The police service is acutely aware that the experience of being stalked can destroy the lives of victims. Tragically, in some cases, it may end in violence or murder.
Over the past year the National Stalking Helpline has spoken to over 2,200 victims of stalking and the latest Crime Survey of England and Wales shows that 4 per cent of women and 3 per cent of men reported having experienced stalking.
What’s the impact?
Many of these people have been stalked for a long period of time. On average we know a victim experiences 70-100 incidents before contacting the police.
Many of these people’s lives have changed dramatically. Some have lost jobs or moved house and or feel unable to go out socially as a result of being stalked. Many are also experiencing anxiety, insomnia or depression as a consequence.
Groups like the Everyday Sexism Project, which has been encouraging victims of stalking and harassment to share their stories via social media, cites startling examples of victims as young as 14 being routinely harassed on their way to and from school.
How can we help?
As the national policing lead for stalking and harassment, I’m acutely aware that if we are to continue improving the response to this crime the first thing we need is victims to come forward to the police. They have to have the confidence to do so and they need to know that the police will take their reports seriously.
Reporting to the police at the earliest opportunity will help to save lives.
Only 50 per cent of people who contact the Stalking Helpline have been to the police before; many do not think it is an option.
So I’m pleased today on National Stalking Awareness Day (April 18) to be chairing a conference in London to help raise awareness of stalking as a crime.
Currently the law is slightly different in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but what is important is that stalking behaviour is against the law across the UK. Everyone affected by stalking should know that there is help available and that they are not alone.
Therefore the Know the Law Use the Law campaign being rolled out by stalking awareness groups and police forces is aimed at encouraging those who are being stalked to seek help and to know that stalking is a crime.
New stalking legislation came into effect last year. The new amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 create two new stalking offences, section 2A - stalking and section 4A - stalking that causes serious distress or fear of violence. Section 4A has a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
ACPO has worked hard to raise the profile and understanding of stalking and harassment and extensive effort has gone into improving training, guidance and our overall response. We want officers to risk assess at the earliest opportunity to understand the victim’s needs, involve trained Public Protection Investigation specialists in the investigation and safeguarding, and use the law to protect victims. The service absolutely recognises the seriousness of stalking and ensuring best levels of service and consistency in the policing response across 43 force areas remains an ongoing challenge.
Where are we now?
More than 20,000 officers have so far completed specialist training developed by the College of Policing. This work will continue
We’ve also linked in with the Independent Police Complaints Commission and their Continuing Professional Development events to ensure any lessons on stalking case reviews are learned. Steps are also being made to look at how forces can be held to account on stalking issues
We’re also at the early stages of conducting research with forces on how the new legislation is being used. This includes looking at arrests under section 2A/4A and successful prosecutions. ACPO has asked the Home Office to carry out a formal review
We’re also looking at proposals to develop new National Crime Recording Standards for stalking.
As you can see there’s much work underway to improve our response and understanding of stalking.
And along with an improved policing response there’s a need for a wider change in cultural attitudes to stalking.
Historically such offences have been the butt of jokes. Having met and listened to the victims of these sustained and insidious crimes, I can assure you that stalking is no laughing matter.
Society needs to challenge those who think it’s acceptable to harass and stalk.
And we need to ensure that those people who are being stalked use their instincts. If they are intimidated, feel threatened or scared for their safety then they should report it to the police.
Not sure if you are being stalked? Check the 11 questions police will ask when you make a report.
For more advice about stalking please visit the Network for Surviving Stalking website or call the helpline on 0808 802 0300.