Call Today 803.359.3301
What Is the Difference Between Stalking & Harassment?

What Is the Difference Between Stalking & Harassment?

What’s the Difference Between Stalking & Harassment?

While criminal charges for harassment and stalking are similar in nature, there are key discrepancies between these two crimes that are important to be aware of.

Generally speaking, both charges entail a pattern of behavior (defined as 2 or more acts within a 90-day period) that causes a person distress. In some cases, these offenses can include similar acts, such as:

  • Following a targeted individual
  • Sending unwanted calls and messages
  • Monitoring and surveillance
  • Showing up uninvited at the person’s home or work
  • Sending unwanted gifts

However, there are some primary differences between stalking and harassment that offenders must know to gain a better understanding of penalties, long-term repercussions, and other elements of criminal proceedings.

Stalking vs. Harassment: 3 Key Differences to Know

Stalking and harassment entail similar behaviors with vastly different consequences. Keep reading to learn 3 essential discrepancies between stalking charges and harassment charges in South Carolina.

#1. The Intent

Harassment and stalking are different crimes that differ on a baseline level. Essentially, these differences are rooted in a couple of core elements: 1) the intent behind the crime, and 2) what the defendant must prove in court to avoid a conviction.


Harassment entails a pattern of behavior that causes an individual mental distress. South Carolina law describes harassment as “a pattern of intentional, substantial, and unreasonable intrusion into the private life of a targeted person that would cause a reasonable person in their position to suffer mental distress.”


Contrary to harassment charges, stalking entails a pattern of behavior that causes an individual to fear for the safety of themselves and/or their family. State law defines stalking as “a pattern of words or conduct that is intended to cause a targeted person (and would cause a reasonable person) to fear for their safety.”

As you might expect based on the above definitions, it’s usually more challenging to prove a felony (stalking) than it is to prove a misdemeanor (harassment) in court. While the latter simply requires proof of emotional or mental distress, the former requires proof that a targeted individual experienced fear (for themselves or a family member) of at least one of the following:

  • Death
  • Assault
  • Bodily injury
  • Criminal sexual contact
  • Kidnapping
  • Property damage

#2. The Degree

Another key difference between stalking and harassment is the degree of crime each one entails. Harassment is considered a misdemeanor while stalking is considered a felony.

This distinction is crucial for various reasons. Not only can it influence which legal defense strategy is most effective for a defendant in court, but it directly determines the severity of penalties that a person faces if convicted.

#3. The Penalties

As you might expect based on the degree of each crime, a stalking conviction (felony) entails harsher consequences than a harassment conviction (misdemeanor). Consider the following differences in penalties for each offense:

Harassment in the First Degree

Assuming the defendant is convicted of harassment in the first degree, they will be charged a misdemeanor that is punishable by:

  • Up to 3 years in prison
  • Up to a $1,000 fine

Harassment in the Second Degree

Harassment in the second degree is also a misdemeanor that is punishable by:

  • Up to 30 days in prison
  • Up to a $200 fine

Harassment with Prior Convictions

In some cases, the stakes are heightened by certain conditions. For example, if a person has 1) accrued prior harassment or stalking offenses over the last 10 years, or 2) acted in violation of a restraining order, they can face enhanced penalties, including:

  • Up to 1 year in prison
  • Up to a $1,000 fine


On the other hand, if the defendant is convicted of stalking, they can be charged with a felony that is punishable by:

  • Up to 5 years in prison
  • Up to a $5,000

Stalking in Violation of a Restraining Order

If a person commits a stalking offense that violates an existing restraining order or protective order, they’re subject to harsher consequences, including:

  • Up to 10 years in jail
  • Up to a $7,000 fine

Stalking with Prior Offenses

If the defendant has previously accrued stalking or harassment offenses, they may face heightened penalties, including:

  • Up to 15 years in jail
  • Up to a $10,000 fine

What Is Aggravated Stalking?

Aggravated stalking is a crime of a higher degree than both stalking and harassment. It involves stalking accompanied or followed by an act of violence. Under South Carolina law, it’s considered a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

In the instance that the defendant is convicted of aggravated stalking in violation of a restraining order, they face up to 10 years in prison and a $7,000 fine.

If the defendant commits aggravated stalking within 7 years of a prior offense, they face up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

We’re Here to Prioritize Your Rights & Reputation

Since 2004, our firm has taken pride in defending the rights of our clients in South Carolina. We understand have nerve-racking it can be to be accused of a crime, as a criminal record can have long-term effects on your life and jeopardize your future.

Whether you’ve been accused of stalking, harassment, or another criminal offense, it’s imperative to secure the support of a trusted criminal defense attorney who will prioritize your case from start to finish. Our experienced defense lawyers can not only guide your next steps, but can equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to obtain a favorable result in court.

If you’ve been accused of a crime, it’s essential to secure legal defense you can count on. Our firm offers free consultations to serve our clients’ time-sensitive needs. Call (803) 359-3301 to discuss your case with a skilled attorney.


Get Started Today

We're Available to Schedule Immediate, Same-Day Consultations
    • Please enter your name.
    • This isn't a valid phone number.
    • Please enter your email address.
      This isn't a valid email address.
    • Please make a selection.
    • Please enter a message.