Who’s Stalking Who?

StalkingSo Stalking has now become a specific criminal offence in England and Wales (see here) but is this really “a move to improve victims safety” as implied by our government or simply; another piece of PR hype designed to bolster public support for an ailing regime, one that is trying to curry favour from the electorate?

Let me start by saying, I have absolutely no desire to belittle the personal distress (or worse) that is caused by this abhorrent crime however; let’s start by identifying some facts. (1) Stalking is not the sole preserve of predatory men praying upon vulnerable women; as many feminists and activists in support-groups would have us believe. And (2) Stalking it is not as prevalent an offence as our emotive media would have us believe, at least not in the bigger scheme of all crimes being committed.

But despite those facts and it undoubtedly being a horrible crime for any of the victims, some people are already asking; why is it a crime for people to stalk people but the state is increasing its own rights (and those of large corporations) to stalk people? In addition others have asked for an explanation of “the difference between stalking and tabloid-style investigative journalism? All valid observations but this cynicism also detracts from the real issues and one victim is one too many (irrespective of gender).

Stalking ruins lives and can lead to rape and murder. But it starts with ‘petty or trivial” incidents – for example repeatedly being sent texts or emails, phone calls, being followed or sent unwanted ’presents’.  Many don’t realise what’s happening  and ignore the problem and hope it goes away…(nss.org.uk)

As of 25th November 2012 amendments have been made to existing legislation which now makes ‘stalking’ a specific criminal offence in England and Wales but what does the law actually mean when it refers to stalking? Well surprisingly, the act of Stalking still isn’t legally defined per se. That in its self tends to play into the hands of the legal profession by helping to boost their income, but that’s another story.

The amendments made to The Protection from Harassment Act 1997, under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 have effectively created a new S.2(A) and S.4(A) to the original legislation. And although there still isn’t an appropriate definition, the amendments do include a list of example behaviours. So, failing any definitive legal interpretation of the term I’ll  resort to wikepedia.org for a definition.

Stalking is a term commonly used to refer to unwanted or obsessive attention by an individual or group toward another person…(wikepedia.org)

In one of the advice leaflets from the National Stalking Helpline this lack of legal definition is confirmed but they go further into explaining the term by adding;

…it is generally accepted that it includes repeated attempts to impose unwanted communications and/or contacts on another in a manner that could be expected to cause distress and/or fear in any reasonable person…(Read more)

Earlier this year, The parliamentary inquiry into stalking and the legislation currently available found that; despite about 120,000 victims being stalked every year, only 53,000 incidents were recorded as crimes but more worryingly, only one in 50 of the reports lead to an offender being jailed. It is worth remembering here that as ever; crime statistics are always subject to both manipulation and interpretation, rarely giving more than an indication of the true figures (see here).

In their executive summary to the panel’s findings it was reported that; victims had “a profound lack of confidence in the criminal justice system.” To compound that lack of confidence even further it was also found, “very few prosecutions [under the Act] resulted in a custodial sentence” but also, “little if any treatment was available for perpetrators.”

The panel also concluded that “training for criminal justice professionals was inadequate” that “risk assessments in respect of victims were not routinely carried out” and that “psychiatric assessments in respect of perpetrators were largely absent.”

All of which is a fairly damning indictment of the many failures however; that failure to fully utilise legislation which is already in place isn’t a new issue, it’s a problem that has been occurring for years.

These problems are caused by many differing factors, yes they include a lack of enforcement by police and the issue of the CPS refusing to proceed with cases which show “no realistic prospect of conviction” however; the police and CPS are (partly) being offered up by the government as sacrificial lambs for slaughter by the public. Many of the police and CPS failings are actually born out of target driven working practices, that and the financial constraints born out of austerity measures, both of which are imposed by our politicians.

As a slight aside… A very good example of how our target driven working practices are usually a skewed methodology can be found in a blog post entitled Troubled Thinking by Inspector Simon Guilfoyle. Better application of existing legislation and/or guidance is without a doubt the prefered option but no, we continually create more laws in our attempts to effectively deal with problematic issues, but why is that?

Many critics of yet more legislation point out; this new legislation is probably contrived to support the illusion that our government are “tough on crime and the effects of crime” and they are fully supportive of the victims. But are they? I’ve already shown there is existing legislation which covers stalking (Protection from Harassment Act 1997) and like many others, I’m not convinced more legislation is actually the way forward for the victims.

Despite the inquiry panel concluding that a “holistic approach” to the issue of stalking was required and that “amendments to the 1997 Act would not be enough to express the concerns of victims” there also needed to be; “fundamental changes in attitudes towards the offence and behaviour of stalking.”

National Stalking HelplineI wouldn’t argue against that ethos however; the so-called ‘holistic approach’ can also be a root cause to so many of the problems. Holistic is a fluffy term which often fails to adequately encompass clearly defined lines of responsibility, accountability and governance. It tends to allow individuals and agencies (statutory and voluntary) to adopt their best slopped shoulder stance when things go wrong!

Many police officers would actually like to do more and do better for the victims of Stalking however; they are often prevented from doing so by a lack of training, a lack of resources and the myriad of skewed priorities and targets.

Until we finally escape from the target driven methods and culture which prevail within the majority of our public services, most of which are derived from political desires to maintain public popularity, and focus more completely on the needs and desires of the victim (or ‘customer’ if you must), these inherent failures are destined to continue!

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About Dave Hasney

National Coordinator for UK SMART Recovery - Previously a Recovery Worker and prior to that a Management Consultant and H&S Practitioner - Kept sane by Angling, Good Food, Real Ale & Wine - Cynical thoughts sometimes developed from others.

Posted on 25-11-2012, in Police, Society Babble and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. You raise interesting points about this stalking issue. A lot of times lawful enforcement, suppression and disruption tactics could be interpreted as stalking. Nowadays with new doctrines of policing like “intelligence led policing”, “third party policing”, “pulling levers strategies”, community policing initiatives, problem oriented policing and police gravitates away from evidence based to proactive reactivity. I’m not saying it’s a systematic problem, but it could be very hard for a accused innocent person to go through “disruption tactics” and try to figure out what he has done to deserve it.

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