Sunday, 19 October 2014

Harassment, Stalking, and the Law

The following posts concern my thoughts, feelings and some strong opinions relating to the following article. The link will take you to the article, but won't improve the search engine results, the viewing figures or the social status of the article, so don't be afraid to read it.

The article in question was published the early morning of the 18th Oct, at which point, I was still obliviously in bed, more than likely asleep, completely unaware that another person who does what I do, that users the internet and/or her blog as a platform in which to express her opinions on a book she read, had been viciously and illegally investigated looked into stalked by an author who, surprise surprise, didn't like, nor appreciate her opinion on said book. My social feed was in uproar, and rightly so - in what world is it acceptable for somebody of such a higher authority, aka a published author, entitled to gather information, illegally on a certain individual just because she had her 'feelings hurt'? My mind was blown. I was in rage, I was disgusted, and most of all, I was confused.

But why was I confused?

A Crime Was Committed, Yet Brushed Aside


This is what confused me. A grown woman, a 'professional' woman took it upon herself to, after receiving advice from numerous people, some that encouraged and some, more importantly, that discouraged her, to illegally and immorally start to stalk somebody who was doing nothing more than publishing her opinion on the internet.

It has been mentioned by many and is mentioned in said article that blogger may or not have been using false information, aka photos and names in order to hide her identity. This has not been proven or validated. The only 'evidence' of this is the authors words, which would not, in a court of law, be used at all by the prosecution as there is no solid background behind this accusation.


I, in my last year of blogging have thankfully, never brunted the force of an author, or publishers, or in fact, anybody who deemed fit to tell me my opinion, my thoughts or my feelings were 'inaccurate' or 'wrong', that I was 'trying to ruin their career' and I sincerely hope that I won't be at the forefront of any of those actions in my future, yet I remain completely aware, more so now than ever before, that this is completely possible, and I find this in every way, wrong.

I read books because I enjoy the experience. Some books I enjoy the experience of more than others and I cannot share that with many of the people I spend physical time with, so, in order to talk about these feelings, these 'experiences', I talk about them online, on an outlet, Blogger, that has never seen anything I have written or said to be against their terms and conditions. I write honestly and fairly. I justify my actions and my opinions, and I make people aware that my issues are with the novel I have read, not the author who wrote it, or the publishing house that published it, or the editors that worked on it, or the cover artist who helped promote it or anyone else that plays a part in the production of said novel. When I have an issue with the book, I have an issue with the book itself, not the people behind the book. When I have an issue of not connecting to the character, I have an issue with the character, not the author who wrote the character. When I have an opinion, I share it, honestly, truthfully and fairly and I have never been abused, hurt or viciously attacked because of it. Why? Because it's completely and utterly wrong.

To start following somebody, whether that be online, in public or privately, to start watching their every move, to compare their words to their actions, to monitor them on a daily basis, to seek them out, to find them, to cross a boundary with that other person in order to fulfil some quest, some challenge, in order to gain answers you want, without permission from the other person is completely and utterly illegal.

I order to get down to the nitty gritty issue of whether the authors actions where in fact to be classed as stalking, I took it upon myself to research some the UK's Harassment and Stalking Terminology and what exactly equates to having committed a crime. Lets take a look..
"In this legal guidance, the term harassment is used to cover the 'causing alarm or distress' offences under section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 as amended (PHA), and 'putting people in fear of violence' offences under section 4 of the PHA. The term can also include harassment by two or more defendants against an individual or harassment against more than one victim."
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"A prosecution under section 2 or 4 requires proof of harassment. In addition, there must be evidence to prove the conduct was targeted at an individual, was calculated to alarm or cause him/her distress, and was oppressive and unreasonable."
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"Harassment of an individual can also occur when a person is harassing others connected with the individual, knowing that this behaviour will affect their victim as well as the other people that the person appears to be targeting their actions towards. This is known as 'stalking by proxy'. Family members, friends and employees of the victim may be subjected to this."

I don't know about you, but something tells me that not only did the authors actions aim to cause 'alarm or distress', but she also readily admitted to this in the article, providing an account of her actions and actual physical proof of her actions, as well as further causing more distress to the reviewer by engaging in confrontational conversation with her friends on other social media outlets. In the UK, the authors actions would be deemed as harassment and could, in a court of law, result in a six month imprisonment, whether or the reviewer stood up as a witness and testified against her, her actions would already have evidential proof and would therefore be enough to convict her.

Lets move onto how the authors actions where taken a step further and reached stalking..
"Whilst there is no strict legal definition of 'stalking', section 2A (3) of the PHA 1997 sets out examples of acts or omissions which, in particular circumstances, are ones associated with stalking. For example, following a person, watching or spying on them or forcing contact with the victim through any means, including social media."
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"The effect of such behaviour is to curtail a victim's freedom, leaving them feeling that they constantly have to be careful. In many cases, the conduct might appear innocent ( if it were to be taken in isolation), but when carried out repeatedly so as to amount to a course of conduct, it may then cause significant alarm, harassment or distress to the victim."
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"Stalking is not legally defined but section 2A (3) of the PHA 1997 lists a number of examples of behaviours associated with stalking. The list is not an exhaustive one but gives an indication of the types of behaviour that may be displayed in a stalking offence. The listed behaviours are: (a) following a person, (b) contacting, or attempting to contact, a person by any means, (c) publishing any statement or other material relating or purporting to relate to a person, or purporting to originate from a person, (d) monitoring the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication, (e) loitering in any place (whether public or private), (f) interfering with any property in the possession of a person, (g) watching or spying on a person."

