‘Unacceptable gap’ between victims of stalking and specialist support services

A report just published by the Trust found that more than three-quarters of victims were not supported by an independent stalking advocate.

And only 15 per cent of victims who reported the crime to police were referred to a stalking advocate by officers.

“Stalking advocates are trained specialists who provide victims with expert advice and support during a period of crisis, often when the stalker’s behaviour is escalating and the response from the criminal justice system or other agencies fails to address it,” said the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.

“Significantly, the results of the report survey indicate that victims who were supported by a stalking advocate had higher rates of reporting to the police and were more successful when pursuing legal action against their stalkers than the national rates.

“Two in five respondents (38 per cent) who were supported by a stalking advocate said their advocate helped them report to the police, one in three (30 per cent) saw their stalkers charged, one in four (26 per cent) saw their stalkers prosecuted, and one in four (25 per cent) saw their stalkers convicted.

“This is compared with published rates for England and Wales where only one in 50 cases are reported, one in 435 stalkers are charged, one in 556 stalkers are prosecuted, and one in 1,000 stalkers are convicted.”

A crime survey by the Office of National Statistics conducted in March 2020, which looked at perceptions of the police, criminal justice system, crime and anti-social behaviour, found that 3.6 per cent of UK adults were victims of stalking by a partner or family member.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust stated in its report that stalking affects one in five women and one in ten men throughout their lifetimes, with approximately 1.5 million people being stalked annually.

Among the recommendations made in the report – Bridging the Gap – are:

  • Dedicated funding of at least £10 million a year for specialist stalking services that is separate from domestic violence funding, “enabling advocacy support for all victims of stalking”;
  • Police forces must increase the number of stalking reports recorded in their area;
  • Professionals in the criminal justice system involved in an investigation or legal proceedings involving stalking , such as the Crown Prosecution Service, probation and police, must have attended and completed relevant specialist stalking training;
  • Police must signpost stalking victims to a specialist stalking service (national or local) when victims report stalking; and
  • An independent task group should be set up to examine the “shockingly low” conviction rates for stalking cases in England and Wales, from report phase through to conviction.

Suky Bhaker, chief executive officer of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said: “We know that stalking victims greatly benefit from the support offered by specialist advocates. Yet those responsible for handling victims’ reports are not referring them to stalking services.

“There is a huge gap between victims and support services, and it is simply unacceptable. Police and frontline services must signpost victims to specialist services if we are to truly bridge this gap.

“We are also calling for dedicated specialist funding for independent stalking advocates that is separate from domestic violence funding and enables advocacy support for all victims of stalking.

“Half of all stalking victims are not ex-intimates and therefore would not be eligible for domestic abuse support. It is evident that stalking advocates provide life-changing services to victims. There is no doubt that every victim should have the right to a stalking advocate.”

Victim’s Commissioner Dame Vera Baird QC, added: “Stalking is a dangerous and insidious crime and the impact on the victim can be devastating. Yet all too often, victims are not receiving the criminal justice outcomes that might be expected, underlining the need for specialist stalking support.

“Stalking advocates offer invaluable practical advice and support to victims, which police and other justice professionals are ill-placed to provide.

“For example, they can ensure Stalking Protection Orders are in place, which continue to be underutilised.

“I fully support the call for an increase in funding for stalking advocates to ensure they can bridge the gap between the victim and the criminal justice system.”

National Stalking Awareness Week, which runs from April 25-29, is being supported by the Interventions Alliance, which works in partnership with the police forces and police and crime commissioners (PCCs) in Sussex, Surrey and Kent to help stalking perpetrators change their behaviour.

The alliance delivers targeted psychological therapy through its Compulsive and Obsessive Behaviour Intervention (COBI) programme. Specially trained probation officers, qualified therapists and experienced cognitive behavioural professionals work with stalking perpetrators to examine the chain of events, triggers and behaviours that heighten their risk of offending.

Over a course of three months and 12 one-to-one sessions, the aim is to develop new skills and coping mechanisms that break the cycle of offending, says the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. This intervention attempts to break perpetrators’ patterns of offending and better support victims.

Interventions Alliance also works alongside dedicated stalking victim advocacy workers and reaches into additional support provided by partner agencies.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust has also identified an increase in cyber stalking – the repeated use of electronic communications to harass and frighten someone – as a result of the increased reliance on digital technology during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A partner to Interventions Alliance, Veritas Justice, a stalking advocacy service funded by the Office of the Sussex PCC, has reported a 75 per cent increase in cyber and online stalking activities.

Detective Inspector Lee Horner of the Sussex Police Public Protection Command, said: “We are very glad to be working alongside Interventions Alliance on the specialist Stalking Perpetrator Programme, which aims to tackle some very troubling and distressing behavioural issues. This is complex and challenging work with no easy or quick solutions, but we are determined to continue developing this project which we are convinced has the potential to reduce the impact of this type of conduct on victims.”

Detective Superintendent Juliet Parker, Surrey Police lead for Stalking, added: “As part of our perpetrator focused activity, we’ve teamed up with Interventions Alliance which offers Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) as part of their COBI programme.

“The therapy helps the perpetrator to acknowledge, accept, recognise and manage the difficult emotions that trigger harmful behaviour.

“This programme doesn’t replace Stalking Protection Orders, which are designed to protect victims from risky stalking behaviour, but by helping perpetrators manage their behaviour, it’s another tool that can help safeguard potential victims.”

Kent PCC Matthew Scott, Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent, said stalking is a “terrible crime and one which often has serious consequences for victims”.

He added: “I’m proud we’re exploring innovative ways to reduce stalking re-offending in our county.”

Suki Binning, Interventions Alliance chief social worker/executive director of Justice, Social Care and Skills at Seetec, said it was “proud” to support National Stalking Awareness Week.

“We work in partnership with police forces across Sussex, Surrey and Kent to deliver the COBI intervention, which aims to tackle the behaviours and triggers of stalking perpetrators,” she said.

“We believe this intervention can make a difference and help prevent more people from becoming victims of such behaviours.

“We use a variety of methods with participants to develop trust, understanding the trigger patterns of their behaviour and working on skills to help them in their everyday life.

“This provides an opportunity to communicate and express their thoughts, helping them to identify the root of the issue. This is key to their rehabilitation, breaking the cycle of re-offending, and better protecting victims.”

About Paul Ponting 55 Articles
Active campaigner and part-time journalist targetting Police Corruption and Misconduct

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