Hollywood stars are not the only people to be hounded by stalkers.

Stalkers are more likely to harass ordinary people than generally thought, according to a study published in Britain on Thursday, which said one in eight British adults are victims of "persistent or unwanted attention."

"The public perception is of stalking as a crime that effects only celebrities," said the report by researchers at the University of Liverpool.

"However, recent large-scale studies in the USA and Australia suggest the prevalence in the general population may be far higher than expected."

Stalkers are most likely to target professional women in their 40s with jobs that put them in positions of responsibility or bring them into close contact with clients, the researchers found, after examining data from Britain, the United States and Australia.

People such as surgeons, social workers, lawyers and therapists may become a target for harassment, said co-author Professor David Canter.

"If you are in a professional position and somebody does seem to be taking a particular interest in you, you do have to be alert to the possibility that this could be difficult to handle," Canter told Reuters.

Canter has had first-hand experience of harassment, having taken a former secretary to court to stop her from phoning him 100 times a day to demand that he renew her short-term contract.

Up to 45 percent of stalking episodes included violence and in many cases the stalking behavior did not stop until the victim made drastic changes to his or her life, the study showed.

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