Lately, it seems that every time we catch up on the news, we hear about another horrific case in which a stalker has abused or even killed their victim. But what is stalking, how many people are victims of stalking and, most importantly, what can we do about it?
At the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, we run the National Stalking Helpline, provide essential support for victims of stalking, and campaign for them to be better protected. We recognize stalking as a pattern of fixated and obsessive behaviour which is repeated, persistent, and intrusive. This behaviour causes fear of violence or engenders alarm and distress in the victim.
An astonishing 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men will experience stalking during their lifetime. Fortunately, not all of these people will be subjected to the kind of violence which makes stalking cases appear in the news, but it is still a deeply frightening and traumatic experience.
The Trust recently released research showing the high proportion of stalking victims who experience symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder. Physical violence is a serious risk in stalking cases, but even in cases where this is not present the psychological impact on victims of being followed, monitored or harassed is severe. Unfortunately, the number of cases recorded by police remains low (8,364 cases in 2017). Feedback from victims calling the National Stalking Helpline reveals that the response to stalking remains inadequate across the criminal justice system. Victims report feeling unsupported and unprotected.
Despite several high-profile stalking-related homicides having occurred since 2015, there is still a lack of training, awareness and understanding of stalking at some police forces. While there has been an improvement, there is still a lot of work to be done. This lack of awareness and understanding of the impacts of stalking also extends to the health sector, which can have a vital role in effective interventions to stop stalking by perpetrators, as well as providing essential mental health support to victims. Custodial sentences for stalking perpetrators are essential, but alone they may be ineffective as they fail to address the fixation and obsessive behaviours that associated which characterize stalking.
Challenge Accepted – Multi-Agency Stalking Intervention Programme (MASIP)
£4m of Police Transformation Funding was allocated in 2017 to support the Multi-Agency Stalking Intervention Programme (MASIP) over three years. Overseen by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust team is working in partnership with London, Hampshire and Cheshire police forces, the probation service, health trusts and advocacy services to pilot innovative responses to stalking.
Teams of experts from different agencies are trialling new ways of working more closely together, with the key aim being to reduce reoffending by stalking perpetrators and safeguard victims. We’re already seeing exciting signs of a more effective approach developing, with stalking victims reporting that they feel safe, supported and listened to. We hope that the MASIP project will continue to produce positive results and develop new approaches, and further our understanding of how to effectively tackle stalking and keep people safe.