We are testing a new beta website for gov.scot go to new site

Stalking and Harassment in Scotland




The survey undertaken for this study provides some evidence of the nature and extent of stalking behaviours and of the impact on victims. Yet quantitative research is inevitably limited in its ability to capture the meaning and experience of such behaviours for those involved. To obtain this type of insight, the study also involved in-depth, qualitative interviews with both victims of this type of behaviour and professionals who deal with its consequences.

This section uses material from the interviews with victims to explore their experiences and views in greater detail. It also reports on how victims respond to such behaviours - both in terms of informal strategies for managing the harassment and its impact on their lives, and formal recourse to the police and criminal justice system. In total, 27 interviews were carried out with victims of stalking and harassment as part of the study. Within the case study areas, eight interviews were with victims in Grampian, five were in Tayside and five were in Dumfries & Galloway. In addition, a further nine interviews were conducted in Strathclyde and in Lothian & Borders with victims identified from the survey. Further details of the methodology and basic demographic information on the victims is provided in Appendix A.


We saw from the survey that, in the majority of cases that might be classed as stalking and harassment, the offender was a current or former partner of the victim. The qualitative interviews (both with victims and criminal justice practitioners) served to emphasise further the extent to which stalking/harassment cannot, for the most part, be disentangled from the broader issue of domestic violence. Indeed, if anything, the link appears to be stronger among cases dealt with by the police - although this may indicate, of course, that instances of 'non-domestic' stalking are not being identified 142.

This link has two main elements. First, as noted above, the vast majority of offenders in cases of stalking/harassment are partners or former partners. But second, and less obviously, it is clear that the patterns of abusive behaviour that manifest as stalking once a relationship has ended are almost always already present in more familiar forms of domestic abuse during the course of the relationship itself.

"Everything you did, you had to tell him where you were going, what you were doing, how long you would be, everything. I've seen me sitting and you're watching TV and you just … "where you going?" You just needed to turn in your chair, move your leg, anything. If you were going to the toilet or to put on the kettle you had to tell him what you were doing".

Victim 23

"There was a lot of moody behaviour. A lot of controlling behaviour. If I didn't answer the phone after three rings, he wanted to know why - where had I been and who was I with. I checked in about 10 times a day, it was absolutely horrendous. Then one night, he lived in [place] and I went down to see him for a few weeks and he got me up against the wall with his hands round my throat and I just thought "I've had enough".

Victim 6

The study suggests, then, that stalking is not generally created or 'triggered' by the end of a relationship: rather, the end of the relationship simply acts to change (and perhaps to magnify) the form of the abuse. While there are cases where this is not the case - either because the victim and offender had never been intimates, or because the relationship prior to the start of the harassment was not abusive - the research indicates that such cases are in a distinct minority. Although our sample does not represent stalking and harassment victims in general, we found that, of the seventeen victims previously involved with the offender, only one indicated that the earlier relationship had not been abusive. The abusive behaviour reported by the other sixteen victims included repeated violent attacks.


While many of the cases examined so far revolved primarily around the offender's relationship (or lack of continuing relationship) with the victim, this was often muddied by related disputes around contact with children of the relationship and financial arrangements. To some extent, in these cases, the research suggests that these disputes actually drive the stalking behaviour.

*INT: So, the background to the harassment things is the break-up, is it?

"It's because my husband doesn't want me in my own house. He made my life hell at the beginning. Any time I walked into the house, while I was doing my washing or whatever, it was like, "No, get out", and it was like "Assault", every time I walked into the house.[…]

Victim 4

In other cases, however, such disputes appear to become a focus for the offender's anger and attempts to control the victim's behaviour.

"She would really have dug her heels in, kind of thing. She was hurt. At the end of the day, it came down to that, [name] was hurt, I was seeing somebody else, and she was using the kids, because she knew that was the only way she could hurt me back. That's what it boiled down to, at the end of the day.

Victim 5

Cases of stalking involving non-intimate relationships

In a minority of cases, the victims interviewed had not an intimate relationship with the offender and either had some other form of relationship or connection (e.g. a friend, colleague or neighbour) or had no previous connection beyond living in the same area. Even within these non-intimate types of cases - and despite popular perceptions - the survey suggests that incidences of complete strangers stalking women because they want to pursue a relationship would appear to be very rare indeed. A range of circumstances was described by the victims we spoke to - but none belonged to this category.


The survey results show that victims of stalking typically report multiple incidents and a variety of forms of victimisation - the average (mean) number of different types of stalking behaviour reported by each victim was five.

The qualitative interviews with victims explored in more detail the types of behaviour they had experienced. It is difficult to report their experiences without narrating a lengthy tale about each case. In general, victims were unable to give wholly coherent and systematic accounts to the interviewer. Almost all had experienced at least months - and more often years - of harassment and a wide variety of different harassing behaviours. Several interviewees became visibly upset while recalling some experiences. Also, given the time available, interviewees were only able to pick out a handful of incidents to talk about and sometimes did not remember to mention major events (in one case, being stabbed in the stomach) until well into the interview. Furthermore, only a fraction of what they did manage to tell in a one to two hour interview can be related here.

While examples of specific incidents or events may illustrate the types of harassment endured and the situations that might trigger them, such examples cannot adequately communicate the experience of relentless harassment. This difficulty mirrors the major issue for the criminal justice system of how to deal with the whole pattern of behaviour rather than with specific acts in isolation. As one interviewee, who had been stalked over many years, herself said:

"It is difficult to say in an hour, to put something for so long, I mean I don't know if I have told you everything and a lot of what has happened to me is at the back of my mind and I don't think about it. I don't know if I have got over to you how awful it has been. [I] am trying to think of instances that I have not mentioned. I mean I have had, the car, several cars that have been scratched and damaged and condoms tied to the aerial. The petrol tank[ ... ] I just can't remember everything."

Victim 2


Following, watching and waiting

As the survey shows, the behaviour that the general public most readily associate with stalking is following someone around. Although this is certainly not the only means used to harass victims, nearly all had experienced being followed, being watched or the offender waiting somewhere for them.