Now, also, you're welcome to correct me if I am wrong, but, according to authors version of 'events', the author admitted to: contacting or attempting to contact a person by any means, publishing any statement or other material relating or purporting to relate to a person, and watching or spying on a person. The Stalking and Harassment Laws also delve into how to identify a stalker, shall we see whether the author fits the lovely, legal ways to identify?
In making an identification and assessment of risk, police officers should give consideration to information around:

the harassment behaviour involved;

  • the suspect (for example, previous history of behaviour and their circumstances);
  • Matters to be considered include:
  • the harassing behaviour is happening more frequently or escalating in terms of the level of violence used;
  • the suspect is physically present at the victim's home, workplace or place where they can regularly be found;
  • the harassing behaviour is being directed against people surrounding the victim (for example, partner, family, friends, children, neighbours and work colleagues);
  • threats of harm are being made to the victim or someone else - this might include indirect threats; and the occurrence of destruction or vandalism of property belonging to either the victim or someone else.

The suspect may have:

  • previous convictions (or alternatively there may be relevant police intelligence) for violence or other offending (for example, domestic abuse, sexual violence, other violence, theft, and criminal damage);
  • engaged in harassment on previous occasions against the victim or someone else;
  • harmed the victim or anyone else (including family, or anyone else the victim may have had a relationship with, or stranger), physically or sexually;
  • harmed animals - in particular harmed pets belonging to the victim or those close to the victim;
  • breached an injunction, non-molestation order, other court order or bail conditions;
  • encouraged other people to assist in the stalking or harassment (whether they are conscious of their involvement or not);
  • considerable knowledge about the victim. In particular, the victim's work, home, personal lifestyle and movements (for example, due to the relationship with the victim or access to information as a result of the defendant's profession or expertise);
  • an occupation/interests which are a source of concern (for example, access to weapons, firearms licence holder or access to confidential information);
  • threatened or attempted suicide;
  • a history of misuse of drugs (prescription or other) or alcohol; and mental health issues (including borderline personality disorders) or exhibit bizarre behaviour including evidence of delusions or hallucinations.

Once again, I am more than willing to allow people to prove me wrong, but, according the article, the author admitted to harassing the reviewer more regularly and making herself physically present at the reviewers address. It has also come to light that the author had previously been involved (and therefore there is relevant police evidence) in a violent or offending encounter on another occasion and had harassed and engaged in other similar behaviour with another reviewer on another occasion, as well as having considerable knowledge about said reviewer and her movements and access to confidential information (due to her future in-laws being involved with both a publishing house who had the reviewers information and newspaper and media outlets). According to these legal documents, the author in question is not only identifiable as a stalker, but could easily be prosecuted for these actions in a court of law, which could easily result in a maximum of 5 years imprisonment. This could also be proven in a court of law without the reviewer testifying because, once again, the physical proof aka the article is the most firm account of the facts, from the stalkers point of view.

Now that I have without doubt proven that, in the UK, the authors actions are both deemed as harassment and stalking and that she could quite easily be prosecuted without a seconds thought, let me move onto why this is causing such distress in the community.

People are standing by the authors actions.


Other authors, publishing houses and indeed, other bloggers, are standing by this authors actions, calling her 'brave' and the article 'fascinating', saying she did 'right in outing a catfisher' (which is a whole different matter entirely, covered extremely well in this post) and even going as far as to further promote the article as a 'fun' and 'educating' read.

These people are not only condoning the actions of the author, of her stalking and harassment, but they are promoting it in a positive light, making fun of a serious issue in society and making other reviewers and bloggers, like myself, not only afraid of doing what they enjoy doing, reviewing books and encouraging or discouraging their friends from reading them, but afraid of opening their mouths through fear of backlash, abuse or being harassed and stalked themselves.

THIS IS WRONG


There is never anything right, nor legal about harassing and stalking someone to make yourself feel better.
There is never anything right about promoting and publishing your stalking habits for the world to see.
There is never anything right about causing somebody, a group or a community of people to fear using their human rights. To speak. To come forth with their opinion. To do what makes them happy. There is absolutely nothing morally nor legally right about this and it has to stop, now.

There will be bloggers that now consider whether they should continue with their hobbies. Whether their happiness of sharing their opinion is worth the possibility of being accused, being verbally abused, being accused of things not true and being slandered for being honest, but I will not stand down. I will not be driven away from a hobby that has not only improved my confidence and my personal accomplishments, but as enabled me to create honest and true relationships with people all over the world, other bloggers and reviewers, other authors and other publishing houses. I will not be driven away from speaking out honestly and fairly about my opinion, about my feelings and my thoughts. I will not be made to feel as though I am not important, that my words have no meaning or control. I will continue what I do best, speaking, explaining and discussing subjects and books that matter to me. No author, publishing house or newspaper will stand in my way.

What Kathleen Hale and the Guardian did was not only immoral, but illegal. No matter what the reviewer/blogger did beforehand, those actions don't excuse harassment or stalker-like behaviour. To stand by them is to stand on the wrong side of the law, and the sooner people realise that, the better.
I hope other bloggers and reviewers won't be driven out of a hobby that they love by these actions and will remember that while there are some people in the world that aim to destroy, there are others who aim to create, love and cherish, and without reviewers and bloggers, the world of books would be a much more lonely and damned boring place.

All opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone.
All my legal evidence was provided by Gov.uk and can be found here.

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