This week is National Stalking Awareness Week which was first started in 2011 by the Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service CEO Laura Richards. This year’s theme is “What is Stalking”. I think most of us would have no doubt about what stalking is when we are faced with the behaviours in their entirety even though as isolated incidents they may not seem so serious. Stalking is a pattern of repeated, persistent, unwanted behaviour that is unwanted and engenders fear in the victim. A recent report released by Paladin highlighted, amongst other things, the disappointing statistic that despite new Stalking Laws having been in place for 2 years, only 1% of Stalking cases reported to the police result in criminal prosecution. (see report here)
This statistic is certainly in line with my experience advising victims of stalking across the Country and whilst some areas are better than others the pattern overwhelmingly demonstrates poor practice across the Criminal Justice System throughout England and Wales.
The problems start when the victim first picks up the phone to the police and is often told that unless the are being threatened or assaulted the police cant help. Many give up at this point.
This is particularly unacceptable when you consider that on average a victim will have experienced 100 incidents of stalking before they even pick up the phone to the police in the first place.
Victims then usually have to make even more reports until the police agree to take a statement at which point more often than not the perpetrator is issued with a PIN (Police Information Notice aka a Harassment Warning) rather than being arrested which is contrary to the police guidelines on stalking and harassment. PINS can often put the victim at more risk and offer no protection whatsoever. The stalking legislation only requires 2 incidents to form a “course of conduct” and does not mention a PIN at all. If the behavior complained of is indirect then the chances of police action reduce even further.
The next problem arises when cases are eventually referred to the CPS by the police in relation to charging. It is here that 99% of cases are rejected by the CPS even in cases where the police have prepared detailed cases. These decisions can and should be appealed by victims at this stage.
In the rare case that does make it to Court the problems continue for the victim. The victim has no input into what happens at court and are often met with CPS lawyers who have a poor understanding of the facts and in particular the dynamics of stalking. Charges are often reduced and pleas to less serious charges accepted. It it not uncommon for victims to be simply told that they should accept a restraining order and no conviction as the best outcome.
Where convictions are obtained victims are further let down by unduly lenient sentencing and badly thought out wording of restraining orders.
If an order is breached the merry-go-round of the Criminal Justice system starts all over again with the police failing to act, CPS failing to prosecute and poor sentencing at court.
Why is this happening? One word – training. It was a recommendation within the Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Stalking Law Reform that there should be a duty placed upon the secretary of state to ensure that Criminal Justice professionals receive training in relation to the stalking legislation and how to identify stalking. This has still not happened. Whilst Paladin do provide training to many police officers the take up patchy across the country and the CPS seem particularly resistant to being trained. Members of the Judiciary to have received training on Stalking are few and far between.
In addition to this there are still no sentencing guidelines for stalking – something also identified in the Parliamentary Enquiry Report and an issue highlighted by Paladin on numerous occasions including in their recent 2 Years on Report.
A lack of treatment programmes for perpetrators is also a problem and in answer to a recent Parliamentary question submitted on behalf of Paladin on the topic to the Secretary of State for Justice his response was that there were currently no plans to develop a specific programme for perpetrators of stalking – in custody or in the community.
Finally Paladin also identified in their report Stalking Law; Two Years On that there was an urgent need for a Serial Stalking Perpetrator’s Register so that perpetrators are monitored in the same way as sex offenders are and have positive obligations placed on them – click here to read further on Paladin website
When you consider the above it is hardly surprising that many victims are forced to rely on the Civil Justice System to protective themselves which is something I deal with on a daily basis. This should not be the case however and perpetrators should be put through the Criminal Courts with their Criminal Records marked accordingly.
If you are a victim of Stalking you can contact Paladin the National Stalking Advocacy Service
If you want to contact Rachel for advice in relation to this issue please click here