Stalking, harassment, electronic monitoring and Domestic Abuse – and how to stay safe
“Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you.” Sting
There is no legal definition of stalking, however the police and judicial system have adopted the following description – ‘a pattern of unwanted, fixated and obsessive behaviour which is intrusive. It can include harassment that amounts to stalking or stalking that causes fear of violence or serious alarm or distress in the victim’.
Stalking is interrelated to harassment and intimidation. It is very often a feature of domestic abuse, particularly when the abuser is intensely jealous, or following the ending of an abusive relationship. Men stalk their intimate partners or former partners as a means of exerting power and control over them. It can be a terrifying form of abuse and has serious consequences for women’s mental health.
Early in a relationship, abusive men may insist on driving their partners everywhere on the pretext of ‘just wanting to keep her safe’. He may phone several times a day saying it’s because he loves her so much. Facetiming is more intrusive, but he may say he loves to see his partner’s beautiful face when he’s at work. He may connect his phone to hers via live location saying it helps him know where to collect her from. He might turn up at her place of work saying he wanted to deliver her lunch.
This behaviour may not seem abusive, some of it in isolation might not be and some women may feel flattered by this attention. However, in stalking, this escalates to more sinister forms of monitoring.
Developments in technology have given stalkers many more means of monitoring their partners.
Spyware apps can easily be installed onto phones, laptops and tablets so that the abuser can have access to all data and traffic on the device. Mobile phones can easily be cloned too so there is no privacy for the victim.
Cyberstalking also includes sending harassing or threatening electronic or online communication. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are used to unnerve, threaten, harass and embarrass. This type of communication may also be used to disclose intimate or embarrassing information, or to carry out revenge porn. Stalkers often use a combination of physical (in person) and electronic monitoring, tracking and harassment.
Some abusers will stalk and harass quite openly. Women may be required to ‘phone in’ several times a day so their abuser can keep check them while he’s at work. Women may be expected to produce receipts as proof they’ve been shopping. In extreme cases CCTV will be installed within the home so he is able to monitor her activities when he’s out of the home or keep her electronically imprisoned.
On other occasions, the electronic surveillance might be covert. From checking her mobile phone when her back is turned to installing spyware on her phone or laptop so he can read her messages. The use of hidden cameras and recording devices is a common trend and these devices are increasingly smart and easily affordable.
When an abusive relationship has ended, particularly when this was initiated by the woman, the abuser will very often step up his stalking and harassment of her.
Often it is with the intention of destroying the survivor’s reputation by making disclosures about her on social media that might embarrass and humiliate. Posting intimate photos is also common at this point. Hacking into her social media accounts to cause trouble might be easy when he’s had access to her passwords. Abusive men will often harass by bombarding women with phone calls, WhatsApp messages and emails. Often, they intermittently vary, one day promising undying love, the next day come hostile messages and death threats.
Women will sometimes choose not to block their former partner from contact.
They understand there is a careful balance needed to keep themselves safe. If they block all contact two issues arise – firstly women fear that if they block phone contact, he will be more frustrated and may come to her door. She may also decide not to block him as she may feel the need to monitor his anger and persistence, by blocking him she may have little clue as to how frustrated he is becoming with her.
Once a relationship has ended, especially if instigated by the woman, abusive men often use social media to troll and harass their former partner.
Their intention is often to wreck her reputation, allege she is mentally ill, that she’s been cruel, that she’s been unfaithful, that she’s a bad mother. He may try to win over her friends and family who may be persuaded to believe he is the victim.
Some friends and family seem easily persuaded to side with the abuser, this is quite common and adds to the survivor’s distress and may encourage her to believe she is to blame. Women need to have an audit of their friends at times like this. She needs to remind herself that true friends would not be turned against her so easily.
The Stalking Prevention Act 2019 introduced a Stalking Prevention Order (SPO). This is a civil order that the police must apply to a Magistrates Court for.
An SPO allows for an early intervention by the police when there is yet insufficient evidence to start criminal proceedings. It can also be used if a suspect has been charged to compliment the prosecution of a stalking offence. Although this is a civil order, it carries a criminal conviction if there is a breach. Despite this new legislation being available, relatively few orders are sought by police. A Freedom of Information Act request in June ’21 revealed that in Nottinghamshire, only 13 such orders were granted since their introduction.