"He would start to approach me in the supermarkets or in a public place and appear to be wanting to be friendly, well I didn't want to have anything to do with him but I wouldn't ... because of the background I didn't want any upset so I said out of basic politeness, "Hello" and that was about it and he persisted in, I can only describe it as, following me around the supermarket and having a looking my shopping and then telling me about […] he would follow me around the supermarket, tell me he was over his problems"

Victim 17

Sometimes the offender would actively spy on the victim:

"He used to wait on me outside the [workplace]. He knew all my break times. That was quite frightening because he knew what I was doing. He had a video camera and he told me that he was videoing me in the [grounds of workplace]."

Victim 18

But it was also common for offenders to wait more passively - just to make their presence felt:

"I'd come in from work, and I was round at my girlfriend's house, and we looked out the bedroom window, and [name] was sat on like the garden path. On the stairs on the garden path. Neither of us moved. We just stayed there. We just pretended that we weren't there. Do you know what I mean? But, she sat there for about an hour and a half, before she finally went away. "

Victim 5

Some offenders would go to great lengths to follow their victims - to the extent of following them on holiday. Such extreme behaviours clearly send a message to victims that they can never relax, and never assume that they are out of reach. The act of following, then, was widely viewed by victims as offenders attempting to exercise control over their (victim's) environment.

"[We] went on holiday to [country] and he used the money that he nicked off me to get to [country] and we had a hell of a carry on with him that week, he just would not leave us alone."

Victim 1

'Thinking of you': communications as control mechanisms

Control was a theme commonly raised by the victims interviewed, and recognised as a major element in their harasser's behaviour by them all. Controlling behaviour was described by nearly all those being stalked by their ex-partners. Attempts at control were not restricted to occasions on which the offender was physically present. In nearly all of the cases where interviews were carried out with victims, the offender had used communications of various kinds - such as letters, gifts, phone calls and, in many cases, text messages or emails - to threaten or harass.

A typical pattern of harassment by phone seems to be phoning and engaging the victim in conversation, or attempting to, and then resorting to silent calls once the victim starts putting the phone down on them.

"The first couple of times it was 'grow up' and then I would put the phone down. When it got to the silent phone calls, I would say 'I know it's you' and I would put the phone down but that could happen maybe 20 times a night. You're talking 1 o'clock in the morning to 6 o'clock in the morning. There would be times as well when the phone went and I would pick it up, he would then put the phone down on me. Maybe ten times in that one night, he would put the phone down on you, so you're not getting any sleep. We got the phone number and everything changed. Then after all that, that's when the letters started."

Victim 3

Such harassment was not restricted to the victim's home - often, offenders used the victim's workplace as a focus for their contact.

"[at work] I was like sort of the first line for people 'phoning in, so it was very easy for him to 'phone in. He didn't need to ask for me. He knew I would pick up the 'phone so, I mean, we got like repeated 'phone calls. I don't know, about 20 in an afternoon, and it just got really quite bad…It really just got to a stage whereby. I mean, I was a nervous wreck, really. I couldn't do my job because, of course, every time I picked up the 'phone, I'd be like, is it him?"

Victim 10

Sometimes the main purpose of these calls seemed to be simply to annoy the victim, and to prevent them from forgetting about the offender, but other times they were used to convey more sinister messages. In the following example, the victim was left in no doubt that the offender (who lived at the other end of the country) still knew what she was up to and wanted her to be aware of this:

"He sent a text message to my friend when we got back saying "hope you had a good time in [country]". So, he had obviously gone to the trouble of tracking down that information and I don't know how he did it but he did."

Victim 6

Letters were also common. Some contained direct threats:

"All told, there were six letters. Two of them were inside a card, a Thinking of You card. The first one was 'I'm going to kill you if you don't get rid of him' and 'I'm going to kill you…' for this, that and the other

Victim 3

The same victim also received letters containing less directly-threatening but sexually-explicit language - the content of which was equally upsetting.

"the stuff that was in the letter was really graphic. It would be like "this is my ultimate fantasy with you and I want to tie you down in a bed" and he was talking about using implements and stuff in these letters. [I thought] this isn't a loving relationship, this is all pure crudeness."

Victim 3

In one case, it was not so much the content of the card that frightened the victim but the fact it was hand-delivered: the offender had clearly found out where she was living and had travelled there from several hundred miles away to deliver his message.

Criminal damage and theft

Damage to property - cars in particular - seems to be a method frequently used by offenders to vent their anger and upset and annoy their victims. Like anonymous letters and silent phone calls, although the victims have no doubt who the culprit is, producing firm evidence can be very difficult.

In the following case, the victim was sure that the offender was getting various girlfriends to damage her car.

"It's what, 1, 2, 3, 5 times. I've had a dent on one side, a scratch on the other, which are still on the car. I've had my wing mirror broken off, and I've had my back windscreen wiper broken off."

Victim 4

Theft of the victim's property, including items from washing lines, personal photographs and diaries was also not unusual.

Victims who had experienced this type of harassment attributed offenders' motivations to a desire to gain revenge and to annoy and cause them inconvenience. One victim reported that all the furniture from the matrimonial home had been cleared out - apparently by a neighbour on behalf of the offender. In this case, the offender appeared to have manipulated the situation in such a way that the police were not convinced that a burglary had actually taken place.

Threatened and actual violence

Since physical violence was very often a feature of the abusive, controlling relationship many victims had previously had with the offenders, this made any subsequent threats of violence very real. However, actual physical attacks once the relationship had ended (and it was often finally ended by the victim after a particularly violent attack) were not that common among the victims interviewed. In one case however, the (female) offender talked her cousin into attacking her ex-partner.

"She actually sent her cousin round to beat me up. I was just leaving my front door, and he was coming up the close as I was going down, so I ended up in a fight with him, but I just managed to push him off me."

Victim 5

Where violence was reported as part of the harassment it was nearly always of a very serious nature. One victim reported systematic beatings from her ex-partner as part of her experience. She had difficulty in persuading the police of these attacks because the offender always had someone with him to support his claim that he had acted in self-defence when she attacked him. In another case, the offender deliberately drove a car at the victim. Another offender drove a car not only at his 'main' victim, but at her partner and children while they were out on a walk. A small number of those interviewed also reported actual or attempted sexual assaults.


