More than a third of stalking victims are now targeted online as the internet leaves them with nowhere to hide, according to a major new study.
A poll found nearly one in five British women (18.1 per cent) and one in 12 men (7.7 per cent) have suffered repeated and unwanted contact or intrusive behaviour which causes them fear or distress.
Among those, 36.8 per cent were stalked using online methods, research commissioned by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust showed.
The charity said survey respondents who suggested they had been “cyber-stalked” indicated a range of social media and web platforms were used by stalkers including email, Facebook, Twitter, dating websites and apps, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr and Snapchat.
Last year the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey found that 6 per cent of adults in Scotland had fallen victim to stalking - and that 24 per cent of those who have experienced at least one form of stalking had been approached via social networks.
Victims are being driven to disconnect from the internet by their tormentors, with the latest survey showing that more than a fifth (22 per cent) of all those who had been stalked have withdrawn from some form of online activity or social media.
Experts said the findings highlight how cyberspace has given perpetrators a new weapon in their armoury.
Forensic psychiatrist Dr David James, who worked on the study, said: “New methods of communication mean stalking online is something you can never get away from.
“In effect, you carry the stalker ‘in your pocket’ in the form of any mobile phone. This can be especially traumatising for victims.”
The report – based on a poll of 4,054 British adults – also found of those that have been stalked, 18.8 per cent of cases lasted more than a year and 7.9 per cent lasted more than five years.
Rachel Griffin, director of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said: “It is incredibly important that we are aware that victims of stalking can be harassed and abused both when they are going about their daily lives and when they are online.”
Last year the government set out proposals for new protection orders for victims of “stranger stalking”.
Twitter declined to comment. Under the site’s rules, accounts responsible for harassment of others can be temporarily locked or permanently suspended.