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Forces urged to improve stalking response

Forces have been urged to devote more resources to tackling stalking in order to counter the rise of tech-enabled offending.

More resources to stop stalkers and provide support for survivors are needed, a charity has warned.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust began National Stalking Awareness Week with a call for better support for survivors from those within the criminal justice system.

It released a report showing only 15% of the respondents who reported to police were referred to Stalking Advocates - trained specialists who provide victims with expert advice and support.

Police and Crime Commissioners started the week by highlighting how technology - including phone apps - and social media have driven an increase in offending.

Official estimates are that around two million people are victims of stalking every year in England and Wales.

But there is significant under-reporting; the Office for National Statistics found that just 80,000 stalking offences were recorded in England and Wales in 2020. Campaigners warn there could be as many as five million victims.

A sample case analysis by the Crown Prosecution Service found 84 per cent involved complaints against ex-partners and three-quarters reported domestic abuse had previously occurred during the relationship.

The most common form of offending was threatening phone contact or being stalked at their home or place of work.

But technology-enabled offending is also on the rise, according to the CPS.

Social media was cited as a significant factor, with offenders usually creating multiple Facebook and Instagram accounts to get around being blocked by their victims.

Three cases involved the disclosing of private sexual images - so-called “revenge porn”.

Another trend is the use of tracking devices on vehicles and mobile phones.

In February, Gloucestershire Constabulary obtained a 10-year restraining order against a 39-year-old man banning him for the county.

Gavin Eyles was also jailed for two years and eight months for a catalogue of offences including hiding in his victim’s home.

While on remand in prison, Eyles then phoned the victim 128 times.

The survivor explained the reality, which included hacking into online accounts.

She said: "This whole experience, although earth-shattering, has taught me many things in regards to stalking and its effects.

"Stalking is not just someone stood under a light outside your house, it's small subtle events such as texts, calls, flowers at your door, streaming sites you watch being hacked and monitored. It's invasive and scary. It can involve ex-partners but also neighbours or work colleagues or strangers.”

Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones said easy access to technology is an issue of concern.

He said: “Using technology and location tools to constantly check a person’s movements and monitor what they are up to isn’t ‘normal’. Stalking is fixated, obsessive behaviour which is unwanted and repeated.”

There is help for offenders: the NHS has set up a national stalking clinic for assessment and consultation for those who have engaged in stalking behaviour. It is an internationally recognised service that is part of the North London Forensic Service.

But with the court system under severe strain, the main focus by campaigners is on improving outcomes for those impacted by offenders.

Dame Vera Baird, Victim’s Commissioner for England and Wales, says: “Stalking is a dangerous and insidious crime and the impact on the victim can be devastating. Yet all too often, victims are not receiving the criminal justice outcomes that might be expected, underlining the need for specialist stalking support.

“Stalking Advocates offer invaluable practical advice and support to victims, which police and other justice professionals are ill-placed to provide. For example, they can ensure Stalking Protection Orders are in place, which continue to be under-utilised. I fully support the call for an increase in funding for stalking advocates to ensure they can bridge the gap between the victim and the criminal justice system.”

The lead force for best practice is Sussex Police which has a dedicated team and uses Stalking Advocates.

As soon as the Stalking Protection Act 2019 came into effect two years ago, Sussex was the first force in the country to secure Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) from the courts. The force has already secured 44 SPOs and applications for a further 11 are currently waiting hearings at courts in Sussex. 

Its Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne, who is also the National Stalking Lead for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said: “This is an extremely important week in the calendar as we all come together to support victims of stalking.

“It is a devastating crime that has life-changing consequences for many victims yet it is still under-reported and often misunderstood. We must continue to raise awareness about what stalking looks like, how to report it and, most importantly, how to get proper protection and support.”

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