This week is National Stalking Awareness Week and this year the campaign, Stalking Counts, focuses on online stalking while aiming to highlight the support and help available to victims.
As part of the week of campaigns, research commissioned by YouGov found that almost a fifth of adult women (18%) and 8% of men said they had been stalked.
The study, The Stalker in Your Pocket, also revealed that nearly 40% (36.8%) of people said they had been stalked via social media platforms such as Facebook. Others said it had taken place via email.
Perhaps surprisingly, a common response from victims is to disconnect from the internet rather than to report incidents to the Police. Perhaps the reluctance can be explained in part by respondents who said they had received a mixed response from Police.
Indeed, poor training and under resourced Forces have meant that victims are turning to other sources for solace, advice and support. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, has been inundated with calls seeking help and advice so much so that revealed it hasn’t been able to meet the demand for or respond to all of the vast number of calls it received, for help. In 2015 alone it reportedly received 6,500 calls and the charity says there is a year-on-year increase in those seeking help from them.
Like the research carried out this week, research by the Trust found a similar problem. Training and support services across Police services is mixed, many forces are underfunded and require improvement. Only a quarter of forces have a specialist and dedicated team available to victims, the Trusts research found.
Meanwhile, The College of Policing has responded with action, and is set to publish new guidance on stalking and harassment, “which reflects the changes to legislation and emerging knowledge about the experience and behaviour of perpetrators”, the college said.
In a well-timed interview last weekend British singer, Lilly Allen, bravely highlighted the effect stalking and harassment has on victims and revealed she had suffered for seven years at the hands of a stalker who terrified her.
Her personal account courageously chronicled how it began with abusive messages, this moved onto being physically accosted in public and the perpetrator even broke into her house.
Despite plentiful awareness raising campaigns and the introduction in 2012 of new legislation for England and Wales which makes stalking an offence, the crime has low prosecution figures. Estimates suggest 1 in 5 women have suffered at the hands of a stalker in England and Wales, yet there were just 743 prosecutions for the years 2013-14.
The issue of stalking, harassment and gender based violence was addressed in 2013 in the European Parliament when proposed European Union legislation, supported by my Committee, Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, was secured which granted protection to victims across European member states. It was designed to allow victims to move freely around European Union countries without fear of being harassed.
Under the new rules any victim of gender based violence, including victims of stalking are granted protection across all EU member states. The victim simply fills out a standard certificate which grants his or her right to fully enforced protection inside the European Union. The regulation was applied to cross-border cases with effect from 11 January 2015.