The majority of cases involved victims and offenders already known to each other, and further, in most of these cases, the pre-existing relationships were characterised by abusive behaviour. This indicates that stalking is a sign of continuity rather than discontinuity and can rarely be said to have originated from a single event. Yet, it is also clear that just as in abusive relationships, certain situations often act as triggers for renewal or intensification of the abuse or harassing behaviours. Following and telephoning often begins when the victim ends the relationship, since these are behaviours that may not have been necessary to exert control when the victim and offender were still living together. There are, however, also many cases where the relationship has already ended and the harassment only really begins in earnest when the victim starts a relationship with someone else.

"Originally, myself and [name of ex-partner], we decided that we weren't getting on. We decided it would be better for the weans' sake, if we split up, but I was still to have contact with the kids and that every day, just as normal, but I've got my own house. I'd been away from her for about 6 weeks, and I started seeing somebody else, and that's when all the hassle started."

Victim 5

"When we first split up we were on reasonably friendly terms, we tried to keep on friendly terms and that worked okay, to begin with, until I started having a social life basically. And then he started following me about and turning up everywhere that I went and I lived in [place] at the time and so did he and it just a very small town and we both lived in town so to begin with it was just like, it could be coincidence and then it just became that it was happening all the time and he was never off the phone and turning up at the house. And when I started going out with [name of new partner], it just escalated from there."

Victim 2

Other examples of triggers given by victims included anniversaries and birthdays, Christmas and other dates that hold particular significance for the offender. But there was not always an explanation that made any sense to the victim. One woman was being stalked by her ex-husband, who was angry with her because he claimed she 'had promised him a baby'. When his new wife became pregnant, she mistakenly thought that would help.

"By this time he has a girlfriend who is much about my age and I believe they got married this year […] and now she is pregnant and I thought wow! Isn't that great! That will surely make him happy and keep him well away from me but it has made him even worse."

Victim 17

In cases where the harassment had apparently ended, this was not generally as a result of any intervention by the police or criminal justice system but because something else had happened to disrupt the dynamic of the victimisation. Typically, the stalking ceased once the offender began a new relationship, or the victim ended a relationship that had helped to fuel the offender's behaviour. It is striking, however, how few of the victims considered that the stalking was ever effectively over, since almost all were conscious of the possibility of 'things starting up again'.

" I never, ever underestimate him. Guaranteed, in a couple of months, he'll get bored again and it'll start. Because I know for a fact that he met somebody in the New Year - I don't think it's stopped because I threatened to go to the police. I think he's just gone quiet because he's met somebody else, which may be a good thing and maybe he really likes her but she doesn't know what she's getting herself into. […] I don't think that's the last of it. I don't think you'll ever hear the last of it from him but just now it is.

Victim 3

Yet the victims interviewed also commonly reported that not only had the offender become involved in a new relationship, he was exhibiting controlling and abusive behaviour towards the new partner. One victim reported meeting her ex-partner's subsequent girlfriend some time after she too had ended her relationship with the offender. The subsequent relationship had also been abusive and the offender was now stalking his new victim.

Several other interviewees indicated that their harasser had acted in similar ways towards others - sometimes over the same time period. One victim discovered that the man who was stalking her was simultaneously stalking someone else and was subsequently jailed in relation to that case.

" I discovered that he had been stalking what I thought was his ex-wife - it was actually his wife, he wasn't divorced. So he was a con man, he had stories for everything, explanations for everything but basically what he was doing when I was away at my work in [place] during the day, he was following this woman about and harassing her because he wanted back with her."

Victim 1


While stalking is conventionally understood as involving direct, one-to-one interaction between a victim and an offender, the interviews with victims suggest that the situation is often more complex, with stalkers directing their attention to other people who are close to the victim (particularly parents and children) and involving their own friends and family (sometimes unwittingly) in their attempts at control. This clearly complicates the task of policing such behaviours - indeed, stalkers use of others to harass or intimidate their victims sometimes appears to be a conscious attempt to 'work around' the constraints of a non-harassment order or interdict.

"My birthday was when he was in jail and that was another catalyst kind of thing, because I got this phone call out the blue from this woman, a friend of [name of offender], and it was something to do with flowers for my birthday. 'He asked me to get white flowers for your birthday', and I said 'forget it, don't be sending me flowers'.

Victim 1

"It's not his house. We jointly own it, and we're currently going through the courts to get it sold at the moment, but he's telling the girlfriends, "This is my house" and, having them stay in the house when he's away […], he's making me and the children a target through his girlfriends. They are the ones that are 'phoning me up, and I'm getting abuse at 3, 4, 5, 6 in the morning.

Victim 4

One woman was being harassed by the new partner of her husband's ex-wife. Although he was the one to carry out all the acts, she believed the ex-wife was behind it all.

"I knew when I went to work I would see him or I would see [husband's] ex-wife. Basically she initiated this so I felt very angry towards her and the fact she was in the background setting all this up. This man was stupid enough to do it but she was actually the cause.

Victim 21


Although there is no single 'type' of person who is likely to commit stalking offences, a number of common themes are evident in the way that victims describe their stalkers and harassers.

Offenders were very often described in similar terms by victims as being intelligent, plausible, charming or articulate. They were not generally portrayed as misfits or as lacking basic social skills. Only one victim reported that her harasser had a psychiatric illness. These descriptions are not only used by victims to explain their own involvement with men who turn out to be abusive, aggressive and controlling - they also help to explain some of the frustration felt by victims in trying to persuade others (whether family and friends or police officers) of the seriousness of subsequent behaviours.

" He's smart, very intelligent. Very, very intelligent. Worked hard. Very well-spoken. Educated. He'd been married and he has two children….. I mean, he's a very well spoken, articulate smart guy. I said to my lawyer that if you spoke to him, you would find it difficult to believe that he had behaved like a savage.

Victim 6

" He could walk in this door and he would have a date with you [interviewer] by the end of the night. He's so smarmy it's unbelievable…. He always twisted it around so that you are the one who is in the wrong. All his pals think he great. They all say to me "it's a shame that you did that to wee [name of offender]. He doted on you"… […] I wish I could get his pals to see this other idiot side to him. Let his pals see what he's really like. I wish everybody else could see what he's like…. But he's the father of children and holds a good position in his work and people think he's great and all that really sticks in the back of my throat.

