Stalking continues to steal lives
APCC Chair, Katy Bourne is urging all police forces to ‘See Stalking Clearly’ as concerns grow for victims in ‘lockdown’.
Mrs Bourne, who has her own experience of malevolent stalking, is calling on her fellow PCCs, police forces and criminal justice agencies to continue taking all cases of stalking seriously and ensure that, despite the pandemic, they are still putting robust measures in place to keep victims safe.
Since the Coronavirus emergency began and a ‘lockdown’ was first muted there has been over a 50% increase in calls made weekly to national stalking advocacy service, Paladin with a significant shift to cyberstalking. Local advocacy services, like Veritas Justice in Sussex, have also reported that 75% of their clients are experiencing this worrying change in their perpetrator’s behaviour.
Cyberstalking is regarded by Mrs Bourne and police forces nationally as an extension of ‘offline’ stalking, with online contact made by stalkers considered as just one of the many tools in their arsenal. Over 90% of stalking cases have an element of cyberstalking involving texts, emails and messages posted on social networking sites and even gaming platforms.
Mrs Bourne comments: “The theme for the national awareness week is ‘Seeing Stalking Clearly’ and it’s very pertinent, especially during this crisis, that we all do start to see and take seriously these types of crimes.
“The rise in cyberstalking due to the ‘lockdown’ concerns me deeply. We know all too well that this behaviour causes extreme distress and can unfortunately escalate quickly.
“The severity of risk to a victim is now defined by the amount of time invested by the perpetrator in their obsession. So, with many victims receiving over 100 text messages/emails/phone calls a day, we know that these strong fixations could have a more sinister outcome.”
“Once lockdown is lifted, reports of physical stalking crimes will probably rise in a similar way to those feared for domestic abuse (DA). In these cases, victims are trapped at home with their perpetrators and they may have no discreet way of contacting the police or reaching out to friends and family for help. As a result, reports of DA just in Sussex have decreased, showing an 8% reduction at the start of ‘lockdown’ and 3% last week.
“There is a general feeling that physical stalking will take the same pattern. Nationally we are preparing for an increase in reports of both crime types when ‘lockdown’ regulations are relaxed as victims, and their perpetrators, will have more freedom of movement and there may well be an increase in third-party reporting too as a result.
“We also shouldn’t expect to see the high levels of cyberstalking cease. We need to remember that stalkers will have invested time during this crisis learning and honing their skills, using new digital methods to reach their victims. So, we will most likely begin to notice an upward trend in the use of sophisticated tech to stalk, such as bugging devices and spyware.
“Around 70% of stalking victims are stalked by an ex-intimate partner and stalking unfortunately features in 96% of domestic homicides, with surveillance and other forms of technology being used in 67% of these cases.
“After lockdown we must prepare for an influx of people who are fleeing abusers and becoming victims of stalking. Whilst this is something that Sussex Police will be monitoring, I’m also urging forces and support services nationally to look out and similarly prepare.
“The suspension and delays of all new and ongoing trials could also add to the challenges of protecting victims during the crisis and, more crucially, when ‘lockdown’ is loosened.
“The courts are trying very hard to keep emergency hearings going remotely so Non-molestation Orders, Domestic Violence Protection Orders and Stalking Protection Orders can still be processed at the usual rate. However, at present all new and ongoing trials are being suspended which is only adding to the fear and vulnerability that many victims are already feeling.
“Additionally, the interim CPS charging protocol in response to the Covid-19 crisis failed to specify stalking as a priority offence, which is a concern for me due to the strong links it has with high risk domestic abuse and homicide.
“While not all stalking cases will reach a crisis point, research has proved that early identification of stalking behaviours is ultimately about homicide prevention. We need to ensure there continues to be no delays in putting through protection orders, assessing breaches and that we are making the prosecution of perpetrators a priority.
“Stalkers now have 24hrs in the day, uninterrupted, to obsess over their victims. We must ensure that our most vulnerable are made aware of the support still available to them and that the police and wider criminal justice partners continue to be there, keeping them safe.”
“Remember FOUR. If the behaviour is:
F – fixated
O – obsessive
U – unwanted
R - repeated
It’s stalking and it’s a crime.”
For specialist stalking advice and support call Suzy Lamplugh’s national helpline on 0808 802 0300
Advice will be circulated during the week using the hashtags #NSAW2020 #SeeStalkingClearly
You can report stalking or harassment to police forces online or by calling 101 but always call 999 if you are in danger.