So 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)
…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?
- Law to tackle stalking introduced (bbc.co.uk)
- New stalking laws send ‘clear message’ to offenders (itv.com)
- New Law To Tackle Stalkers Comes Into Effect (news.sky.com)
- Women and the criminal justice system: what do the latest statistics show? (guardian.co.uk)