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Investigating Stalking

It is estimated that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men in the UK will experience stalking at some point in their lives, with the duration of stalking ranging anything from a few weeks to several decades. Whilst figures show that there were over one hundred thousand cases of stalking in the past year alone, it is thought that the crime is heavily underreported; the average victim experiences 100 incidents before contacting the police.

There’s no definitive one-size-fits-all approach to profiling stalkers, nor is there a way of identifying a ‘type’ of person who would be more susceptible to becoming a victim of the crime. Stalkers don’t have to share common characteristics, or even motives; they have different occupations, ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, but what links them together is their common behaviours and their love of exercising control over and instilling fear into their victims. Stalking behaviours can range from the simply annoying or inappropriate to full-blown intense harassment or violence which can ruin and in some cases, even end, lives. Clare Bernal, Rana Faruqui and Tania Moore are just three high profile cases out of a long list of victims who have been murdered by their stalkers.

It is commonly accepted that people aged between 18 and 24 experience the highest rates of stalking, with both university staff and students experiencing above average levels of the crime. It is thought that campus settings, with their relatively lax security and closed-in communities coupled with the facts that lecture timetables are easily acquired and university students have repetitive schedules and socialising habits, make students easy targets.

A spokesperson from the National Stalking Helpline expanded on this: “Stalkers look for ways to access their victim. If the stalker knows that the victim is a student at a particular institution, this gives them an additional means of access; it helps them know where they should go and where they are likely to see the victim. For this reason, it is hugely important that a University knows what to do if a student reports stalking to staff or faculty members. Campus security should be aware of protective measures they can assist with and all dormitories should be appropriately secure at all times. Most importantly, the victim should feel like they are being taken seriously and that they should not have to put up with this distressing behaviour.”

Whilst face-to-face stalking is arguably more pernicious, a relatively new trend, cyberstalking, is growing at a startling rate, with 1 in 4 victims reporting cyberstalking as a component of their harassment. The Internet is a stalker’s dream; whilst on the one hand providing a veil of anonymity for the aggressor, social networking sites such as Facebook provide a treasure trove of information for would-be stalkers with everything from a list of the stalkee’s ‘friends’ to an itinerary of events that the victim is planning to attend.

For years, campaigners have claimed that the current legal restraints enforced on stalkers, which some have likened to an ASBO, are inadequate and have long sought tougher legislation to protect victims from unwanted interactions. At present, you won’t find stalking in itself to be a crime in any law books; the 1997 Protection against Harassment Act is meant to cover some stalking behaviours, but makes no reference to stalking itself as a specific offence. On March 8, International Women’s day, Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to change the law regarding stalking, a crime which, in his own words, “makes life a living hell for victims”.

Whilst initially criticised for not going far enough, the Government’s proposals seem to be gaining approval from growing numbers of lobbyists and charities including the National Stalking Helpline: “We welcome any changes that will strengthen existing legislation and result in more victims of stalking receiving the justice they deserve. We were initially concerned that the new stalking legislation did not go far enough to protect victims; however, victims’ and campaigners’ concerns have been listened to and there will be amendments made to the first draft of the legislation, which will hopefully strengthen it further.”

When asked whether they think the new legislation will bring any tangible benefits to the victims, they continued: “In order for any new legislation to be effective it must come alongside training and awareness raising. Whilst the legislation change is a welcome and vital step in the right direction, there is no single overnight answer to dealing with stalking. There must be training across the criminal justice system, appropriate sentencing, treatment and rehabilitation for perpetrators and specialist victim advocacy services for those affected by the crime.”

Ramsha Jamal

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