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Why we must talk about stalking

In her latest blog, PCC Alison Hernandez says it’s vital that we raise our understanding about the impact stalking has on victims

I was pleased to see the issue of stalking raised in the last few weeks. It is so important that this gets talked about.

National Stalking Awareness Week is an important initiative run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. It aims to raise our understanding about the impact that stalking can have on victims, and the importance of acting early on in order to put a stop to this behaviour, before it escalates to physical or sexual violence, or even murder.  

Representatives of the Trust visited my office recently to meet with staff and explain more about this issue, which was extremely beneficial - some of the stats make alarming reading!

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. A study conducted at the University of Gloucestershire which was highlighted by the Trust, showed that 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 they may, at first, seem like ostensibly minor complaints, such as receiving unwanted gifts, or even somebody rearranging their garden furniture. However 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. The orders will be particularly useful because they will not only ban the perpetrator from going near the victim’s home, but they could also require the offender to undergo treatment for mental health problems. Therefore this means that we are dealing with the root cause of the behaviour which has led to the individual developing an unhealthy fixation with the victim in the first place.

Prosecutions for stalking and harassment have increased thanks to these new measures. Nationally, almost 13,000 prosecutions were recorded in 2014-15, with reports that up to 1.1 million people experience being stalked every year. However it is very 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 we signpost 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.

Our Victim Care Network in Devon and Cornwall is leading the way with help for all victims, and I urge anyone affected by stalking, or indeed any crime, to use it to reference the help and support that is so badly needed (www.victimcaredevonandcornwall.org.uk)

There are around 20 organisations listed there to help stalking victims, including the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. I have visited many of them and receive regular reports from victim care staff about the fantastic help they are able to give and, most importantly, the positive impact this has for victims, which can be life changing.

This help is signposted by our police when they assess what help a victim may need, and here in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, officers proactively share information with anyone who thinks that they are being stalked. 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. I am also pleased that our force sends out information from the National Stalking helpline and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust on their social media outlets.

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.  

Alison Hernandez

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