Stalking is a gender based crime, with 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men experiencing stalking throughout their lifetimes. In England and Wales, the Office of National Statistics estimated there were 1.5 million cases of stalking in 2020

Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) came into force in January 2020, with today marking their first year anniversary. Suky Bhaker, CEO, looks back at the past 12 months seeing in what ways SPOs have changed our clients' experiences..


What is a Stalking Protection Order?

"A Stalking Protection Order (SPO) is a civil order, the aim of which is to protect victims of stalking. It can be applied for by the police and is free of charge for the victim. The order can include prohibitions for the perpetrator, such as: entering certain locations or defined areas where the victim resides or frequently visits; contacting the victim by any means, including via telephone, post, email, SMS text message or social media; or contacting the victim through a third party. The order is particular because it can also include positive requirements, such as: attend an appropriate perpetrator intervention programme; a mental health assessment; a drugs and alcohol programme; surrender devices; provide the police with access to social media accounts, mobile phones, computers, tablets, and passwords/codes; and/or sign on at a police station. Police officers should use this section as creatively as possible to best protect the victim and rehabilitate the perpetrator. If you breach an SPO, this is a criminal offence."-


What positives have we seen from this year?

"I believe the birth of the Stalking Protection Orders has been a welcome and much needed change for victims. The introduction in particular of positive requirements is an excellent tool if used accurately. Some of the best practice we have seen is where officers have been trained to apply for them, resulting in the order going through faster, being more tailored to the victim's case (such as creatively using the positive requirements) and thus being more effective. We welcome the training of police officers across the UK in the correct use of SPOs, and the differentiation furthermore between stalking and harassment. It is after all vital that victims are being supported with the correct understanding and tools, and that cases are being recorded accurately.

The National Stalking Helpline has witnessed positive cases where the Officer In Charge has proactively pushed for a Stalking Protection Order, regularly kept in contact with the victim and the advocate and made the victim feel believed and supported."-


What have been some barriers to efficient application of SPOs?

"Overall, the introduction of SPOs is proving to be a positive and useful tool for victims of stalking; however, there have been a number of cases where clients have not been adequately supported. 

Unfortunately, the pandemic and the lockdown have caused delays to the police and court process impacting stalking cases in a range of ways, particularly delaying the SPO hearings. 

In order to apply for an SPO, the police need to consider whether the respondent has carried out acts that amount to stalking, whether the respondent poses a risk of stalking to a person and whether there is reasonable cause to believe the proposed order is necessary to protect the other person from that risk. Numerous cases sadly show that police do not feel the stalking threshold has been met and have therefore declined the client's request for an SPO. We are deeply disappointed that victims are yet again put in the position of having to meet this threshold for an SPO, the aim of which was to protect them in the interim. This is concerning as clients are left without legal remedy and feel they are not believed or supported.

Police officers furthermore have often not responded to breaches of Stalking Protection Orders in a timely manner, as demonstrated in the case study below. It is vital that they be adequately implemented, that when breached officers respond to any incident in a timely manner, and that the order not in any way replace a criminal investigation. We can see the potential this tool has to protect victims of stalking, but we have a long way to go to adequately listen to and protect our victims."


What follows is a first hand experience from a client supported by the National Stalking Helpline. 


Can you give me a background of your situation leading up to the application of a Stalking Protect Order?

"The first year it was a campaign of violent harassment and intimidation against me, my family, my staff and my friends. He turned on me and began to obsess about getting revenge on me. That was when he started to try to control me by fear. He would go through cycles of self-pity and self-loathing and then he'd invent incidents to get my attention. Then I started to get death threats from third parties. It was at that point that I realised it was stalking because he needed my attention basically. He didn't care how he got it."


How did you find out about Stalking Protection Orders and when did you apply?

"My advocate from the National Stalking Helpline told me about SPOs. She approached the police directly. 

It took about 9 months to put an Interim Stalking Protection Order in place from the date that it was requested by the advocate. The perpetrator has since breached it and a month later, there has been no response from the police."


What has your experience with the police been like?

"I [feel as though I] have been the Police detective on this case. I'm the one that finds out where he is and phones the police.

I've only once been told when he was released from custody, out of 9 or 10 times. Every time he's been arrested, we think 'Thank God, we'll be alright' and then a few hours later he's [back]. Would it not be a good idea to let me know?

I had to send [the police officer] a copy of my SPO because he didn't actually have it, he didn't know. I don't have the energy to fight the police and the stalker at the same time. 

People say to me: 'what is it going to take for the police to do anything - are you going to be murdered?'"


What are your general thoughts on the introduction of Stalking Protection Orders?

"It's great having an SPO but it needs to be acted on. The police need to do something about it."


How has the stalking impacted you?

"It's not rape, but it's quite like it. And the response I get from the police is just minimal, it took me 2 years to actually convince them that this is serious, that he is mad and dangerous, and it's not just a few random cases of vandalism.

I've now come to terms with it, but I have had a breakdown on two occasions, I've had to take heavy medication, I've broken up with my partner because of it. It has impacted my life and actually I've come out of it much stronger and much more assured."


Anything else you would like to add?

"My advocate has been brilliant. I've said it before if it wasn't for her I just don't think I would've been able to carry on."


Click here for more information or to contact the National Stalking Helpline.