Stalking became a criminal offence in 2012 but, six years later, it is still not properly understood. When incidents are reported, police all too often look for a specific offence rather than recognising a pattern of harmful behaviour.
The issue is that misconceptions about stalking can undermine the ability of the police and prosecutors to recognise, investigate and prosecute it.
1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men will experience stalking at some stage in their lifetime but, alarmingly, only a fraction of these cases are reported to the police, and many find the response they get unhelpful.
My own experience of stalking, over a five year period, led me to seek an injunction against a local man. I was fortunate to have excellent advice and support from colleagues but the relentless harassment and the laborious process to get it to stop was very wearing. It is not surprising that I have huge sympathy for other stalking victims. I fully understand their frustration when it seems like the system doesn’t respond in a compassionate and constructive way.
We still need a cultural change to position stalking as an actual crime and not as a nuisance. We most definitely need to train police officers to spot the signs of stalking, and our prosecutors need to understand the range of offences that a stalker can potentially be committing.
Three years ago, my office looked into whether there was a compelling need for a specialist service in Sussex to support local victims of stalking. It became clear that a comprehensive response was required so I provided a two-year £92,500 grant (co-commissioned with Sussex Police) to fund a local, specialist service provided by Veritas Justice.
Since August last year over 650 police officers and professionals, including 18 prosecutors, have now been trained by Veritas Justice and other specialist stalking organisations. I am really pleased that Sussex Police has acknowledged its training and development needs and senior officers are as committed as I am to ensuring the Force understands stalking.
I invested a large part of last year’s precept rise (the amount residents pay in their council tax towards policing) into the police’s Public Protection Unit, and Sussex Police is now better equipped and better trained to recognise and deal with stalking. We also now have in place a multi-agency stalking and harassment governance group.
I know that all police forces can, and must, do better. We can all remember when violence between couples was more often dismissed as ‘just a domestic’. It seems to me that as a nation, we have pigeon-holed stalking as a minor problem. Is that because victims are not showing up with bruises and broken bones?
What we do know is that we need to raise awareness of stalking with all our statutory agencies. We need to give victims the confidence to report it and more ways to fight back. Unfortunately, prosecution and imprisonment of stalkers often only comes after the victim has already suffered probably years of frightening and life-inhibiting harassment and abuse. Remember, stalking can be defined if the behaviour is one of the ‘dangerous four’: Fixated, Obsessive, Unwanted or Repeated. If you or anyone you know experiences this type of behaviour, please report it to the police. Together we must all stand up to stalking.
For advice and information about stalking and harassment visit www.sussex.police.uk/stalking
For support visit: www.safespacesussex.org.uk
To contact the office please call or email:
Tel: 01273 481561