Baroness Bertin: We owe it to stalking victims to clamp down on this terrifying crime
Stalking is a crime that affects millions of people. We must build an approach to dealing with this issue that protects victims at the earliest opportunity, says Baroness Bertin
Stalking is a terrifying crime, a sinister form of harassment that leaves many victims living in a state of psychological distress. The relentless and repetitive nature of this unwanted contact can often engulf peoples’ lives in fear and can also escalate to far more serious crimes such as murder and rape.
Not only is this a terrifying crime, but it is also far more prevalent than you might expect. One in five women and one in 10 men will experience stalking behaviour in their adult life time – that is millions of past, present, and future victims.
That is why I’m so proud to be promoting a Private Members Bill this week which, if passed, will give police an additional tool to protect these millions of victims at the earliest opportunity.
The Stalking Protection Bill has been admirably taken through the Commons by Sarah Wollaston, and I am immeasurably grateful to her, as well as the brave individuals who have spoken out about their own harrowing experiences as part of this process.
So why is this Bill so important? Firstly, it fills a clear gap in our existing regime for tackling cases of stalking. This is particularly the case in instances of stranger stalking, where stalking occurs outside of a domestic abuse context, or where the perpetrator is not a current or former intimate partner of the victim. In these cases, there is currently no mechanism for police to step in and protect victims at an early stage. Stalking Protection Orders fix this issue, giving police the tools they need to intervene in these situations.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, this Bill faces up to stalking in a way that fully acknowledges the very nature of this crime.
In the past, so many victims have been left in dangerous positions because stalking is, by definition, a crime of repetition. Policing this crime therefore means we have to spot patterns of behaviour, drawing a line between actions that may seem innocuous in isolation but, through repetition cause significant psychological harm. Stalking Protection Orders provide a legal mechanism through which police can protect victims at the earliest opportunity, the speed with which these orders can be applied could also help stop behaviour becoming entrenched and escalating.
This creates a formal means for the police to notify individuals that their pattern of behaviour is not only causing harm, but also that it must now cease. And importantly a breach of an order would be a criminal offence.
Police and Magistrates can specify exactly what these harmful behaviours are in any individual case and ban the repetition of these behaviours for a period of at least two years. This is a bespoke regime, not only with prohibitions but also with the potential for positive requirements being placed on the perpetrators, such as behavioural therapy.
Another purpose of bills such as this is to ensure that everyone throughout the criminal justice system takes issues like stalking seriously. This is a significant opportunity for us to raise awareness of this issue – stalking cannot be demeaned to a level where victims are referred to as having an “admirer”.
Ultimately, though, we have to ask what our response to this issue says about us as a society. It is clear that men are also victims of stalking, indeed a number of my male friends have experienced this.
But it is a crime that disproportionately affects women and is yet another reason why women are more likely to fear for their safety. We owe it to the many millions of women that have been and will be affected by this crime, to build an approach to stalking that protects them properly.
I am so proud to be involved in this work, because this legislation lets us see the bigger picture, it lets us address specific and individual patterns of behaviour on a case by case basis, and most importantly it lets us provide a new first layer of protection for millions of people who have previously been living in fear.
Baroness Bertin is a Conservative peer. The second reading of the Stalking Protection Bill is on Friday 18th January