Victim 3

While offenders were often portrayed as 'charming' or 'intelligent', this was also often combined with descriptions of a violent temper, a strong controlling streak and a sense of insecurity or paranoia.

"He just can't get his head round about, that I can be strong enough to stand on my own two feet, and have a life whereas, he's like, she should be here, and I should be in control of her money, and be able to spend it on drink and drugs and, just being an absolute idiot.

Victim 4


Those victims who had contacted the police had almost all been advised to keep a log of any incidents. Most did so - at least initially - but while there was an understanding of the reason for this and a willingness to do it, there was also a sense of frustration from some victims that literally hundreds of incidents could be logged but nothing could necessarily be done about it.

"[new partner] did do at first, yes. For the first couple of months, she was writing everything down.

*Interviewer: Did that just occur to her to do that, or..?

"No. It was the woman that we first spoke to, when we first went down. You know, she said you'd be best writing everything down, so she did do.

Victim 5

"I mean, I think that, police] policy is to suggest that people do contact them and log it, but I know from talking to a few other people, that that can be quite exasperating because, they report it, but nothing ever seems to happen, so then they feel, why am I doing this?

Victim 10

Among those victims who had reported incidents to the police, there was wide variation in perceptions of how the matter had been handled - ranging from highly positive to extremely negative.

There were three main sources of criticism of the police by victims. First, victims often resented having to recount the 'whole story' of their victimisation each time they reported a new incident. The converse was also true - victims greatly valued continuity of contact with particular officers or the use of information systems that gave different officers immediate access to the details of the case.

"{I]t's not their fault. I'm not blaming them, but it's just because obviously you have so many different officers and, if you could get the same one each time, that would be great.

Victim 15

In long-running cases, some victims often noted an improvement over time as they (and their offender) became known to the local police or as the case began to be taken more seriously.

"He actually threw a hammer through my bedroom window, and it landed on my bed. That was my birthday present, I think. The police came up. They were really quick. I will say that. Compared to 10 years ago. The police back then were a disgrace, they really were but, from the help that I've had from them, and the way they treated us just last year, it's like completely different […] Even their [manner]. The way they speak to you. They're not talking down to you. They're not talking at you. There's a very big difference. Before, I would have been loathe to phone the police for anything.

Victim 14

But this was not always the case:

"No I don't think it has changed. I just feel they feel powerless with stalking and harassment. They don't think it's a really important issue but it is for the people who are the victims.

Victim 21

The second main criticism was that the police failed to do anything to tackle the offender's behaviour, or gave the impression that there was nothing they could do.

"All they were offering me was, 'Have a phone with you at all times'; 'if you meet the man don't have any contact with him'. Things that I was doing anyway, basically. I said well these are things that I am doing! What do you suggest if I come into a situation where I'm face-to-face and he's being abusive? She says turn to the first person beside you and say could you witness this? Now I would imagine from what I can gather, speaking to people most of them would say I don't want involved with him! And probably walk on and that would make you feel even worse.[…] Now this was after a catalogue of things against them that the police had been called to on numerous occasions, one policewoman came said she couldn't do anything because she was just on her own and that was it. Now, the catalogue of things for this police force just beggars belief really. I can't suggest what they should do, I just know they should be doing their job better. They've afforded me nothing.

Victim 17

"The Police, they'd gone up to the door and given her telling-offs, and all the rest of it, but it was as if, until she'd actually got hold of and smacked [name of current partner] or whatever, there wasn't a thing they were going to do about it.

Victim 5

Third, in a handful of cases, victims clearly felt that not only that the police had failed to take appropriate action but that they had actively trivialised the complaint, viewing it as simply 'a domestic'. This particular criticism was typically aimed at older, male officers.

"I had just had enough of it and that's when I called the police in and an older policeman came in and a lady came in, a girl about my age. I sat here and the policeman sat there and the lady sat there and she was taking all the notes down. I said that I thought that all that was going on was quite harassing behaviour. And I said that I was actually quite frightened and that I couldn't stand the letters coming through the door from him and this idiot of a policeman said "well you know, I don't like getting junk mail either but I'm not going to lose the head over it". I just said "with respect, you weren't beaten up". How insensitive. I thought that was disgusting. I thought it was absolutely disgusting. I thought what a flip remark to make to somebody who is going through a really difficult time.

Victim 6

Those victims who had been in contact with Domestic Abuse Liaison Officers and social work staff working alongside the police were - almost without exception - much more positive.

"[the Domestic Liaison Officer] is really good. It's just like if I phone her for information about 'he's done this, what do I do now? […] Like to go to the police. She says to me 'tell the police that he's got a harassment order out, he's got this …' If I phone her and say 'right this is what they've said' or whatever. She'll say 'right I'll get on the phone to them and let them know exactly your background and things like that' which does push them. I've even went down to that police station and says to them 'look this has happened blah, blah, blah.' 'Oh right ok we'll see what we can do'. I'll just say '[name] told me to tell you this' and they'll go 'why are you in contact with [name]?' It gives them a wee bit of a shove.

Victim 9

[social worker who works with police] is really good that way because she comes across as being understanding. You feel as though she knows what you're going through. She knows what to say to you at the time.

Victim 24

"They're really good. Like, she 'phones you know, if he's inside and if he's out, sort of, keep a look out sort of thing, or I can rest in peace, and I can go out, 'cause he's back inside. I know he's back inside again now, so.

Victim 25

Of course, not all victims choose to report incidents to the police in the first place. While this sometimes reflected a belief that the police could or would do nothing, other victims felt that the individual incidents were too trivial to 'bother them' with.

"As well, I think most policemen would say "he's not beaten you up or raped you, so there's nothing we can do". My opinion is that they would just tell him to go away. He's not raped me or beaten me up, they wouldn't see it as being a really bad thing. He's not put a finger on me at all whatsoever. I would rather the policeman was out there stopping a paedophile from touching a kid, rather than wasting their time doing this sort of thing. I don't feel that they do enough for sexual harassment or stalking or that kind of thing but at the same time, I'm not the type to phone the police at the least thing. I'm experienced enough to know what's really bad and what's annoying. I see this as being more annoying. I don't feel threatened at all by [offender] in that way, I just feel exasperated with him. So, I did think about the police for about two seconds and then just thought "what's the point"?

