Stalking and harassment cases on rise as abusers head online

POLICE IN Yorkshire now record an incident of stalking, harassment or the sending of a malicious message every 15 minutes, new figures show.

An incident of stalking, harassment or malicious communications is recorded by police in Yorkshire every 15 minutes

Charities have warned that social media sites and mobile phones are increasingly being used by abusers to torment their victims.

Official statistics show 35,281 incidents of stalking, harassment or malicious communication was recorded by the police in Yorkshire in 2017, a 52 per cent rise on the year before.

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Sian Hawkins, head of campaigns at abuse charity Women’s Aid, said stalking and harassment left victims “hugely traumatised” and often formed part of a wider pattern of domestic abuse, with abusers turning to stalking their victim after a relationship had ended.

Ms Hawkins said that increasingly, this abuse would come via the internet or mobile phones.

She said: “We are seeing across the board that these online forms of stalking and harassment are becoming more and more common.

“It is easy for stalkers to continue their behaviour online. They don’t need to leave their homes now to harass and stalk somebody. They can do that through their computer or their mobile phones.”

But stalking too often remains a hidden problem with police officers failing to see an abuser’s pattern of obsessive behaviour, another charity has warned.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which runs the National Stalking Helpline, said many police forces were getting better at recording instances of stalking, more than five years after it became a specific offence, but the figures were still likely to be the tip of the iceberg.

Victoria Charleston, policy and development manager for the trust, said: “We know one in five women and one in five men are subjected to stalking in their lifetimes. It is huge.”

The trust’s own research reveals that of the 35,281 reports in Yorkshire, only a fraction - 983 -had been recorded as stalking.

Ms Charleston said callers to the helpline often described how police officers would treat their experience as a series of separate incidents rather than a pattern of obsessive behaviour.

She said: “People tell us quite a lot that when they try to tell the police, crimes are recorded as harassment, malicious communication, criminal damage, all sorts of incident crimes.”

She praised South Yorkshire Police and West Yorkshire Police in particular for making a concerted effort to record stalking more accurately.

Detective Chief Inspector Fran Naughton, of West Yorkshire Police, said in the past year they had begun to give officers specialist training in how to spot stalking and harassment.

She said: “Similarly to other polices forces nationally, over the last year we have seen an increase in the number of stalking offences recorded; however we accept that this is an under-reported crime and that the actual number of offences will be higher.”

The Government plans to bring in new police powers to help victims of stalking.

The Stalking Protection Bill, going through Parliament, would create new civil Stalking Protection Orders to help victims earlier. Breaching an order could result in up to five years in prison.

“Stalking can have terrifying consequences, which is why this Government is working to protect victims and stop perpetrators at the earliest opportunity,” a Home Office spokeswoman said.

“These orders will make it possible to intervene in cases before concerning behaviours become entrenched and escalate in severity, especially in cases of ‘stranger stalking’.”