Stalking and domestic abuse, cyberstalking and overlap of offences

Stalking and domestic abuse

Stalking is increasingly being recognised across the UK as a form of domestic abuse, with the majority of stalking cases being carried out by ex-partners. Many victims of stalking by an ex-partner will also have reported domestic abuse during the course of the relationship.

Obsession, fixation and surveillance common in both cases of coercive control and stalking are key indicators for future serious potential harm and homicide for victims of domestic abuse and stalking. Many of the behaviours and forms of conduct associated with stalking may also amount to abusive behaviour under section 2 of the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021.

Rejected stalking is one of the most common forms of stalking where the stalker was engaged in a previous relationship with the victim. Following the breakdown of the relationship the stalker may go on to bombard the victim with unwanted and often threatening phone contact or physically stalk the victim at home or at work. In these cases legal analysis will be required to make a judgement call as to whether the stalking offence or the domestic abuse offence is most appropriate to charge.

Section 4 of the Protection from Stalking Act (NI) 2022 expressly provides that if the court cannot be satisfied that the Domestic Abuse offence has been made out, then the court may convict of the alternative offence of Stalking or TAB, provided that the evidence adduced amounts to the alternative offence.

Overlap between Stalking, TAB and Harassment

Harassment is an offence under Article 4 of the Protection from Harassment Order  1997. The prosecution must prove that the defendant:

  • pursued a course of conduct;
  • which he knew, or ought to have known, amounted to harassment.

Harassment is not defined within the 1997 Order, however Article 2(2) states that harassment includes alarming a person or causing a person distress. Harassment can include repeated attempts to impose unwanted communications and contact upon a victim in a manner that could be expected to cause distress or fear in any reasonable person.

There is potentially an overlap between stalking, TAB and harassment behaviours. Harassment may be part of a stalking pattern of behaviour / course of conduct. Stalking is however differentiated from harassment as it relates to fixation and obsession rather than nuisance behaviour which is more associated with harassment.

The element of fear and fixation is what separates stalking from harassment. Harassment can be irritating and a nuisance, sometimes to the point where a victim feels deeply uncomfortable or distressed. However victims of harassment will not typically be afraid of their perpetrators.

As with stalking, the TAB offence may be differentiated from harassment by the element of fear or level of alarm that it will often cause to the victim.


Stalking can also take place on the internet and through the misuse of email. This is known as ‘cyberstalking’. This can include the use of social networking sites, chat rooms and other forums facilitated by technology.

The internet can be used for a range of purposes relating to stalking, for example:

  • To locate personal information about a victim.
  • To communicate with a victim.
  • As a means of surveillance of the victim.
  • Identity theft such as subscribing the victim to services, purchasing goods and services in their name.
  • Tricking other internet users into threatening or abusing the victim

Restraining Orders

The court has the power to make a restraining order under Article 7 of the Protection from Harassment (NI) Order 1997, either upon conviction for any offence and in addition to any sentence, or upon acquittal for any offence if it is deemed necessary to protect a person from harassment by the defendant (Article 7A).

In accordance with Article 7(2), a restraining order made upon conviction may, for the purpose of protecting the victim of the offence, or any other person referred to in the order, from conduct which amounts to harassment or will cause a fear of violence, prohibit the defendant from doing anything described in the order.

A restraining order may be made upon acquittal if the court considers it necessary to do so to protect a victim from harassment by the defendant. A restraining order is a civil order and as such, it is possible that although the defendant is acquitted on the criminal standard of proof, the court may still be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the behaviour which was the subject of the prosecution occurred or that some behaviour which is not the subject of the charge occurred.

Further reading

For more information, please see the following pages: