Domestic abuse and harassment

What is harassment?

Harassment is an activity whereby someone behaves deliberately to cause an individual or a group of people, such as a family to suffer distress.

Harassment is a criminal offence in accordance with the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the more serious harassment cases usually involve some form of criminal behaviour such as threatening a person, stalking or damaging property.

Under section 1 of the Act, the term "harassment" applies to a course of conduct which harasses or alarms another or which causes that person distress.

What kind of activities class as harassment?

The sorts of behaviour that are recognised as constituting harassment is persistent threatening behaviour either face to face or by telephone, text, email or social media and can include:

  • a range of distressing behaviour, such as following the victim, waiting outside the house or place of work
  • making silent phone calls
  • verbal abuse/name calling
  • threats of violence towards the person, their family or property
  • miscellaneous actions such as sending unwanted gifts, ordering taxis or pizza deliveries.
  • damaging property
  • persistent abuse based on hate or prejudice due to a person’s ethnicity, religion, disability or sexual orientation
  • persistently bullying someone by sending texts, emails or very common these days on social networking sites 
  • carrying out any course of conduct that the perpetrator knows causes distress to another party

What is stalking?

There is no legal definition of stalking, nor is there specific legislation to address this behaviour, although the Government is planning to introduce new legislation soon. It is a term used to describe a particular kind of harassment. It is generally used to describe a long-term pattern of persistent and repeated contact with, or attempts to contact, a particular victim.

Examples of the types of conduct often associated with stalking include;

  • direct communication
  • physical following
  • indirect contact through friends, work colleagues, family or technology
  • intrusions into the victim's privacy

The behaviour often curtails a victim's freedom, leaving them feeling that they constantly have to be careful. The conduct might appear innocent, but when placed in context and carried out repeatedly so as to amount to a course of conduct, it may then cause significant alarm, harassment or distress to the victim.

Harassment complaints

Victims are advised to contact Dorset Police who have powers under the Harassment Act to deal with the perpetrator where they are known. You should phone 101 to report such incidents or behaviour, but if you feel immediately threatened or at risk, phone 999.

A range of support measures can help overcome the feelings of insecurity and isolation harassment can cause. We take allegations of harassment seriously and with the police we will do all we can to halt the behaviour and support you.

Get help

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, always contact the police on 999.

MARAC (Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference) is a victim-focused process involving multiple organisations working together to protect high risk domestic abuse victims. Housing advice is also available.

Useful websites

National Stalking Helpline
UK Safer Internet Centre
Dorset Police

Page last updated: 23 October 2019
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