Overview of UK Stalking laws

Overview of UK Stalking laws

UK: Who Stalks? (National Stalking Helpline 2015)

The Crime Survey of England and Wales has found that 4.9% of women and 2.4% of men reported they had been stalked[1] in the last year. This equates to 734,000 women and 388,000 men each year. These figures make stalking as pervasive as domestic abuse.

Stalkers are most likely to target someone known to them. The largest group of stalkers is ex-partners, accounting for 45%[2] of all cases. The smallest group is strangers, with only 10% of people being stalked by someone they have no prior relationship with. Other groups of stalkers include acquaintances of the victim (22%), colleagues/ex-colleagues of the victim (5%) and members of the victim’s family (4%).

80% of victims who contact the National Stalking Helpline are female and the majority of their stalkers are male. Stalkers can be any age and the Helpline has dealt with cases where the stalker was under 18 years old and others where the stalker is over 70 years old.

The UK Legislation

Whilst the stalking law in England and Wales is only three and a half years old, the first piece of legislation designed to deal with persistent unwanted distressing behaviour, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, was passed almost twenty ago.

Over the last twenty years, these campaigns have been led by the voices and experiences of victims of stalking and their families.

As a result of this tireless work there have been some significant steps forward including:

  • The inclusion of stalking data in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (formerly British Crime Survey) in 2005
  • The creation of the National Stalking Helpline in 2010
  • The introduction in 2012 of a law naming stalking as a criminal offence (as distinct from harassment)
  • The development of e-learning packages about stalking by the College of Policing and the Crown Prosecution Service in 2012 and 2013
  • The inclusion of stalking as a crime type that entitles victims to additional support in the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in 2013
  • Stalking law introduced in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2014

UK Police Stalking figures

Police

  • The number of stalking cases recorded by the police represents less than 1% of the cases that take place each year.
  • There is an alarming discrepancy between the numbers of recorded stalking crimes across different police force areas.
  • A number of police forces reported that their recorded stalking figures for 2014/2015 were lower than their recorded stalking figures for 2013/2014.

Stalking is under-reported

Research has found that only 26.6% of stalking has been reported to the police[3] and of those who have made a report to the police 43.3% found the response not very helpful or not helpful at all. [4]

The National Stalking Helpline states that victims say when they make a report to the police, their complaint is not always recorded as stalking. A report may be recorded as harassment or a police officer may focus on one aspect of the stalking such as criminal damage, or they could be told that nothing can be done to help them and it is not a police matter.

We are therefore concerned that stalking is both under-reported by victims and under-recorded by the police.

Current Campaign to increase sentencing in the UK

(Stalking- The Case for Extending the Maximum Penalty by Alex Chalk MP and Richard Graham MP)

CURRENT LAW

Section 4A (S4A) of the Protection from Harassment Act1997 prohibits a course of conduct which amounts to stalking and causes either the victim to fear that violence will be used against them on at least two occasions or serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their day to day activities. It is designed to recognise the serious impact that stalking may have on victims even where an explicit fear of violence is not created by each incident of stalking. This maximum sentence is currently five years’ imprisonment

According to Ministry of Justice data, in 2014 only 147 people were convicted of Section 4A stalking offences. House of Commons Library statistics suggest that custodial sentences in stalking cases (including section 2A which included 348 offenders in 2014) are the exception, not the rule

Relatively few cases ever reach court. In the year ending June 2015, the police recorded 93,423 harassment complaints and 3,179 stalking complaints 4 Prosecutions were commenced for 12,122 harassment and stalking offences in 2014 - 15; this is a rise of 1,587 offences (15.1%) from 2013 -14. Of these, there were 1,103 prosecutions commenced under the new stalking offences (nearly 50% rise compared to 2014).

Of those, only 427 related to the more serious offence of stalking (section 4A) which carries a maximum 5-year sentence if convicted

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, a national stalking charity, state that they have received testimony from psychiatrists that short sentences can in some cases increase the risk of harm to the victim. ‘This is because offenders will be sent to prison, at which point they will probably lose their job, their social relationships may break down as people find out what they have done and the offender then has time in prison to think about what has happened and fixate further on the person they blame. They are then released without any treatment/rehabilitation and with less social constraints i.e. relationships to maintain and a job.’

A longer sentence, in appropriate cases, provides the prison system with greater opportunity to rehabilitate and treat stalkers.

The Harassment and Stalking Law in the UK

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1997/40/contents

  [1] http://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/compendium/focusonviolentcrimeandsexualoffences/yearendingmarch2015/chapter4intimatepersonalviolenceandpartnerabuse#prevalence-of-intimate-violence-extent

[2] National Stalking Helpline 2015

[3] The Stalker in Your Pocket 2016

[4] ibid

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