For the first time victims of stalking have had their ordeal recognised in official government guidance. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has published revised guidance on stalking and harassment. It emphasises the existence and widespread nature of stalking as a particular category of harassment and it identifies the various ways in which stalking occurs.
There is no legal definition of stalking, neither is there specific legislation to address this behaviour. It is a term used to describe a particular kind of harassment, and is generally used to describe a long-term pattern of persistent and repeated contact with, or attempts to contact, a particular victim. Harassment is also not specifically defined but can include repeated attempts to impose unwanted communications and contacts upon a victim in a manner that could be expected to cause distress or fear in any reasonable person. The term harassment is used to cover the ‘causing alarm or distress’ offences under section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 as amended (PHA), and ‘putting people in fear of violence’ offences under section 4 of the PHA. (See Chapter 32 of ‘Criminal Offences Handbook’, specifically sections 32.43, 32.44, 32.56 and 32.57). Critics have long called for reform of a law that still does not recognise stalking as a distinct criminal offence. Stalking curtails a victim’s freedom, leaving them feeling that they constantly have to be careful. In many cases, the conduct might appear innocent if taken in isolation, but when carried out repeatedly so as to amount to a course of conduct, it may then cause significant alarm, harassment or distress to the victim.
In the most recent British Crime Survey, published this year, 18.7% of women and 9.3% of men said they had been stalked at some point in their lives. Experts say that half of all stalkers now use the internet to contact or target their victims. Prosecutors estimate that around 1 million people in the UK have experienced stalking. Although no figures are collated on the number of cases dealt with through the courts, there are thought to have been only a few hundred prosecutions. Introducing the new guidelines, Nazir Afzal, CPS Community Liaison Director and lead on stalking and harassment crimes, said: “Stalking is pernicious and can affect anyone regardless of their walk of life. It has a devastating impact on the lives of those who become victims”. “Stalkers steal lives,” he said. “We as police and prosecutors haven’t taken it seriously in the past. Now we do.” He went on to say: “What we now understand more fully is that victims of stalking, just like victims of domestic violence, continue to live in fear of their stalkers despite the fact that they may have been prosecuted and imprisoned or subject to other sanctions.” The new guidance is designed to give prosecutors a better understanding of what stalking is and provide a framework to build stronger cases and to apply for more effective restraining orders.
Alexis Bowater, Chief Executive for the Network for Surviving Stalking (NSS), said: “As the UK charity that represents stalking victims and their families, the Network for Surviving Stalking welcomes the new CPS guidelines on stalking and their swift and comprehensive response to a real need. We hope the inclusion of cyber-stalking for the first time will encourage everyone involved to take this crime more seriously. This new guidance will go a long way to improving the lives of victims and to making sure that perpetrators are treated appropriately by the courts.”
The full text of ‘Stalking and Harassment Guidance’ can be found at:-