Campaigners have launched a super-complaint against the police which claims that stalking victims are being put at risk by the way the offence is handled.
The National Stalking Consortium has said police officers are failing victims by not identifying offenders’ patterns of behaviour and treating incidents as ‘lower-level crimes’. The group of 21 expert individuals and organisations also said they were “highly concerned” that cases were not being fully investigated due to police mistakenly believing there is not sufficient evidence.
Suky Bhaker, CEO of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust which set up the anti-stalking consortium, said: “We support thousands of victims every year across our National Stalking Service and a significant number of them tell us that they are being let down by the police and the courts at every step of their journey to justice.
“Failure to identify and investigate stalking at the earliest possible opportunity results in an increasing risk of physical and psychological harm to the victim. We hope that the outcome of this super-complaint will result in robust recommendations to improve the police response to stalking across the country which is so vitally needed.”
‘Stalking victims deserve to be protected’
The super-complaint, a measure used to highlight wider problems or trends in policing, is being brought a decade after stalking was made a specific offence in the law. But organisations have pointed out that it is not doing enough - as the charge rate remains “unacceptably low.”
Claire Waxman, victims commissioner for London and also a victim of stalking herself, commented: “While I hoped the revised stalking legislation would lead to better protections and justice for victims, ten years on the charge rate remains unacceptably low. It is clear the justice system is still struggling to identify and tackle stalking robustly, leaving too many victims suffering and at risk. Change is well overdue as stalking victims deserve to be protected.”
She also added that breaches of restraining orders are not taken seriously enough - and the severity of stalking is often minimised. According to the Stalking Awareness, Prevention and Resource Centre, 72% of victims are threatened with physical harm, nearly one in three experienced sexual assault, and 20% of stalkers carry weapons.
Stalking offences on the rise
Official crime data revealed that there were 718,317 stalking and harassment offences recorded in 2022. This was a 45% increase compared with the year ending March 2020, and a 7% increase compared with the year ending June 2021, but police claim this is due to improved awareness of offending behaviour.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for stalking and harassment, Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, said: “Harassment and stalking are serious crimes which can have a devastating effect on the lives of victims and their friends and family. Stalking is a crime which goes to the very heart of violence against women and girls, removing their feeling of safety.
“It is recognised there is more to do to improve the criminal justice system outcomes for victims of stalking and we are working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service to understand the progression of cases before the point of charge and court.”
Once the super-complaint is officially submitted, a watchdog will decide whether it is eligible for investigation. In the past, super-complaints have been issued over police use of stop-and-search powers, force response to police-perpetrated domestic violence, and police treatment of BAME sexual abuse victims.