Alison Hernandez, the APCC Deputy Lead for the Victims Portfolio Group and the Police & Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, shares her thoughts on National Stalking Awareness Week:
This week is National Stalker Awareness Week, an important initiative ran by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, aiming to raise awareness on the impact that stalking can have on victims, and the importance of acting early-on in order to put a stop to stalking behaviour, before it escalates to physical or sexual violence, or even murder.
According to estimates, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 12 men will be the victims of stalking during their lifetimes. All too often, stalking does lead to tragedy: in a study conducted at the University of Gloucestershire highlighted by the Trust, out of over 350 cases of criminal homicide studied, stalking behaviours were recorded in 94% of them.
For this reason, victims of stalking need to be empowered to report concerns that they have regarding stalking behaviour early on, so that effective interventions can be made before the behaviour escalates. When victims come forward to report what may at first seem like ostensibly minor complaints – such as receiving unwanted gifts, or even somebody rearranging their garden furniture – police officers must not look at these incidences in isolation: they must piece them together, to see the bigger picture of the unhealthy stalking behaviour which is causing the victim distress.
We have made progress on combatting stalking over the last few years: stalking specifically became an offence under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. Then last year, alongside APCC Chair Dame Vera Baird QC, I welcomed plans made by the Home Office for the introduction of stalking orders: civil orders aimed at stopping stalking behaviour [more info]. The orders will be particularly useful, as they will not only ban the perpetrator from going near the victim’s home, but they could also require the perpetrator to undergo treatment for mental health problems, therefore dealing with the root cause of the behaviour which has led to the perpetrator developing an unhealthy fixation with the victim in the first instance.
Whilst prosecutions for stalking and harassment have increased thanks to these new measures – almost 13,000 prosecutions were recorded in 2014-15 – with reports that up to 1.1 million people experience being stalked in 2014/15 [more info] it is clear that there is still further work to do. As Police and Crime Commissioners, we must therefore continue to use our Police and Crime Plans to set the policing agenda in our areas, and ensure that sufficient resources are invested in combatting stalking and harassment in whatever forms they take. That is why, I am proud to say that my PCC signposts organisations such as the Trust, which runs the National Stalking Helpline, whilst supporting numerous local organisations which provide support to victims of stalking and harassment. Meanwhile, the Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Police proactively share information with the public on what to do if they think they are being stalked [more info]. Through seeing policing take the matter of stalking so seriously, members of the public will feel greater confidence in coming forward to report stalking when it happens to them.
Nobody should have to live their lives under the fog of fear which stalking can cause. Let’s therefore keep working together, to stop stalking behaviour in its tracks.
For more information on National Stalking Awareness Week 2017, please click here.