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National Crime Agency: a missed opportunity for domestic abuse victims?

National Crime Agency: a missed opportunity for domestic abuse victims?

This week saw the launch of the much-anticipated National Crime Agency (NCA), a new agency formed to fight organised crime, child protection, border policing and cyber crime. Along with the launch came some very bold words from the agency’s director general, Keith Bristow: “No one will be beyond the reach.”

Part of the NCA is the National Cyber Crime Unit. Their remit includes working proactively to target criminal vulnerabilities and prevent criminal opportunities. They also assist the NCA and wider law enforcement to prevent cyber-enabled crime and pursue those who utilise the internet and associated tools for criminal means.

The development of the NCA and the National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) has in my opinion, and in the view of other experts, arguably missed the perfect opportunity to tackle cyber stalking.

This is a crime where currently  too few prosecutions are being processed by standard police forces under amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act 2012 mainly due to the fact that police and CPS staff have failed to receive any training – the new stalking laws led to only 33 convictions between November 2012 and 30 June 2013.  The NCA and NCCU could have taken the development of the NCA as an opportunity to work alongside standard police forces to develop the expertise required to tackle cyber stalking and ultimately save lives.

The NCA is Home Secretary Theresa May’s baby. Remember, Theresa May has finally commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to carry out an inspection into how police forces are responding to domestic abuse – a crime which one in four women will be subjected to at some point in their lives; a crime that kills on average two women each week.

That’s 104 women per year killed at the hands of their current or former partner, yet it has taken a number of high profile cases, such as the deaths of Maria Stubbings and Clare Wood, for Theresa May to finally bite the bullet and ask why this is happening.

We know domestic abuse kills women. We also know there are strong links between domestic abuse and stalking. According to the UK Home Office in January 2011, 39 per cent of stalkers are the victim’s partner or ex-partner. Unsurprisingly, survivors of domestic violence are at higher risk of physical harm. The Metropolitan Police, no less, found that 40 per cent of domestic violence murders were also victims of stalking.

Jennifer Perry, an expert in cyber stalking, states in her guide ‘Digital stalking: A guide to technology risks for
victims’, published jointly by the Network for Surviving Stalking and Women’s Aid, 2012: “Today, most stalking includes a ‘cyber’ aspect. Those who stalk offline will usually use cyber activities to assist in the harassment and intimidation of their victims.”

Given this evidence linking cyber stalking to stalking and domestic abuse, you’d think Theresa May would have ensured that the NCA allocated some of their £458 million to the crime of cyber stalking wouldn’t you? Amazingly, not a single penny has been earmarked.

“The government has to develop better strategies in dealing with stalking and harassment because technology is increasing the number of victims by making it easy to stalk and more efficient. [The technology available] increases the ability to gather better information on the victim which feeds the obsession,” Jennifer Perry said, when asked whether the NCA should have a role in addressing cyber stalking.

I think there is an argument for the NCA to develop better tools, protocols and co-operation that could be used by non-specialised forces so crimes against individuals are more effectively investigated and prosecuted,” she added. It is as if the police all want to ignore this, probably because they find the idea of dealing with it overwhelming.”

So Keith Bristow, in response to your bold statement on the launch day of the NCA, I say you are setting yourself up to fail. A large number of cyber crime offenders are already beyond your reach.

At the time of publication, the Association of Chief Police Officers had not responded with a comment.

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