A new digital era has been blamed for a stark increase in stalking and harassment offences across Yorkshire with experts warning it could subject victims to violence and even homicide.
Latest figures obtained by The Yorkshire Post reveal a 51 per cent increase in stalking and harassment offences reported to police across the county in the 12 months to June 2019.
The four Yorkshire forces recorded a total of 66,133 stalking and harassment offences.
Experts say new digital tools, including tracking devices, when placed in the wrong hands can have devastating consequences on victims.
Dr David Lowe, a leading expert in law and crime at Leeds Beckett University, said: “The methods and forms of communication has changed significantly since the Protection From
Harassment Act was introduced in 1997 thereby allowing perpetrators to a much wider variety of methods to commit these offences.
“Currently, the access to various forms of electronic communication has widened the scope related to committing stalking/harassment offences and this has seen a correlative rise in the commission of this activity.”
Suzy Bhaker, acting CEO of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust echoed Dr Lowe’s comments and has called on police to take reports of cyber stalking seriously.
Ms Bhaker said that most forms of stalking and harassment include either via phone or text message, or by email or social networking sites, as well as direct confrontation.
She said stalkers in many instances will misuse new digital tools including tracking apps, which they will download onto their victim’s phone and used to monitor their communications as well as track their physical whereabouts.
“Stalking is a serious crime which, in addition to causing huge distress to the victim, has the potential to escalate into violence or homicide,” Ms Baker said.
“Recent research published by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust found that a high proportion of victims of stalking experienced serious mental health problems after being stalked, including symptoms compatible with post-traumatic stress disorder. It is therefore essential for police forces to be trained to recognise stalking, understand that it can cause serious harm, and investigate cases appropriately, regardless of the methods or technologies employed by the stalker.
“We call on the police to take reports of cyber stalking seriously, appreciating that the psychological impact of such behaviours is just as severe as physical.
“We would urge anyone who is concerned that they may be being stalked to get their digital devices checked for surveillance apps, as well as contacting the police.”