Stalking was made a specific criminal offence in England and Wales in 2012. However from 20th January 2020, police will be able to apply to magistrates for a “Stalking Protection Order (SPO)” and courts will also have the power to impose an interim Stalking Protection Order to provide immediate protection for a victim while a decision is being made.
Under the Stalking Protection Act 2019 section 1(2), a Stalking Protection Order is an order which, prevents the defendant from carrying out acts associated with stalking by –
The order will usually remain in place for two years and those who breach the civil order could end up imprisoned for five years. The aim of the order is to block alleged perpetrators from contacting or approaching their accusers while a police investigation is carried out. This provides an extra layer of protection for victims whilst the investigation is ongoing. However, commenters have highlighted that there must be no delay in arresting perpetrators who breach them.
The prescriptive element of these orders will likely force stalkers to seek professional help which will aim to get to the root cause of the stalking as well as simply restricting their stalking behaviours. Jane Monckton-Smith, who specialises in researching homicide, stalking and coercive control stated that “Stalkers by their nature are obsessive and will keep going and going until they are stopped.”
Stalking has been on the rise year on year and the “digital age” has exacerbated its prevalence. The Crime Survey for England and Wales indicates that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men have experienced stalking behaviour.
There is much misunderstanding around the offence of stalking. Many believe it limited to celebrities and obsessive fans or to females stalked by their ex-partner. However, “stranger stalking” is on the rise where victims are stalked by someone who is not a former intimate partner. It could be an acquaintance or somebody online and is therefore not covered by the protection available where stalking takes place within the context of domestic abuse. In this context, where a relationship has existed or still exists, there is protection for victims through non molestation orders and occupation orders which can be made urgently. These stalking protection orders will provide greater protection for those where a relationship does not exist.
The offences of stalking were included in the Protection of Freedom Act 2012, section 2A and 4A but stalking is not specifically defined. It generally includes a pattern of persistent and repeated contact with, or attempts to contact a particular victim. The issue is that establishing a pattern of persistent or repeated contact in some ways side-steps the core nature of stalking which is the fixation on the victim and the obsessive nature of the perpetrator. The misunderstanding around establishing the definitions of the offences and the evidence that may need to be gathered in order to prosecute could be lengthy. Similarly, stalking may be treated by the police as low level harassment or anti-social behaviour. The measures that can be used to combat these types of harassment or anti-social behaviour may not always be sufficient or appropriate and or may not curtail the behaviour of a perpetrator in a way that directly recognises and addresses the stalkers behaviour.
Therefore, the introduction of the Stalking Protection Orders seeks to provide thorough and appropriate protection for victims “at the earliest opportunity” and takes the onus off the victim as it is the police who will apply for the order. It remains to be seen how useful these orders prove to be but the frightening nature of stalking is at the very least, now recognised.
If you are a victim of stalking or other abusive behaviour as a result of a separation or a divorce, please contact our specialist team of Family Lawyers to arrange an appointment with one of our family solicitors Beth Woodward, Mary McEvoy, Iain MacAskill or Heidi Fleming.