Suzy Lamplugh Trust welcomes longer sentences for stalking being supported by Ministry of Justice on 10th January.  Alongside the Home Office making stalking a priority with the intended introduction of the Stalking Protection Order, 2017 is a big year for victims of stalking.

For the very worst of stalking cases, the opportunity to remove their stalker for a long period of time gives acknowledgement to the awful psychological and emotional trauma they have endured.  Stalking has been described as ‘murder in slow motion’, and can last for many years (the longest known case being 43 years[1]) completely overturning a person’s life.  1 in 10 victims of stalking relocate[2] to try and escape their stalker and between 30% and 40% of victims report physical and sexual violence.[3]  When the current maximum sentence for stalking is 5 years and yet theft is 7 years and fraud 10 years, we support the need for longer sentences to fully acknowledge the seriousness of this crime.

Furthermore, Suzy Lamplugh Trust recognises that short sentences for stalkers do not work.  Short sentences for dangerous behaviours sends messages to the offenders that they are able to act with impunity and repercussions are not proven to be severe. On the National Stalking Helpline, we are told by victims that they consider a prison sentence a respite from their stalker, not a solution to the fixated behaviour offender’s exhibit.  

 Indeed, we have received testimony from psychiatrists suggesting that, in some cases, short sentences increase the level of risk to the victim.  Victims become the focus of resentment and on release we often see a resuming of stalking behaviours, indeed often we see the stalking continued from prison.  A longer sentence, in appropriate cases, would provide the prison system time to fully assess and potentially treat the fixated, obsessive behaviour of the stalker, reducing the risk of re-offending and threat to the victim. 

It is however, worth noting that the average length of a sentence for a stalking conviction is currently 10.9 months.[4]  On the National Stalking Helpline, whilst we talk to thousands of victims each year, the number of people we help who even reach a prosecution for their stalker is miniscule - we celebrated last month when we reached court with just one client, despite enduring robust advocacy from our specialist team.  

Of these convictions, we know anecdotally, that many of the more serious stalking charges, for causing serious alarm and distress or fear of violence, are dropped to the lower charge of a course of conduct amounting to stalking.  They are often dropped from stalking altogether to harassment.  This is a terrible abuse of the legislation and ought to be a focus for the Crown Prosecution Service when dealing with stalking perpetrators.

Suky Bhaker, Head of Policy and Development states: ‘For Suzy Lamplugh Trust the focus is still, and must be, on training frontline criminal justice professionals, firstly to recognise stalking behaviours when they are presented and understand the real impact of stalking on victims.  Secondly, training is required to understand the difference and intersections between stalking, harassment, coercive control, as well as other forms of violence and domestic abuse, to ensure a perpetrator of stalking is identified correctly.  Only by labelling an offender as a ‘stalker’ do we have a chance to begin to assess their needs and intervene in their behaviour whilst safeguarding their victim appropriately.  Thirdly, training is necessary to ensure criminal justice professionals understand the tools at their disposal; it is no good having 10 year sentences if the average offender receives a statutory sentence of less than a year.’

We welcome and support the case for longer sentences we look forward to increased training for police officers, prosecutors, judges, magistrates, and probation officers and provision for psychological intervention where appropriate for stalking offenders.

[1] Survey results from Dr. Lorraine Sheridan and Network for Surviving Stalking

[2] Stalker in your Pocket research by Dr James and Dr Persaud for Suzy Lamplugh Trust 2016

[3] Rosenfield, B. & Harmon, R. Factors Associated with violence in stalking and obsessional harassment cases Criminal Justice Behavior 2002; Spitzberg, B.H., & Cupach, W.R. The state of the art of stalking: Taking stock of the emerging literature. Aggression and Violent Behaviour 2007

[4] House of Commons Library