Harassment, stalking and cyber abuse

The criminal law sets out offences regarding harassment and stalking under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (amended by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012).  These offences require “a course of conduct”, which means conduct occurs on at least two occasions which causes an individual alarm or distress. Such conduct includes speech and can also take place online 

What is Harassment?

Harassment is unwanted behaviour from someone else that can include repeated attempts to force  unwanted communications and contact in a way which could be expected to cause distress or fear in any reasonable person. 
Examples include:
  • unwanted phone calls, texts, letters, emails, or visits.
  • abuse (verbal or online).
  • physical gestures or facial expressions. 
  • images and graffiti.

What is Stalking

Whilst there is no strict legal definition of 'stalking', the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 provides examples of acts or omissions which, in particular circumstances, are ones associated with stalking.  This includes: 
  • following a person, 
  • watching or spying on them, or; 
  • forcing contact with an individual through any means, including social media. 
In many cases, the conduct might appear innocent (if it were to be taken in isolation), but when carried out repeatedly, it may then cause significant alarm, harassment or distress.  Stalking is described as the offence which puts a person in fear of violence or causes serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on his or her usual day-to-day activities.  

What is Cyber Abuse?

Harassment can also occur on the internet and through email. This is sometimes known as 'cyberstalking'. This can include the use of social networking sites, chat rooms and other forums facilitated by technology. The internet can be used in  many way relating to harassment, for example: 
  • to locate personal information about a victim. 
  • to communicate with the victim. 
  • as a means of surveillance of the victim. 
  • identity theft such as subscribing the victim to services, purchasing goods and services in their name. 
  • damaging the reputation of the victim. 
  • electronic sabotage such as spamming and sending viruses. 
  • tricking other internet users into harassing or threatening a person. 

Harassment under the Equality Act 2010 

Under the Equality Act 2010, harassment is unwanted behaviour which makes a person feel offended, intimidated, or humiliated.  It is unlawful under the Act if it occurs because of, or connected to, one or more of the following protected characteristics: 
  •    Age
  •    Disability
  •    Gender reassignment
  •    Race
  •    Religion or belief
  •    Sex
  •    Sexual orientation
  •    Marriage and civil partnership
  •    Pregnancy and maternity

Revenge porn

‘Revenge porn’ is defined as disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress, and is a criminal offence under section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.  It is an offence to share private sexual photos or film of another without their consent and with the intention of causing that person distress.

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