Between 2013 to 2014 it was reported 10,535 people were prosecuted for stalking. And that’s only taking into account the number of cases reported to the police. In England and Wales, stalking is dealt with under The Protection from Harassment Act of 1997.’
Although police are receiving higher reports of stalking each year, the question still has to be raised as to why such a small proportion of stalking offences are actually recorded.
A number of factors may be at hand here. Just like domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment at the workplace – perceptions of what it means to fall victim to these crimes and how the criminal justice system may view you, are often residual causes of the lack of reports on stalking.
Victims in 2011-12 between the ages of 16 to 59 peaked at 686,000 known cases, In all those statistics there are real people with real lives and real emotions. Some men and women may feel naive, they may blame themselves and feel as though they’ll be pre-judged by police and shunned by their family or friends. Alternatively, some people may choose to rely on spouses/partners, family or friends to help get rid of someone they deem a nuisance instead of going through what they may feel is unnecessary aggravation of involving police and possibly having to appear in court.
Cyber-stalking has opened up a Pandora’s box for law enforcement, as they struggle to deal with the amount of sex crime, harassment and stalking that persists online – with many of us just dismissing it, but it has the potential to escalate.
The dynamics of this can become even more complex and dangerous for someone when the accused stalker is a colleague, for example, and the working environment is one where harassment is deemed as ‘banter’, and you’re encouraged to just, ‘get on with it’ rather than ‘make a fuss’.
Or you may be a young woman or man in university who feels they can handle a little unwanted attention. But if they become aggressive and you can’t escape them, because they’re in your classes, on your campus etc, how do you pluck up the courage to take the legal route? How do you even identify that you have fallen prey to a stalker when tactics can be so subtle and covert?
Stalking can be so pervasive and subtle that it can remain undetected for months. For instance, receiving anonymous gifts, hacking of your email and social media accounts, seeing someone in places regularly where they wouldn’t normally be, use of public records to find out where you work or live, or to find out your telephone number are all ways you won’t be able to automatically realise stalking is occurring. And while there is no legal definition for stalking The Crown Prosecution Service list a number of behaviours on their website:
- Attempting to contact someone by any means
- Monitoring the use by a person of the internet, email, or any form of electronic communication
- Interfering with property in possession of a person
- Publishing any statement or other material relating or purporting to relate to a person i.e. naked pictures being circulated, hacking of your social media)
So how do we counteract this problem and get more people the support they need?
Victims can contact The National Stalking Helpline, visit forums where you can at least share or read others similar experiences. Those with responsibility to help protect us can help too; panic alarms, a sensitive attitude by police, injunctions and support from workplaces and universities can help to create a safe space or appointed member of staff whereby victims can report anything untoward.
The number of victims of sexual assaults, stalking and other forms of harassment seem only set to rise, so it is critical we educate ourselves and those with power to help make it as accessible for vulnerable people as possible.
What do you think? Can more be done to help the victims? Have your say in the comments below.