Archive for March 8th, 2012

March 8, 2012

Important Progress on Stalking

After many years of campaigning to change the law, Tricia Bernal and Carol Faruqui, both of whose daughters were killed by stalkers, are now on their way to achieving their goal.  I have met Tricia and Carol many times – they are tremendously courageous and positive – dedicated to avoiding for others, the terrible fate that befell their daughters.  They have spent many hours patiently explaining to me why this is so important. And slowly, slowly, I have caught up.  The Prime Minister announced this morning that the law will be changed to introduce a specific offence of stalking, with a potential custodial sentence of up to 5 years.

I think that there are a few reasons why this is important.  The first is about risk.  Many, many people are stalked and we are all familiar with how much easier it is to stalk someone now via email, Facebook, Twitter etc.  Of course, not every stalker is truly dangerous – although they might all be truly frightening.  But this focus on stalking will help highlight the types of stalking behaviour that are truly dangerous.  These include constant/obsessive phone calls, texts or emails; uninvited visits to home, workplace etc or loitering. It includes where someone destroys or vandalises property; pursues the victim after separation, or where the stalker threatens suicide/homicide to victim and other family members.  Other examples include where there are threats of sexual violence or involvement of others in the stalking behaviour.  Friends, family and professionals need to acknowledge the degree of risk involved in such behaviours because they are the ones that could result in a murder.

Secondly, the proposed changes to the legislation don’t limit who the stalker is and what relationship the victim has with them. Those of us working in the domestic abuse field have been heard to say: “It isn’t stalking, it is just part of the domestic abuse, part of the controlling behaviour.”  Whether we are right or wrong doesn’t matter – what is more important is that we must talk to victims and their families in language that they recognise.  Even in the most extreme controlling situations with many different forms of abuse, victims will very rarely describe themselves as suffering domestic abuse.  Stalking is language that we can all relate to – I very much hope that this helps to give people the confidence to come forward and seek help.  It is likely that a large percentage of cases will involve a current or former partner.  The current Protection from Harassment Act is the only piece of legislation in our field that recognises the impact of a course of conduct.  This is so important and it is really positive that we can build on it.

Finally, the proposed changes from the Select Committee include psychiatric assessments for stalkers.  Certainly, many of the cases I have looked at include what looks like someone with mental health problems to an untrained eye.  Combined with the stronger sentencing guidelines, these assessments appear crucial.

We have seen a huge surge in the use of restraining orders in cases of domestic abuse, and increasing use of the harassment legislation. Whoever the stalker is, let’s hope that these revisions will meet Tricia and Carol’s goals to keeping more victims safe in future.