Monday (19th April) marked the beginning of National Stalking Awareness Week, so we’ve put together an Our Streets Now everything-you-need-to-know on the topic. Visit the Suzy Lamplugh Trust for more information.
WHAT IS STALKING?
Stalking is defined as ‘a pattern of fixated and obsessive behaviour which is repeated, persistent, intrusive and causes fear of violence or engenders alarm and distress in the victim’, by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.
Stalking can consist of any type of behaviour such as regularly sending unwanted flowers or gifts, making unwanted or malicious communication, damaging property and physical or sexual assault. These are just a few examples.
If the behaviour is persistent and unwanted, and makes you feel scared, distressed or anxious, then it is stalking and you should not have to live with it.
HOW IS IT LINKED TO PSH?
Public sexual harassment (PSH) is unwanted sexual attention by strangers in public - which includes stalking! Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a pyramid; everything is linked.
If we excuse and accept the forms at the bottom of the pyramid, more serious and dangerous forms such as stalking, rape and femicide will continue to be prevalent in our society.
According to research conducted by Dr Jane Monckton Smith, 94% of femicide cases had stalking behaviours after leaving the relationship, demonstrating a clear link between homicide and stalking.
One in five women say that they have been the victim of stalking, at least once since the age of 16.
These unacceptably high figures are not surprising.
In our society, the responsibility is put onto women to avoid these situations; we are taught from primary school age to practice safety work, including:
Don’t walk on your own at night
Don’t wear provocative clothing
Avoid empty streets and carriages.
However, this should not be the focus. We must shift the blame and shame the actions and perpetrators themselves, not the victims.
WHO DOES THE STALKING?
Many people still think of stalkers as the exaggerated movie tropes - like Annie Wilkes in Misery or spooky masked figures like in movie franchises Scream and Halloween. But these scenarios do not depict how most stalking cases occur.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust reported that about 45% of people who contact their helpline are being stalked by ex-intimates (ex partners), and a further one-third had some sort of prior acquaintance with their stalker.
Stalking can have an enormous impact on the victim’s social, mental and even physical health. Victims often experience social isolation, depression and anxiety as a result of stalking.
Research at the University of Bedfordshire in conjunction with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust indicates that 91% reported that they suffered from mental health problems following the experience of being stalked, while 78% of victims met the clinical criteria for PTSD.
Making jokes about stalking undermines its severity as a crime.
Emma Barnett, presenter of Woman’s Hour BBC Radio 4, says
“if you’ve actually experienced it, it loses its humour-appeal. This trivialises the hell that a lot of people have had to live through for years and reinforces the fact that so many victims have to accept that the person emotionally terrorising them can just continue to do so”.
Katy Bourne, PCC for Sussex Police, states
“Many don’t recognise stalking behaviours or don’t want to make a fuss. Saying ‘it’s a bit of banter’ is what propelled the whole MeToo movement. It’s time now for us to call it out: stalking is a crime”.
Stalking, like many other forms of gender-based violence, is under-reported, under-prosecuted and has even lower conviction rates.
The Police and Crime Recorded Outcomes Table revealed that in 2019/20, only 3,067 cases were charged with stalking offences (let alone prosecuted or convicted). In this same time frame, the Crime Survey for England and Wales, estimated that 1.5 million people in England and Wales experienced stalking.
This indicates a much wider problem in the UK Police, regarding the means of reporting and prosecuting stalking and other similar crimes.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Believe people - it takes courage to speak out, don’t discourage victims further by making them feel like they’re overreacting.
Don’t use the word stalking comically.
Support and donate to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.
Contact the Suzy Lamplugh Trust’s helpline here
Advice from Women’s Aid Digital Stalking Guide here
Other useful links and contacts for victims can be found here