Victim 3

Finding 'champions' within the criminal justice system

In the longer-running cases, it is clear that victims' views of the police and other criminal justice agencies are often transformed by finding 'champions' who will take their case seriously.

"What happened, my saving grace, was there were two policemen and they came up and once they had come up a couple of times, they knew what was happening and they knew him, they had his measure completely. One of them in particular kind of made it his job to sort things out. It was a personal thing, like 'this guy is not going to get the better of me', and these two guys were smashing with me and all the times, right up until the first Court case, they were the ones that helped me, they were the ones that dealt with it all, linked it all - one of them went the extra mile to find out background things that were happening. […] I wouldn't have got where I was if it hadn't been for them, I would still be banging my head and still be hesitant about reporting it because some of these other guys that came up, they were horrible, they just took his side, 'just a domestic'.

Victim 1

It is also clear that such contact can be helpful beyond the immediate consequences of the stalking, in terms of helping to (re-)build confidence on the part of the victim and in providing practical help and advice in relation to other aspects of the victim's life.

" She [social worker who works with police] makes me feel better. She'll say 'right, I've come round for my coffee, just put the kettle on, I'm on my way' and she'll come round and we'll just sit and we'll yack for hours. Sometimes we'll just sit and speak about nothing. She's always giving me - 'You're getting better, you're more confident, you're doing really well.' […] there's another lassie she's just got a computer so [social worker]'s like, 'would you mind learning her how to use the computer?' I said 'certainly, no problem'. Somebody needs my help so I'm there to help them.

Victim 12

"[counsellor] was trying to help me. She's looking for me to do some voluntary work, maybe at the Women's Aid. I'm going on a course for the Children's Panel as well. […] So, she thinks that, because of the experiences I've had, you know, it will help, doing something like that. So, I'm going to give it a try anyway, and see how I get on. She has been a good help that way.

Victim 14


A number of themes emerged from victims' accounts about successful (and unsuccessful) strategies for dealing with stalking behaviour.

Several victims reported reaching a realisation that there was nothing they could say to the offender which would stop the harassment and that any direct acknowledgement of the behaviour was a form of encouragement. In some ways, this echoed the point that some had reached in their previous relationship with the offender when they had realised that there was nothing they could do to stop the abuse, other than ending the relationship.

"I can't remember when I came to it, but in your own head you have got to say "no", and no more contact. There is no reasoning with him, you keep being fooled, you are taken in time and time again, there is no reasoning with somebody like that, you have got to make a complete break and say no more contact'.

Victim 1

In several cases, victims indicated that they had considered asking a friend or family member to 'sort out' the situation by warning off or threatening the offender. In general, however, there was a reluctance to adopt this approach because of a concern that it would lead the victim into trouble with the police and jeopardise their chances of progress through other channels.

There was frustration on the part of many victims that they had to 'do everything right' while the offender continually broke the law. In one case, however, the victim attributed the end of the harassment to someone 'having a word' with the offender on her behalf while he was in prison.

The concern about overstepping the law and being drawn into counter-allegations is a real one since, regardless of their own actions, victims of stalking often find themselves accused of assault and harassment by the offender. While in some cases, of course, such allegations may be partly or wholly grounded, often they simply represent a further tactic on the part of the offender - a means of blurring responsibility, deflecting attention from their own behaviour and further unsettling the 'real' victim.

" He's tried all sorts of things. He's been to my place of work […] He's been to my place of work and reported me assaulting his daughter. He went to my work and said I had assaulted his daughter and why was a person like this working with children. The [head of organisation] actually interviewed me and asked what it was all about. I said I didn't even know the gentleman's daughter, which I didn't.

Victim 21

In one case a male victim was accused by his stalker of raping her, an allegation which although subsequently dismissed by the police - resulted in the victim being held in police custody overnight.


It is difficult to report the impact on victims of stalking and harassment generally for much the same reasons as it is difficult to report their experiences: everyone has a different story to tell and each victim experiences their victimisation in a different context. Nevertheless, there are some common themes that emerge from the interviews with victims and these are detailed in this sub-section.

The context of the stalking behaviour

The majority of victims in the study lived in the same community as their stalker. This is hardly surprising since most victims had previously been in a relationship with the perpetrator prior to the stalking behaviour, or in other cases, had come across them because they lived locally. Where victims live in small towns, the ability of the perpetrator to monitor their movements is relatively easy:

"I don't know who [they are] but I do know he has cousins at the top end of this street and he knows a lot more people in this street than I do. Even though I've stayed here the same amount of time that he has, he already knew a lot of people in [place] because he's from here and I'm not.

Victim 3

Even in larger towns, however, it can be difficult for the victim to avoid the stalker, since the perpetrators generally know the victim's home address and place of work and may well move in the same social circles.

"He knew where I worked and he knew my workmates, he knew where I lived obviously but his parents live just down the road so he had the perfect excuse for being in the street.

Victim 11

"Like, for a while, maybe 3 months, I stopped going out at night. Like, I'd still see my friends, and my good friends would understand. We would maybe have something to eat, or just get a video, but I wouldn't go out at night because, I reckoned, if he was drinking and saw me, it would be worse.

Victim 10

Impact on behaviour/lifestyle

The research suggests that the impact of stalking and harassment has serious and long-lasting effects on victims. Several victims ended up moving home because of the stalking behaviour - one, reluctantly, after 10 years' victimisation.

"I mean I am moving away which is something I said I would never do, I mean we thought about it often because it was, it would have maybe have been an easier option, although I think he would have followed us anyway. I don't think that people should have to do that, but I think that would be my advice to someone who went through that again. If you possibly can, move.

Victim 2

One victim bought a new house in an attempt to avoid her stalker only to have him find out where she was:

"I was a nervous wreck, hearing noises, worried he'd be hanging around. Because of [giving up] work, I got into financial difficulties and had to sell the house, but I didn't put up a for sale sign, and put my stuff into storage and went to stay with a friend.

