The head of a national stalking charity says that the police are not doing enough to fight stalking.
Rachel Horman, the Chair of Paladin National Stalking Service, said there was ” no where near enough convictions of people under these offences and that too often the police trivialise the experience of victims”.
Her comments come the day after a Somerset man pleaded guilty to one count of stalking involving serious alarm/distress after six years of harassing BBC Points West presenter Alex Lovell.
Hawthorn sent a series of increasingly threatening and sexually explicit cards to the presenter.
Lead officer on the case, DC Patrick Prescott. “This behaviour can be extremely intimidating and have a significant impact on the lives of victims. No-one should live in fear of another person.If you believe you’re a victim of stalking or harassment, please seek help and don’t suffer in silence.”
Five years after the first stalking legislation became law, Horman said: “I hope the terror Lovell will have experiences with the threat of rape from an unknown person meaning that anyone on the street being a potential suspect will be reflected in a robust sentence.
“In 2012 the sentencing powers were doubled from five years to 10 years as a result of our campaigning, often these are not taken advantage of by the courts.”
Speaking after the case was heard, Ms Hawthorn added: “Though reporting of stalking crimes are way up, there is no where near enough convictions of people under these offences and that too often the police trivialise the experience of victims.
“We offer training but that can only go so far when it is a culture of misogyny within the police force which means that domestic violence and crimes primarily against women are not taken seriously.”
This week the Stalking Protection Order bill has made it through the House of Commons and had its first reading in the House of Lords.
This legislation will give the police powers to ban alleged stalkers from contacting their victims, before the behaviour has escalated or whilst evidence is collected for a criminal case.
“If we can step in at an earlier stage, perhaps we will have a better opportunity to prevent stalking before the behaviour can become so deeply ingrained,” said Sarah Wollaston MP who proposed the bill, during a debate in Parliament.
“There remains in the law… a serious gap when it comes to victims of what is known as stranger stalking, by which I mean those who are stalked by someone who is not a former or current intimate partner.
“Those victims of stalking do not have recourse to the protections available under the existing protection order regime.”
It is a particular victory that Hawthorn was brought to justice considering the difficulty in protecting victims of ‘stranger stalking’ cases, it is hoped the new law will give more protection in these instances.
Paladin and the Suzie Lamplugh Trust welcome the SPO bill but are concerned that officers will use these civil offences and not bring criminal prosecutions and convictions which mean they go on record and protect victims.
“For the people we support through stalking episodes, many of the initial behaviours they experience are not crimes within themselves.
It is not a crime to send an email, stand on a street corner or send gifts. However, when these incidents create a pattern of behaviour and engender alarm or distress, they amount to stalking. Stalking is a serious crime with serious consequences.
Gift giving, contact and surveillance can escalate into violence in 30%-40% of stalking cases, whilst a study by University of Gloucestershire, published by Suzy Lamplugh Trust in 2017, found 94% of femicides featured stalking in the year prior to the victim being killed.” stated a report by the National Stalking Consortium on 12th November.