Monocolumn: Building Consensus For A Change In Stalking Laws
Last week saw the launch of the UK’s inaugural National Stalking Awareness Week. It’s a worthy cause and one that shouldn’t require awareness-raising, given its prevalence.
Last week saw the launch of the UK’s inaugural National Stalking Awareness Week. It’s a worthy cause and one that shouldn’t require awareness-raising, given its prevalence. Indeed, the latest British Crime Survey estimated that between 2009 and 2010, 1.4 million Britons endured some degree of stalking.
Nobody who has been a victim of this crime, or knows someone who has, needs to be told how debilitating, damaging and terrifying it can be. Nor will it be news to anybody with direct experience that stalking is an extremely difficult menace to prevent and punish. The stalker currently operates with a wide amount of leeway, fenced in to a certain extent by the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act.
It’s tough to prove “malevolent intent” in someone’s presence in a public place, or conclusively trace anonymous post or email. The stalker is also frequently aided by the shame and embarrassment felt by their prey. In 2009, 53,000 stalking incidents were reported in England and Wales – a tiny fraction of the likely number of cases. Only 6,581 cases resulted in convictions and barely 1,200 in jail sentences.
National Stalking Awareness Week was supported by three charities – the Network for Surviving Stalking, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and Protection Against Stalking – allied behind the slogan “Name it, report it, stop it”.
“One of the main problems,” says Laura Richards, director of Protection Against Stalking, “is that stalking still isn’t properly legally defined. It falls under the Prevention of Harassment Act, so it gets hidden among fights between neighbours arguing over hedges.”
Of particular concern is the failure of legislation to keep pace with technology. To some extent, the internet has made stalkers of us all. It’s now almost reflexive, upon meeting someone new in a personal or professional context, to run their name through Google, Facebook or Twitter.
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