Here’s What You Can Do If Someone is Stalking You
Someone might have been getting on your nerves – following you, making numerous unwanted phone calls, or even verbally attacking you online.
Do these situations seem familiar to you? If they do, you are possibly a victim of stalking. If you encounter any of such stalking instances, it is ideal to put an end to them, or you may find yourself living in constant insecurity or fear. Here are several avenues under the law which may help you deal with the problem:
- Making a police report or Magistrate’s Complaint
- Applying for a protection order
- Seeking a compensation order
Before reporting the stalker to the authorities, you may consider mediating the issue.
Not all stalking cases, however, may be resolved via mediation. For example, only cases involving interpersonal relations are suitable for mediation at the Community Mediation Centre. Examples of such cases include stalking incidents involving:
- Family members
- Landlord and tenants
Making a Police Report or Magistrate’s Complaint
Unlawful stalking is a criminal offence under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA).
If you are being stalked, you may make a police report, or file a Magistrate’s Complaint.
Section 7 of the POHA illustrates several examples of stalking. In essence, an act(s) or a person may constitute unlawful stalking if the victim feels harassed, alarmed or distressed by these acts.
For example, in the case of PP v Lai Zhi Heng, the accused was convicted of stalking after he followed the victim on many occasions, sent numerous text messages to her and even put up fliers with her nude photographs in public areas near her home. Such acts caused the victim to suffer “anguish and torment” for nearly 2 years.
What acts can be considered stalking?
Acts associated with stalking may include:
- Following you;
- Communicating with you;
- Loitering outside your home or the places you frequent; or
- Sending or circulating materials such as emails with suggestive comments on you, or revealing photographs of you.
There needs to be a “course of conduct” for the offence of unlawful stalking to be made out. In other words, only one occurrence of stalking would generally not be enough to be considered unlawful, as compared to multiple occurrences.
If the stalking only occurred on one occasion, either the conduct must have occurred over a prolonged period of time or the accused person must have a previous conviction for unlawful stalking against the same victim.
Did the act(s) of stalking cause harassment, alarm or distress?
Apart from identifying the act(s) of stalking, there are several factors which the court may consider when deciding whether these act(s) had caused the victim harassment, alarm or distress.
These factors can be found under section 7(5) of the POHA and include:
- Number of occasions of the acts
- Frequency and duration of the acts or omissions
- Likely effects of the alleged stalker’s course of conduct on the victim
Penalties for unlawful stalking
First time offenders will be liable to up to a $5,000 fine and/or up to 12 months’ jail.
On the other hand, repeat offenders will be liable to up to a $10,000 fine and/or up to 2 years’ jail. For example, a man who stalked his ex-boyfriend again after serving 6 months’ jail for stalking him was slapped with an additional 9 months’ jail.
In April 2019, the High Court proposed a points-based sentencing framework for offenders convicted of unlawful stalking to give a clearer picture of the appropriate sentences to be given in each case.
Following this new framework, each factor related to the offence is given a range of points, based on the intensity of the aggravating factor, before the total amount of points is tallied at the end. The higher the number of points, the longer the imprisonment term. A summary of the new framework is as follows:
|Factor||Range of points||Explanation|
|Duration and frequency of stalking||1-5 points||Duration – short if stalking occurred over a few weeks; long if it exceeded 6 months
Frequency – high if stalking was conducted daily
|Degree of intrusion into the victim’s life||1-3 points||Degree of intrusion would be considered low if the harassment occurred mostly through electronic means
Would be considered high if the accused’s actions “severely impede the victim’s right to free movement”
In one case, a person who called and sent the victim messages daily was deemed to have intruded the victim’s life to a high degree, as he gave him the impression that he was under surveillance.
|Vulnerability of the victim||3 points, barring exceptional cases||More vulnerable victims include minors and individuals with physical or mental conditions|
|Public dissemination of sensitive information or images||1-5 points||1 point – cases where less sensitive information, such as the victim’s phone number, is disseminated to a small audience
5 points – cases where highly sensitive images, such as nude images of the victim, are disseminated to a large audience, such as on social media platforms
Online platforms, in particular, warrant a greater number of points due to their potentially infinite reach.
|Use of threats against the victim||1-3 points||1 point – threats against the accused’s self, emotional manipulation (e.g. threatening to hurt himself if the victim refuses to comply with his demands)
2 points – indirect threats to the victim (e.g. hinting that sensitive information would be published if the victim does not abide by the bully’s demands), or direct threats to the victim of a lesser degree (e.g. threatening to call the victim’s family or spouse)
3 points – direct threats to the victim’s wellbeing, safety or life (e.g. threatening to harm the victim)
|Level of harm to the victim||1-3 points||E.g. where the victim suffers from permanent emotional or psychological scars, or loses his job as a result of the accused’s acts|
|Involvement of third-parties in the offence||1-3 points||Third-parties such as the victim’s next-of-kin or partner may also be targeted in some cases|
Applying for a Protection Order
You may also apply for a protection order against the stalker to protect you from further instances of stalking. The court, through the order, can prohibit the offender from continuing his communication or behaviour, or requiring him to attend counselling or mediation. Failure to comply with a protection order is an offence under the POHA.
Apart from making a police report or filing a Magistrate’s Complaint for the offence of unlawful stalking, you may sue the stalker for monetary compensation.
Avoid Sharing Too Much Personal Information
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Whether or not you are a victim of stalking, your actions online and offline play an important part in keeping you safe. Avoid leaving too many traces of you, especially online, by sharing information like your residence or current location, as these may give stalkers ideas of when and where to strike.
If you already are a victim of stalking, you should all the more refrain from sharing overly personal information, which may provide opportunities for further harassment. If you know who exactly is stalking you, remove that person from your social media accounts, and avoid having any contact with him.
You should also consider taking legal action as soon as possible to protect yourself from further distress. If in doubt, consult a lawyer