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What Is the Difference between Stalking and Harassment?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is stalking?

Stalking refers to a pattern of behavior where one person causes another person to feel frightened, anxious, or emotionally distressed by engaging in unwanted or intrusive behavior. It often involves repeated or persistent contact with the person being targeted, such as following them, showing up at their home or workplace, sending unwanted messages or gifts, or using technology to monitor their activities. Stalking can be considered a form of harassment and is a serious crime.

What is harassment?

Harassment is a form of discrimination where a person is subjected to unwanted behavior based on certain characteristics like their race, age, gender, or sexual orientation. Examples of harassment include physical or verbal abuse, making threats, spreading rumors, or using offensive language. Harassment is intended to intimidate the victim and can cause emotional distress and fear. Harassment is illegal in many jurisdictions and may be considered stalking if it involves repeated or persistent behavior.

How does stalking differ from harassment?

Stalking and harassment both involve unwanted and intrusive behavior that can cause fear and emotional distress. However, the key difference between the two is that stalking typically involves repeated or persistent behavior, while harassment may be a one-time occurrence. Stalking may also involve the use of technology like GPS tracking or spyware to monitor a person’s activities, while harassment is usually verbal or physical.

What are the legal consequences of stalking and harassment?

The legal consequences of stalking and harassment vary depending on the severity of the behavior and the jurisdiction. Generally, both stalking and harassment are criminal offenses and can result in fines, jail time, or restraining orders. In some cases, stalking may also be considered a hate crime or domestic violence, which may lead to additional penalties.

What steps should I take if I am a victim of stalking or harassment?

If you are being stalked or harassed, it is crucial to take steps to protect yourself. You should keep a record of all incidents, preserve any physical evidence, and report any criminal behavior to law enforcement. It is also important to seek help from a local victim services agency or a mental health professional. Lastly, you should avoid contact with the person who is stalking or harassing you and let trusted friends and family know what is happening to stay safe.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon996368 — On Aug 19, 2016

Asking people for their phone numbers multiple times on social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat is considered stalking. This leads to the risk of online personal safety ever since that these sites are public. When someone tells you to stop, you need to stop. It is rude, creepy and threatening, and asking people for their phone numbers online just like that is a very serious crime and illegal. In-person, it is okay to ask someone for their phone number but only if they feel comfortable. Ask only once, not twice!

By anon349853 — On Sep 30, 2013

Well we have been harassed and now stalked by someone who lives in our apartment area. He blocked us and got out of the car and started pounding on our windows, and was screaming profanities, I called 911 and reported this, however we didn't file a police report because of the fact he lives here, and we're concerned about retaliation. Now that he has started stalking us, we are thinking of leaving and breaking the lease because of this.

We don't know this person and really are not familiar with anyone in this area. We are not from Florida at all. I am concerned for my safety because my husband works. I have the guy's license plate number. Should I go to the police?

By anon310357 — On Dec 22, 2012

My ex called my boss and said some bad things about me. How do I stop him from making any more trouble for me?

By Bhutan — On Dec 30, 2010

Subway11-Wow, what a sad story. I think that harassment in the workplace is occurring more and more too. Sometimes women experience unwanted sexual advances from their boss and it really makes for a difficult working relationship.

The best thing to do if the person does not stop is to keep a journal and document the activity and go to your human resources office and explain that you are working in a hostile working environment.

You may also want to look for work elsewhere in the meantime. It is better to keep your sanity and find somewhere else to work just in case your human resources department does not back you up.

By subway11 — On Dec 29, 2010

Sneakers41-Years ago when I first graduated from college, I had a management position in a department store and one of my employees had a tumultuous relationship with her boyfriend.

She eventually broke up with this man and filed a restrainer order against him. The young lady was only 18 years old and was on her way to Auburn University. She was murdered the night of her last day at work as a result of her ex boyfriend.

It was so sad because she was living in government housing and was really starting to turn her life around with this great college opportunity.

By sneakers41 — On Dec 27, 2010

Some stalking facts are startling. About one in twelve women will be stalked in their lifetime. Also, 81% of stalkers are men and most stalking cases involve someone that the victim knows intimately.

Sometimes these women file a harassment restraining order in order to keep the stalker away. Usually this is a stalking ex that can not move on with his life.

Many times the person has a history of domestic violence which is usually the reason for the breakup.

These men might also resort to harassment phone calls and their anger might escalate to actually committing murder. Although a restraining order does not always protect the women at least it does offer a record for the police to use against the perpetrator.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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