Newsbeat's guide to... stalking

  • 26 November 2012
  • From the section Politics
A woman with her head in her hands

New laws have come in to effect in England and Wales to make stalking a specific crime, something that was done in Scotland in 2010.

Campaigners have said that dealing with stalking under existing harassment laws wasn't working.

It is now hoped that these new offences will help tackle violence against women and girls.

There are thought to be about 120,000 stalking victims a year but fewer than 2,000 stalkers are jailed.

Tim Lawson-Cruttenden is a solicitor-advocate who specialises in dealing with harassment and stalking cases.

He's been working to make stalking a specific crime since 1996.

What is stalking?

Leave me alone text

"[Stalking is] conduct on at least two occasions which causes the victim to suffer fear, alarm, distress or anxiety, which the perpetrator intends to cause the victim.

"The actual act itself is defined quite broadly as pursuing or following, contacting or attempting to contact, publishing material about that person, monitoring their use of the internet or email, entering a premises, loitering, interfering with their property or trying to give them something.

"I suppose it's any form of infatuated behaviour."

What should you do if you are being stalked?

Lorna Smith
Lorna Smith was killed by her ex-boyfriend after he stalked her online

"You've got to put a line in the sand because if you want to get that perpetrator prosecuted, the courts have to know you've put a boundary down.

"Boundaries are really important and most stalkers will exploit the absence of boundaries and they will manipulate their way through into some pretty unpleasant behaviour because they haven't been told to stop it.

"Most victims don't record their evidence properly. As soon as they realise they're being stalked they must make a diary entry and then record every element of their stalker's behaviour.

"If you go to the police with strong evidence, text messages which are outrageously aggressive, emails, record telephone calls, photographs, then you're much more in the business of getting the police to help you."

What are the penalties for stalkers?

Man's eyes staring

"What the police often do... is give them a stalking warning, requiring that person not to contact the alleged victim.

"If they breach that then they will probably be charged with the offence of stalking and then while the criminal case is being dealt with there will normally be stringent bail conditions."

"If they're convicted the court can issue a restraining order and it [the crime of stalking involving a fear of violence or serious distress] is punishable by up to five years in prison."

What are the effects of stalking on victims?

"It causes sleep deprivation and even if it's a mild campaign, it does cause, in my opinion, pretty awful psychiatric damage.

"If there's fear of violence on top then life becomes really intolerable and that person can become a complete wreck.

"It's a pretty oppressive form of crime and it does need to be dealt with."

Follow @BBCNewsbeat on Twitter