Victim 11

Those who had moved because of the stalking behaviour reported that initially they were very reluctant to move and felt it was unfair that, as the innocent party, they should be the ones to uproot themselves. One victim who was advised by the police to consider a housing move (and who did eventually take this approach) said:

"I've spent 3000 doing up my flat. I don't see why I should move when I've done nothing wrong.

Victim 13

While not all victims had moved house, they all reported major changes in their behaviour and lifestyle due to their experience of stalking. In terms of behaviour, victims commonly reported an exaggerated sense of self-awareness and feelings of having to look over their shoulder all the time. Many reported making changes in their behaviour to keep the stalker from knowing their whereabouts:

"[Y]ou have to not leave anything in your car that gives a clue, we joined a gym, we joined it in [place] because there was no point in doing anything around here. We never, ever went out in [2 nd place], ultimately not in [3 rd place] either because he followed us there as well. but when we joined a gym we kept that a secret and you had to put your gym kit in the boot and you couldn't leave any brochures or anything lying in the car. It is always there. You have to think, well I'd better not do that, you couldn't really be spontaneous, you know.

Victim 2

One victim whose car and motorbike had been repeatedly vandalised, gave up riding the bike, changed the car and put a child's seat and toys in the back seat of the new car to disguise it.

Work was often a focus for the stalking behaviour, with victims reporting that the offender would telephone their workplace, or appear there in person. Many of those interviewed were forced to change their work routines as a result and some actually left or changed jobs.

"I actually had to change my job. I gave my job up, and took a different job, because she was outside my work, so ... Well, I started looking straightaway, and I just took a part-time job, and I went on the sick for a while as well. Just with the stress of it all. The doctor put me on the sick.

Victim 5

"I was signed off work in January, I was depressed, clinically, and I never went back.

Victim 11

Leisure activities became problematic for all of the victims in the study. In some cases, meeting the perpetrator face-to-face in a pub or nightclub led to verbal and physical assaults. The impact on friends could also lead to problems.

"All my friends have had something from her and they're still scared to socialise with me in case they get the backlash of her. […] What really annoys me now is that I'm never out. I come in from my work or I work late. We just sit here with a bottle of vodka at the weekends and watch the T.V. Sunday, we're off and we'll go walking or climbing and that's not like me. I used to enjoy going out on a Friday night. I just can't be bothered with it.

Victim 13

Tactics used by victims to avoid their stalkers ranged from changing regular patterns of going out to complete withdrawal from socialising:

"Him being everywhere just got to me. I got like a hermit, going to bed very early so I could put the lights off and didn't go out socialising at all for about two months.

Victim 11

"I would go to younger places and he would always drink in what I call the old man's pubs but guaranteed when I went out, he would be there. He wouldn't be there with any of his mates, he would be there by himself and then later on his mate would come in and it would be the big macho bit. It puts you off going out.

Victim 3

It was clear, then, that for many victims the stalking behaviour had forced major changes to their behaviour and their lifestyles. The impact on victims, however, also goes deeper than this and many chose to emphasise the psychological impact rather than the practical consequences of the behaviour.

Psychological impact

Without exception, the victims interviewed reported psychological - and consequent physical - problems arising from the experience of being stalked.

"After I gave the statement to the police I kind of took a breakdown. I don't know what it was. You don't know yourself what you take. You've got so much going through your mind. I take it it was a breakdown because I was off my work from March till August. I can't even remember what was on the sick line. You try to forget. I stayed in the house. I had that thing that you stay in the house. I didn't want to go out.

Victim 18

There were experiences of significant weight gain or weight loss.

"I went down to about 6 stone. I'm 9 1/2 to 10 stone now. But my trousers were falling off me… People I hadn't seen for about 4 months, used to walk past me, they didn't know me. I came out the bath one night and my mother was there and I just had a towel round me and she burst out crying. I said "what's the matter with you?" and she said that I looked like something out of Belsen.[…] There's a knot in your stomach all the time. A sick feeling.

Victim 13

Victims commonly reported changes in their personalities as a result of the stalking behaviour they had experienced. For most, these changes had been negative:

"I am a completely different person. […] my old boss said to me […], he can't believe the change in me. He said I was such an outgoing person, really bubbly -that's why he gave me the job he says, because I was the outgoing person, much thinner. I've put on so much weight because I don't care.

Victim 1

"The thing about all this that makes me most unhappy is the change in my personality. I'm now a devious person, I'm hard, I don't trust anybody and I don't really care either and I'm unhappy about that.

Victim 11

However, some victims also reported a new found sense of themselves as active players in their own lives:

"When all of this happened, I had a friend who was more of an acquaintance then but she became a very good friend of mine. And she was very supportive and we had a big run-in about a month ago and […] I made a conscious decision that I really don't want her back in my life. The way that she spoke to me and her behaviour was a bit controlling and it was a bit reminiscent of where I had been in the past. Before all this happened, I would have gone running back and tried to patch all this up but I don't really feel, deep down, that I don't really want to. I don't want anybody like that in my life because it reminds me of what I've been through before. So, I'm not really that happy. […] If I have seen anybody, in the past if I've been in relationships, I've just let them go and go and go and just waited until they've died a death. Not this time. I'm making a conscious decision that I don't want you in my life or I do want you in my life.

Victim 6

Issues of trust were often raised by victims in relation to such personality changes, in particular difficulties in trusting people. While it is perhaps relatively easy to understand why victims reported wariness in their dealings with new acquaintances, often these difficulties with trust extended to family and friends they had been close to for a long time:

"My best friend lives in [place] and for a while her ands I became- not exactly estranged, but distant from each other because I wouldn't even trust her. Not that I didn't trust her as a person but I didn't trust that she might inadvertently speak about it to someone else because she worked in a pub in town and it would get back to him [where] we were going.

Victim 2

In the light of these difficulties with trust, it is not surprising that victims reported reluctance to enter into intimate relationships after their experience of stalking. Various factors seemed to lie behind this: concern about the potential partner's motives, fear that a new relationship may trigger more stalking behaviour from their stalker and concern for the new partner's safety:

"I've not been with anyone else. It's just with [college], and I think also, at the back of my mind, I don't feel really ready for another relationship but, also, I really wouldn't feel safe. I wouldn't feel safe for whoever I was with.

