Victim's Voice Survey says Stalking victims feel let down
Stalking victims have little confidence in the system, with most saying that police, prosecutors or the entire system let them down, says the Victim's Voice Survey produced by the charity Protection Against Stalking (PAS) and Napo (The Trade Union and Professional Association for Family Court and Probation Service).
Campaigners said women are being victimised at the hands of their stalker, and then again by the system.
The report comes as the Government is preparing to review harassment legislation in a move which could make stalking, both in person or online, a specific offence.
Two-thirds of stalking victims who contacted the police were unhappy with the way the officers or the Crown Prosecution Service handled their cases, the survey showed.
Laura Richards, a criminal behavioural psychologist with PAS, said: "Victims are rarely taken seriously and most of the time they are told that the police cannot do anything and 'their hands are tied by the law'.
"Too often we hear that perpetrators have rights, while victims only have codes and charters."
She added that those who were stalked were "victimised at the hands of their stalker, and then again by the system, which appears currently incapable and powerless to identify stalking and intervene and protect some of society's most vulnerable people".
A survey of more than 140 women who have been stalked found two-thirds contacted the police, and two-thirds of these were not satisfied with the police response.
Just one in five said the CPS was involved in their case, but more than three-quarters of these were also not happy with the response.
Almost three-quarters of those who reported the stalking said they were unhappy with the criminal justice system response, with some saying the process was "unsupportive and unclear", while others felt the law needed to be changed.
The survey also found one in two victims had been stalked for longer than 18 months, while for two-fifths it had gone on for more than two years.
Three-fifths of cases involved phone calls, half the women had been followed or sent texts, and one in four had had their homes broken in to, the poll showed.
More than half of their stalkers were ex-partners, while more than one in eight were strangers and the same proportion were neighbours.
Ms Richards added: "Stalking is not fully understood by criminal justice professionals and too often the stalking pattern is missed. Victims pay with their lives. This cannot continue. There is an urgent need for stalking law reform, revision of sentencing guidelines and proper mandatory training for staff”.
Some 120,000 victims, mostly women, are stalked each year, but just 53,000 are recorded as crimes by police and only one in 50 of these lead to an offender being jailed, the probation union Napo added.
The union, which has helped set up a parliamentary inquiry into the need to reform stalking laws, said the problems needed to be tackled earlier.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has committed the Opposition to changing the law, blaming a "lack of clarity" for allowing stalking cases to escalate into still more "heinous" crimes against both women and men.
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, the Trade Union and Professional Association for Family Court and Probation Service, added: "The survey shows beyond all reasonable doubt that victims of stalking and harassment do not receive fair and equable treatment from the criminal justice system. All too often they are left to navigate the system by themselves. The consequences of their not being taken seriously can be devastating and result in physical and mental injury and in far too many cases even homicide."
A Home Office spokesman said: "The effect of stalking on victims lives can be devastating and we are actively looking at what more can be done to protect victims and ensure there are robust prosecutions. In March this year the Government published an action plan to Tackle Violence Against Women and Girls and included a commitment to review the impact of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
In November the government launched a ‘Consultation on Stalking’ asking for views on how they can protect victims of stalking more effectively. The consultation incorporates a number of issues, including current legislation, the effect of police information notices, search powers, the work of existing organisations and alternative measures to tackle stalking.
The consultation seeks the views of key partners and directly affected parties, including the police, practitioners, other government departments, organisations with a direct interest in preventing stalking and members of the general public.
Opening date: 14 Nov 2011 Closing date: 05 Feb 2011
We're asking for views on how best to protect victims from stalking. Have your say here: http://tinyurl.com/chc9d9o