For National Stalking Awareness Week (19 April – 23 April) the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, a personal safety charity that runs the National Stalking Helpline, published a survey report entitled “Unmasking Stalking: A Changing Landscape”. The survey detailed the effect of COVID-19 on stalking behaviour and concluded that there has been an increase in online behaviour throughout the pandemic.
Stalking is generally a pattern of fixated and obsessive behaviour which creates an intimidating, hostile, or distressing environment for the other party. Stalking is a form of harassment, and unfortunately comes in various forms including physical stalking, regularly sending unwanted gifts or repeated malicious communication.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that there were around 1.5 million victims of stalking in the year ending 2020, with women twice as likely to experience stalking in their lifetimes.
Nowadays, by the ever-present nature of social media, perpetrators have an easy means to harass their victims whilst hiding behind their keyboards through platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. This is known as “cyberstalking”.
Calls to the National Stalking Helpline have risen since the first lockdown began, with March 2021 seeing an average of an 83% rise in calls compared to March 2020. 100% of calls now received by the National Stalking Helpline involve some online element.
Cyberstalking can range from direct communication, communication through a third party or unauthorised access to online accounts. For example, one respondent of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust reported a perpetrator continuously requesting password resets for all their social media accounts resulting in them receiving over 200 password reset links, with another reporting that their stalker hacked their Amazon Echo.
Effect of COVID-19
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust also reported that perpetrators have increased their intensity and frequency of stalking behaviour during lockdown both online and offline. Although no one reason has been connected to this, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust has suggested that it may be due to a combination of boredom, the pandemic’s negative impact on perpetrator’s mental health and the increased anonymity provided by face coverings.
Additionally, the survey revealed that the pandemic has had a negative impact on many victim’s mental health as a result of the physical restrictions of lockdown, the resulting social insolation and the increased time spent thinking about the harassment.
Many stalking victims who responded to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust survey indicated a lack of trust with the police to take appropriate (or any) action if they reported stalking behaviour. This is not surprising given that only 16% of recorded harassment cases are charged and prosecuted. Many victims are therefore left feeling distressed, anxious and depressed.
Although you should report harassment to the police, which you can do through 101 or 999 if there is an immediate threat to your personal safety, harassment including stalking is both a criminal and civil offence under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
In the civil courts, you can obtain an injunction against the person harassing you ordering them to stop their behaviour. Should the perpetrator breach this order, you can apply to the court to have them imprisoned. Additionally, if you have suffered a financial loss or emotional distress, the court may also award you compensation.
The civil courts will look for a “course of conduct” when determining harassment claims and it is therefore important that should you be the victim of any harassing behaviour that you keep a detailed journal of the harassment and collect evidence where possible including screen shots of social media posts and taking the contact details of anyone who may have witnessed the harassment.
At SA Law we may be able to help if someone’s behaviour is making you feel intimidated, humiliated or distressed, and we regularly seek injunctions for our clients to get the harassment to stop. If we could be of assistance or if you have any questions, please contact us on 01727 798000 or complete the enquiry form below.