The new Stalking Protection Bill does not go far enough according to our very own Rachel Horman, who has represented a number of high profile stalking victims.
Stalking is one of the most frequently experienced forms of abuse – with official figures showing one in five women and one in 10 men will be stalked in their lifetime.
A 2017 study by the University of Gloucestershire found stalking was identified in the runup to 94 per cent of the 358 criminal homicides examined.
The bill – which is being sponsored by Tory MP Dr Sarah Wollaston and will have its third reading in parliament later this week – aims to deal with a gap in the law on stalking, which is predominantly configured around stalking by ex-partners, by focusing more on the issue of “stranger stalkers”.
It includes anti-stalking orders which can be issued “on the balance of probability” to curb stalking when it may not be possible to reach the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard of proof required for criminal cases.
They could cover banning people from approaching a person and their friends and family – online or in real life – and breaches could result in perpetrators facing up to five years’ imprisonment.
Speaking to the independent, Rachel, who is also a Director of Paladin the National Stalking Advocacy Service, said she was fearful it would result in police using orders instead of convictions.
“Paladin welcomes the new bill but we do not think it goes far enough. We are concerned the police will use orders instead of charges. While the protection order is designed to keep the victim safe, without a criminal conviction the behaviour is invisible and allows the perpetrator to claim that they are of good character which can assist in reducing the sentence given by a court in the future.
“The protection orders are part of the civil route – they are completely separate to the criminal process. We want them to be used as well as criminal convictions but at the moment prosecutions are few and far between, and we do not want it to get worse.”
Rachel also said it was common for alleged perpetrators to be charged with stalking but for charges to be dropped to harassment when cases reach court.
“Harassment charges are less serious than stalking – there is a difference in the sentence – and the defendant will plead guilty to harassment if they agree to drop the stalking. It is a prevalent problem.”
“There is also a problem with underreporting. On average, a victim has experienced over 100 incidents before they even report it to the police. And then when they do go to the police, they do not do anything.”
She said the overwhelming majority of victims get a poor response from the police who do not perceive stalking as a proper crime. “They issue a warning through a police information notice but it often increases the risk for a victim because it angers the stalker. If you look at a lot of the murders which have happened, a warning notice was issued before,” she said.
According to Home Office figures, in 2014-15 there were 2,882 recorded offences of stalking, but by 2017-18 that figure had risen to 10,214.
But the percentage of people charged has radically fallen – of the 6,702 cases in which a charge could have been brought, only 1,692 offences (25 per cent) led to one. The percentage was considerably higher in 2014-15, when 49 per cent of reported crimes resulted in a charge. The figure dropped to 32 per cent in 2015-16 and 30 per cent in 2016-17.
Just 1 per cent of stalking victims are estimated to seek help. A joint inspection last year by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary found none of the 112 cases they looked at were dealt with properly.
If you are experiencing stalking or harassment you should ensure that you keep a diary of the behaviour and also the affect that the behaviour is having on you as this will be relevant in terms of which criminal charges are brought. It is also important that the behaviour is reported to the police and that your friends, family and work colleagues are aware of the situation as they may notice things that you do not. Do not destroy any evidence and think about ways in which you can gather evidence. Ensure you receive expert advice from Watson Ramsbottom and the support services such as Paladin – The National Stalking Advocacy Service – 0207 840 8960. Finally never make contact or respond to your stalker and ensure that the Police and Support Services carry out a stalking risk assessment in relation to your case.
For further advice visit our Stalking, Cyber Stalking and Harassment page.
If you are concerned or would like some confidential legal advice, Contact us on 01254 67 22 22, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by filling out our contact us form and somebody will be in touch.