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Waking to find someone in your bedroom, being afraid to look at your phone, always looking over your shoulder – these are some of the nightmare realities faced by victims of stalking.
Today marks the beginning of National Stalking Awareness Week (April 25-29), the aim of which is to raise awareness of stalking and stalking advocates who support victims through the legal process.
It’s frightening to think that stalking could happen to anyone. Victims can be targeted by an ex-partner, a colleague or classmate. Just because you know, or knew, your stalker it doesn’t mean that what they are doing is right or that the crimes being committed against you are your fault.
What’s the difference between stalking & harassment?
Harassment is an action such as bullying, antisocial behaviour or unwanted phone calls which causes you distress. It’s harassment if the unwanted behaviour has happened more than once.
Stalking is a more aggressive form of harassment.
It’s a pattern of long-term repeated, unwanted, fixated, and obsessive behaviour which is intrusive and causes fear of violence or serious alarm or distress.
It can take many forms, including taking normal everyday actions to the extreme, resulting in distress. This can be receiving unwanted gifts or being bombarded with text messages or phone calls.
Know the signs
There are FOUR warning signs to look for in someone’s behaviour towards you that amounts to stalking:
- Fixated – Are you being followed or watched during your daily routine?
- Obsessive – Is your online activities being monitored or does someone keep turning up uninvited?
- Unwanted – Is someone bombarding you with messages or calls, sending you lots of unwanted gifts, or damaging your property?
- Repeated – Are you being threatened, accosted, or approached repeatedly?
No one situation is the same and so by working closely with a number of different partner organisations police can make sure the support offered to victims is tailored to their needs.
Detective Superintendent Steve Jennings, the Stalking and Harassment Lead for Essex Police, said “In my career I have experienced the devastating effect that emotionally driven fixations can have on an individual and their families. I understand it can be difficult to talk about what is going on and I am always humbled by the bravery of those who speak out.
“You might feel like there is not much we can do, but please talk to us we are here to help. We know the legal process can be daunting and difficult at times and supporting victims is at the heart of everything we do.”
One such method is through the use of stalking advocates, who will help to explain the legal process to victims. This includes advice on how to gather evidence that will stand up in court, and helping victims understand the options available to them.
Detective Superintendent Jennings went on to say: “Stalking advocates are not only a huge support to our victims but also to us, as they understand both the emotional and legal obstacles that can occur during complex investigations.”
Stalking Protection Orders (SPO) are a legal option available to our officers in order to protect victims.
PC Katie Bush, is a subject matter expert within from Essex Police’s Stalking and Harassment Strategic Vulnerability Centre, explains: “These orders impose restrictions or requirements on those who we suspect are causing harm. For example, we can use them to ensure someone stays away from a certain location and include restrictive and positive conditions helping a victim feel safer in their home or workplace and hopefully change the behaviour of the suspect.
“Where breaches occur, we have a power to arrest the suspect and these orders can last a minimum of 2 years which is such a useful tool.”
The Stalking and Harassment Strategic Vulnerability Centre oversees and coordinates all the work happening across the force, so that police can understand the bigger picture.
There are a number of specialised teams that work to help victims of stalking. For example, the Domestic Abuse Investigation Team (DAIT) is responsible for offences in a domestic abuse context, where the person may be a family member or a current or former partner.
Other investigations, depending how you know the person targeting you, would be referred to the detectives in your local Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
PC Bush added: “We are committed to supporting victims and by having officers who specialise in different types of stalking we are better placed to provide the right help.
“We are always looking at ways to improve through the continued updating of training for our staff and officers to ensure they are equipped as best as they can be to deal with this complex crime.
“Additional training has been, and continues to be, delivered in our Force Control Room to help further improve how our call handlers link incidents that involve the same address or people. We hope that this ensures more convictions and, ultimately, protect more people.”
What to do if you think you might be a victim of stalking
“Always report every incident and keep a record of it yourself if you can” said Det Supt Jennings. “I know it’s hard to reach out, but please tell those around you, the people that you trust what is going on.
“Victims of stalking can be made to feel like they’re imagining things, or over exaggerating. We know that’s very rarely the case, so it’s important that other people know, so then they can help watch out for behaviours which are causing you concern too.”
There are a number of local charities and organisations who can help you to support you and provide further information.
If you’re worried about yourself, or someone else, and you want to report it please do so via the police website.
Always call 999 in an emergency.