Victim 10

Sometimes the reluctance to form new relationships seemed rooted in the victim's negative feelings about themselves. For some victims, the experience of being stalked left them with the notion that somehow they had brought the stalker's behaviour upon themselves, resulting in feelings of guilt and self-blame:

"I lived with that man and I thought I knew him but obviously not and that makes you think about yourself more. What kind of person am I to be attracting this kind of idiot? Have I got a big magnet that says "any arsehole can come and talk to me and I'll listen to any crap you're going to give out"? You do lose a lot of your own self-esteem.

Victim 3

Victims commonly reported feeling embarrassed about their experience and didn't want others to know what was happening to them:

"I am embarrassed about it. I don't know why I am. I am embarrassed about it, and it's not something I'd bring to the forefront.

Victim 10

"I mean, I didn't really want, because the children were still young and it is an embarrassing thing to happen to you for everyone to know this is happening and you try and keep it from your family and you are trying to protect your children as well, you don't want them growing up in that type of environment where they feel they can't speak freely to their friends and that because then he would find out what is going on in our family.

Victim 2

Impact on others

As the above quotes suggest, such feelings of guilt and embarrassment were linked to victims' concerns about the impact of the stalking behaviour on other people, especially their families. This was particularly acute for those who reported that their stalkers targeted members of their families as well as themselves.

"At the latter end why we decided to move was that [my daughter] was getting followed. And [my daughter's] attitude changed. She started snapping. And my daughter's a very quiet girl. I wondered what was wrong ... And we started to talk to her about it and it came out that [offender] was following her down to school and had been doing it for some months. But she hadn't said because she didn't want to upset us. And it started to affect her schooling."

Victim 8

"He went upstairs, and I just heard [two year-old son] screaming. Absolutely screaming. So, he actually battered him. He had a solid pine bed, and the bed actually snapped in half […]"

Victim 25


Generally, the victim interviewees were aware of breach of the peace as a tool for prosecuting stalkers and harassers. Victims interviewed, however, were more likely to mention interdicts and non-harassment orders in relation to their own cases. Although Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) may also be used as a statutory tool to combat stalking and harassment in some circumstances, none of the victims interviewed mentioned these.

Brief summary of legal interventions

Currently, victims of stalking and harassment in Scotland may be able to have an interdict served against their stalker or may apply for a non-harassment order. These are available via three statutes.

Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 victims of harassment may obtain a non-harassment order with the aim of preventing any further harassment. While NHOs may be sought (by the prosecutor) as part of a criminal case involving an element of harassment, they may also be applied for by victims in civil procedure. Breach of a non-harassment order, whether obtained through criminal or civil proceedings, is a criminal offence. Currently there is no power of arrest attached to breach of the order, but the current Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill contains a provision to remedy this.

Under the Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection) (Scotland) Act 1981 the court can grant a matrimonial interdict, which would restrain or prohibit the conduct of one spouse towards the other spouse or any children of the family. The interdict may also have the power of arrest attached to it. However, the protection under the Act is limited to married couples only and it ceases to have effect on the termination of the marriage.

The provisions of the Protection from Abuse (Scotland) Act 2001 are designed to deal with violent or abusive behaviour and allow the police to arrest without warrant the interdicted person where they have reasonable cause for suspecting that person is in breach of an interdict. In particular, the Act provides that the court must, under certain circumstances, attach a power of arrest to an interdict for the purpose of preventing abuse. The protections offered under the Act are available to the applicant no matter the nature of the relationship with the potential abuser. This act came into force in February 2002.

Non-harassment orders

A number of the victims in our study had non-harassment orders against their stalker. One victim's stalker breached the order and was eventually sentenced to two months' imprisonment for the offence. However, this was after some confusion about the powers relating to the order:

"[T]he other thing I was going to add to you, the non-harassment order, nobody knew how to work [it]. Do I have power of arrest or do I not, I don't know, can we find out? ... The cops didn't know that, no. The number of nights [my son] and I sat down at the police station ... can you do something about this? Oh well, I don't know. And at the end of the day it was useless.

Victim 1

This victim also reported difficulties in prosecuting for an earlier breach of the non-harassment order:

"I have a non-harassment order and it says he cannot approach, communicate or attempt to approach or communicate with me, okay- he can't come within 500 metres of hers, 500 metres of my mum and dad's house. Now the last time that we went to Court, the one that was not proven, it all hinged on the wording of this non-harassment order. Now he had followed me, hadn't approached me, so it wasn't covered so the case was going to fall very early on the wording of this [order].

Victim 1

Another victim had applied for a non-harassment order on the advice of a solicitor, who assured her that breach of a non-harassment order carried an automatic power of arrest:

"[But] the thing was, [the stalking] would go through like sort of bursts, and then nothing for three days, and you start to think. You know it would just begin, and then it would stop, and then it would start ... So then I sought the advice of a solicitor, and I got an interdict, plus a non-harassment order because, seemingly the interdict alone- you probably know more about this than I do- the interdict alone wouldn't give police powers of arrest automatically whereas with a non-harassment order, it would. So that was granted.

Victim 10

This victim had to pay a contribution of over 1000 towards her legal aid award to secure the order and felt it was unfair to ask her to pay for such protection, even though her solicitor was willing to accept her payment in instalments:

"And I said, no you can't ask. You know, that was like two-thirds of my monthly earnings. I said, you can't ask an individual to do that.. So, even that would put people off. Do you know what I mean?

Victim 10

Another of the victims explained that she had lost track of the number of times 'her' offender had been charged (she guessed over 35 times), had been to court and how many interdicts or non-harassment orders she had obtained against him. She clearly felt that the non-harassment order was useless and now did not even bother to keep track of what interdicts or orders she had. In her view, the offender paid no attention to them, would breach them, be taken to court yet again, receive a "slap on the wrist" or a small fine, and then continue to harass her.