The impact on victims of stalking and harassment is often profound. This type of behaviour typically triggers intense stress, low mood, hyper vigilance, fear, feeling vulnerable, self-blame. Stalking will trigger disruption in the victim’s life, from the need to change phone number and job, to having to relocate their home. More serious psychological injury is common including PTSD, sleep disturbance, depression and inability to concentrate.
If you are being stalked and harassed, there are several steps you can take –
- Record instances of abuse but do not let the perpetrator know. Keep emails, screen shots of messages, details of unwanted calls, photos of recording devices found, evidence of spyware installed.
- Report stalking / harassment to police. It might be the police do not pursue the matter initially, do not be put off and continue to collect evidence and report incidents.
- Consider obtaining a Non-Molestation Order – a civil order prohibiting the abuser from various behaviours. If breached, this becomes a criminal offence with up to 5 years imprisonment.
- Tell others who may be able to help keep you safe – your employer, neighbours, friends, family.
- Obtain domestic abuse support from a local charity.
- Ensure your home is secure and take steps to increase your safety for instance installing a CCTV doorbell. Ask your council if they run a sanctuary scheme where they can improve your home security.
- Increase your safety outside the house – carry a personal attack alarm, be accompanied by a friend, alter your routes.
- Do not let your stalker emotionally isolate you, rely on good friends to help you through the trauma.
- Remember you are the expert on knowing how best to keep yourself safe.
If you suspect you are being electronically monitored, you might consider the following
- Prevent anyone else having physical access to your phone in the first place. It takes seconds to link your phone to theirs via live location and less than 5 minutes to download a spyware app.
- Password protect phone and devices, don’t share the password with anyone.
- If you feel the need to, turn off your location settings on your phone.
- If you think spyware may be installed on your phone or other devices, preserve the evidence by reporting to police or taking a screenshot of the spyware app if you’ve identified it. There are various scans you can download to check for spyware. If identified, methods for removal vary depending on type of phone or device, a google search will provide comprehensive instructions. If this fails, a factory re-set of the device will normally remove spyware.
- If you worry your phone has been cloned (a copy made of your SIM card), you will need to change your SIM. Less often your IMEI (handset) may also have been cloned.
- Do not click on suspicious or unverifiable links in emails or chat messages. A click can trigger the silent installation of a tracker or spyware on your smartphone or laptop.
- Change your passwords on a regular basis and be conscious about your privacy.
- If you worry your home / bathroom / bedroom have bugging devices, a google search will provide comprehensive information on how to check and deal with this.
Stalking by an intimate partner or former partner should always be treated seriously. It indicates unhealthy and unnatural obsession and can be a significant risk factor for serious harm. Stalking causes a high degree of disruption to the victim’s life and emotional health. The intense psychological trauma often caused can continue for years after the stalking has ended, some women never feel completely safe again. However with proper support, much can be done to protect the survivor from this intrusive and frightening behaviour and to help her regain her confidence and feelings of safety.
“Every move you make, every vow you break, every smile you fake, every claim you stake, I’ll be watching you.”
If you need help or support, please contact:
The National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300 National Stalking Helpline | Suzy Lamplugh Trust or
Protection against Stalking (PAS) www.protectionagainststalking,org email firstname.lastname@example.org
Blog written by Sandra Reddish
Sandra hopes to reach thousands more women by sharing her wisdom in a new book One in Four Women, which is now for sale on Amazon. In the self-published book, Sandra shares her incredible knowledge of the vital steps to recovery for women who have been abused. Starting with their gaining a solid understanding of the complexity of abuse they’ve faced, and perpetrator’s behaviour.
If you have found this blog useful, and would like to support BWP in our work supporting survivors of Domestic Abuse, you can donate to us today through our Just Giving page. You can also comment or share this blog on social pages – tagging us in. www.twitter.com/broxtowewomen or Facebook.
You may also want to read these further blogs from Sandra.
- When he uses the child to abuse you.
- Stalking, harassment, electronic monitoring and Domestic Abuse – and how to stay safe.
- Sexual Abuse in Intimate Relationships.
- From historic patriarchy to toxic shame. Why do men become domestic abusers?
- Abusive Persuasion – guilt tripping, persuasive and manipulative tactics seen in Domestic Abuse.
- It’s not your fault. Self-blame and domestic abuse.
- Trauma bonding – why you can’t stop loving the narcissist.
- Is narcissism making you suffer? Discover the key signs of this manipulative abuse.
- What does financial abuse look like?
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