Prior to joining the domestic violence team here at Ringrose Law, I was ignorant to the levels of domestic violence which were prevalent through our society. One of which, and an extremely important aspect, is stalking and as part of National Stalking Awareness Week, I felt it was the right time to talk about this important and sometimes forgotten topic.
So many of us have read a book or watched a programme where the protagonist is followed, or watched, over a period of time by someone unknown to them, and I am sure we have all felt uneasy thinking what we would do in those situations, or even shouted at the screen for the character to turn around to spot them. Whilst of course there are many instances where we do not know those who are following us, the stark reality is that often we do know those who are keeping a watchful eye, and ensuring our whereabouts are known.
We have also seen the films where stalking is almost romanticised – with the stalker ‘getting the girl’ in the end – and as society dismisses the serious nature of such behaviour, victims are often too ashamed or feel silly in reporting an incident before there have been hundreds.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust has stated in recent reports that nearly 1.5 million people in England and Wales are victims of stalking every year. Bearing in mind England and Wales has roughly 69 million people residing within its boundaries, this is still a high figure when it comes to our safety. As I write this article, I am relieved that the Crown Prosecution Service now refers to stalking as a recognised form of domestic abuse, and between 2019 and 2020, 2,288 charges were brought against perpetrators of stalking. In the cases specifically relating to an ex-partner, victims reported being harassed by way of unwanted and sometimes threatening phone calls, as well as being physically followed or watched at their place of work or at home.
In seventeen cases, social media was cited as a significant factor, with numerous accounts being created by perpetrators to keep an eye on the victim – sometimes with the victim not aware as to who was behind these accounts.
I have already referred in previous blogs as to domestic violence cases increasing significantly throughout lockdown, but specifically, the increase in ‘cyberstalking’ has reached new highs. Through research, there are no figures established as to the amount of cases regarding cyberstalking, but it is there and all too easily accessible for perpetrators. In general terms, lockdown has significantly impacted our relationships and in some cases, has led to the deterioration and in some cases, the ending of intimate relationships. In these cases, what has stopped ex-partners from following your social media accounts with other newly formed accounts, watching your ‘stories’ and keeping an eye as to where you are or what you are doing – perhaps you have tagged yourself somewhere on social media, particularly now that restrictions are easing. Such very innocent activities on social media may just lead to ex-partners ‘just happening’ to be in the same place as them at the same time.
The Police are now urging stalking victims to speak out, and not to suffer in silence, with the forces stating it takes an average of 100 incidents before a victim reports a crime. The National Police Chiefs Council stated the increase in stalking offences through lockdown was apparent given an increase in time, either following loss of employment, working from home or being furloughed, allowing the perpetrator time to target their victims. The perpetrators have had longer periods to obsess over their victims, and to plan their routines around their victims, it is not surprising that 76% of women murdered by ex-partners were stalked by the perpetrator in the lead up to their deaths. It is for that reason that now more than ever, we need to be raising awareness of stalking and the harsh reality that the impact on the victim goes on for years after any behaviours have ceased.
If you feel you have been – or are – a victim of stalking, there are organisations that can provide you with support in order to take the next steps; whether that be to report the incidents to the police, or to obtain a non-molestation order.
Stalking is not, and never will be, okay. Speak out. Don’t suffer in silence.