"I got frustrated, the fact the police couldn't do anything. He continued harassing us and we had the non harassment order but nothing was ever done. It stated on the non harassment order that he wasn't to contact me nor approach me or the children or come to my work, etc. It didn't seem to matter if he was in a bar. If it wasn't stated on the non harassment order then it didn't matter. Obviously it couldn't state everything. On one occasion in the court the Procurator Fiscal suggested he wasn't allowed to follow me in the car but the judge wouldn't have it because he said if you're on the road he's allowed to be on the road like every other user.

Victim 21


One victim had difficulty in getting a non-harassment order made against her stalker:

"I had been to my lawyer and we got a temporary interdict to go through and we were trying to get a non-harassment order through and that actually gets lodged with the police. It failed to go through because he had not actually physically hit me again. So the judge wouldn't put it through so I got an interdict instead, which is not worth the paper it's written on. It doesn't get lodged with the police.

Victim 6

This victim was very disappointed about the failure to obtain a non-harassment order and felt that the interdict was no substitute. This view was not echoed by the victim who had both an interdict and a non-harassment order:

"So, I would say to get the interdict, simply because it's something else, but I don't really see it as more of a preventive method. I just feel that if anything did happen, then at least you've gone through those channels. It doesn't really make me feel any safer. It does make me think, for myself, well at least I've done all that I can do so, if anything did happen, and something did need to go to court, at least that could be my history, whereas if nothing's done…

Victim 10

Experience of court

Although most victims were simply frustrated about the fact that little positive action seemed to be taken against the offender, a few specifically criticised the use of breach of the peace to charge the offender, since they felt that it did not adequately reflect the seriousness of the offence. One called for the introduction of a statutory offence, on the basis that it would signal much more clearly the type of behaviour involved.

"I feel that a charge of stalking and harassment would be a far more serious charge than a breach of the peace. You can get a breach of the peace for shouting at somebody in the street. Stalking and harassment, that's saying something about that person, what they're capable of and have been doing. You could say 'I got charged with breach of the peace'. 'Oh right, what did you say? Were you drunk?' Stalking and harassment is making a statement about what they've actually done.

Victim 12

" I would like to see charges more reinforced because, breach of the peace, that's all they seem to come up with. It doesn't matter what the situation is, someone drives their car towards you and hits your leg while you're protecting your children, and you push your children out the road, that's not breach of the peace. In a way they just kind of put it down to anything because they can't come up with anything else. They put it down to a lesser charge and it shouldn't have been.

Victim 21

Those who had actually appeared at court often found the experience upsetting - either because of the strangeness of the court setting, the inevitable contact with the offender or the experience of being cross-examined.

"The day we went in to the court we actually walked in and he was standing there. He came towards us and his solicitor actually held him anywhere else. There was no separation on the initial going in to court. I really feel victims should be separate from criminals […] I felt that I was the one who was doing all the wrong by the questions they were asking. They turned it around as if I was the one harassing him. It wasn't a pleasant experience at all plus they got you all mixed up with dates and times. There was so much happened, so much harassment, that you couldn't possibly remember what had happened in the two years. You just feel really confused.

Victim 21

Support for victims

Despite wanting to protect their families from the stalking behaviour, victims stressed how important it was to have support from friends and family during their experience. One victim, however, felt that support was needed even more once the stalking had come to an end:

"I can't stress enough how important it is to have support and understanding after it's over, as much as it's ever over. In some ways that's even more important because you're left with all these paranoid feelings and you're not the same person any more.'

Victim 11

Others whose victimisation appeared to have ended spoke of continuing contact with the counsellors (usually social workers) who had supported them during the stalking and harassment. This contact was most commonly in the context of the victims undertaking voluntary work recommended by the counsellor. Although the nature of such work varied and was not always related to victims' experience of stalking, sometimes it involved them talking to others about what had happened to them, its unacceptability and how they dealt with it.

For some victims, the support they felt they wanted was not available:

"The kind of thing that I would really have liked was almost like a group meeting, where everybody- almost like Alcoholics Anonymous. People stand up and after they've been through it speak about their experience and you know you can get through this because I have.

Victim 6


The qualitative interviews with victims reinforce the view that, for the most part, stalking can be seen as closely linked to domestic abuse. This is true in that the majority of offenders are former intimate partners; but also that the patterns of abusive behaviour that manifest as stalking once a relationship has ended are almost always already present in more familiar forms of domestic abuse during the course of the relationship itself.

  • Victims typically reported a range of different types of stalking behaviours, often spread over months or even years. The critical point to appreciate here is not necessarily the character of the individual behaviours but the compounding effects of experiencing them in combination and the serious and debilitating effects that result.
  • Almost all of the victims interviewed had been forced to make significant changes to their lives, with consequences for their home life, leisure activities, work and families. Some had experienced very severe disruptions, such as losing or changing of jobs and moving home, as a direct consequence of their victimisation.
  • In addition to these practical consequences, most victims reported deterioration in physical health, and this appeared to be particularly acute when the stalking was ongoing. There was also clear evidence of serious psychological impact, in the form of depression, anxiety and personality change. These problems are often of an enduring nature, and do not simply disappear once the victimisation appears to have stopped.

In those cases in which the harassment had ceased, this was not generally as a result of any intervention by the police or criminal justice system but because something else had happened to disrupt the dynamic of the victimisation. Typically, the stalking ceased once the offender began a new relationship, or the victim ended a relationship which had been helped to fuel the offender's behaviour. It is striking, however, how few of the victims considered that the stalking was ever effectively over, since almost all were conscious of the possibility of 'things starting up again'.

Although stalking is typically portrayed as a direct interaction between a single victim and a single offender, the research challenges this in a number of ways. First, in several cases, it was clear that the offender had behaved in similar ways towards a number of other people - often concurrently. Second, the focus of their behaviours was often extended to encompass family or close friends of the principal victim. Third, offenders often used their own family or friends (wittingly or unwittingly) to extend their campaign of harassment.

Victims' assessments of their contact with the police were varied. The main sources of dissatisfaction were: the need to recount 'the whole story' each time a new incident occurred; perceived inaction on the part of the police; and a tendency for police to dismiss incidents as 'only domestic'.

Where there had been contact with a Domestic Abuse Liaison Officer, perceptions of the police were almost always much more positive - as they were among victims who had found a 'champion' who took an active interest in their case.