attention, they will be encouraged to carry on.
Call 101 to talk about stalking and harassment - always call 999 in an emergency.

Stay safe when using dating websites
  • Read and follow all safety advice given on the site themselves. Many dating websites will have strict rules and guidance to protect people using the site.
  • Keep all communications with unknown persons through the dating website channels; do not pass personal communication details such as phone numbers or social media account information. Report any suspicious or offensive behaviour to the online dating site so that action can be taken.
  • Don’t send information on your daily routine or future plans to someone you do not know.
  • If meeting in person, tell someone where you are going and check in with them before/during/after the meet. Don’t share a taxi with someone you don’t know and be mindful of leaving drinks or mobile phones unattended.
Stay Safe when using general social media or web services
  • Don't disclose any personal information such as an address, date of birth, telephone number or workplace to people you do not know or on a public forum. Don’t reply to or accept friend requests/follows from accounts you don’t know or are unsure of.
  • Consider creating or using a username or tag that doesn’t reveal too much about yourself or provide personal information.
  • Turn off your geo-location tags on your phone before sending or posting an image. Some mobile phones, tablets and digital cameras automatically attach data to the photo file that identifies where the picture was taken. Turning this function off helps you to avoid a situation where someone might be able to trace your movements from pictures that you have sent or posted. 


There are two ways you can tell us what happened