Stalking and harassment are closely related concepts that both involve one or more people intimidating and threatening another person or people. Stalking is focused on following people, while harassment includes behaviors designed to create nuisances. Various regions have differing approaches to these offenses under the law. Generally, stalking is considered a form of harassment, and both can be severely prosecuted. Many regions enacted tough laws in the 1990s in response to notable cases involving people who were killed or seriously injured by stalkers.
In general, harassment involves behavior that is threatening and disturbing, conducted with the goal of intimidating, frightening, or irritating someone. A variety of activities can be considered harassment and some may technically be legal, but when they occur in the context of a pattern of other behaviors, they are considered harassment and can be prosecuted. This activity can include filing false reports against someone and distributing abusive materials designed to malign someone.
Stalking is an activity that is designed to force contact on the subject. The stalker may use a variety of methods to attempt to establish a relationship including calling, emailing, sending letters, waiting in areas where the subject works or lives and attempting to approach, and using third parties as intermediaries. These tactics are also seen in use by harassers who may do things like following their targets from place to place, and attempting to make it difficult for people to socialize and conduct business.
Both stalking and harassment can lead people to have concerns about their personal safety, even if the goal of the person committing the activity is not necessarily to cause harm. Stalking and harassment can become highly disruptive, making it difficult for people to work, socialize with friends, do errands, and engage in other activities. Harassers may do things like spreading rumors that make it difficult for people to find and keep work, for instance, while stalkers may intimidate people and make them afraid to leave their homes.
There are many different motivations for stalking and harassment, ranging from a desire to get even with someone for a perceived wrong to an erotic fixation. Successful prosecution requires the ability to track and document a pattern of behavior. Stalkers and harassers sometimes react aggressively when they are reported to law enforcement and some may use tactics like attempting to file counternotices when their victims try to obtain restraining orders and other legal remedies. Lawyers who specialize in stalking and harassment cases can assist victims with addressing the matter and may have recommendations for security companies and other experts who can help victims reduce personal risks.