Police in Sussex have been leading the way in enforcing a new law aimed at helping victims of stalking.
Stalking Protection Orders (SPO’s) came into effect on 20 January and Sussex, which was the first force the country to obtain an order that day, has now secured 23 in the first six months, as an additional tool in responding to reports of stalking.
The response from victims has been positive. One has told the police;
“Getting an SPO has help me hugely to make sense of what is going on for me and has given me hope that the system will work, thank you to all those supporting me, a burden shared has certainly being a burden halved. it is really reassuring that something is in place that protects me and my family.”
Another has said; “I have tried many times to end this relationship but did not think it was possible or that I was worth any better. This time the police really believed me and helped me to stay strong and safe, The SPO has given me a much-needed respite and finally the attention is on him. ”
Detective Chief Inspector Mick Richards of the force’s Public Protection Command, said; “These new Orders, which we seek from Magistrates, are an important development in helping us to better protect victims or anyone connected with them, in stalking cases.
“For example, subjects will be prohibited from contacting, by any means, directly or indirectly, the named person on the Order. This includes but is not limited to contact in person, calls, letters, emails, messages and social media.
“They can also be prohibited from publishing any material, or making reference to any material already published, which references, refers or relates to the victim either directly or indirectly.
They can also be prohibited from entering into an agreed exclusion zone, be that an area within the town or county. This would include where the victim works, usual routes taken for example, walking children to school.
Some of the positive requirements include allowing officers access to the home address for the purposes of conducting risk assessments, having to re-register their home address every year, or if of no fixed address, having to attend a police station every week.
There are further conditions that can be considered depending on the nature of the stalking behaviour.
However an Order is not an alternative to prosecution for stalking offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, and it can be used to strengthen prosecutions as well as safeguarding victims.
Any breach of an Order is itself a criminal offence punishable by Magistrates by up to 12 months or a fine or both, or at Crown Court with imprisonment for up to five years or a fine or both.
Mick Richards adds: “This new resource really helps us to protect victims. In Sussex we are already recording the second highest number of stalking reports anywhere in the UK outside London, and are now advising and supporting more victims than ever.
“With better awareness and enhanced training our approach is more robust in keeping people safe and feeling safe. We encourage victims to come forward with the knowledge that our officers and staff are better trained and that they take all reports seriously.
“We are absolutely aware of the consequences if our response is not the correct one, so we want to ensure that victims have confidence in how both police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will support them.
“There is clearly an increased awareness and identification in society generally of stalking behaviour and that too helps us to provide early intervention and provide safeguarding to those in need.
“The force has independent advice on our response to stalking and harassment, from partners such as Veritas Justice, and this has improved our understanding of stalking as well as its impact on victims. We regularly review our response to ensure we have taken the right action and to identify learning for our staff.”
Officers and staff complete online mandatory stalking and harassment training so they can provide the right response and keep people safe and further specialised training is being delivered.
Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner said; “Stalking is an insidious crime that gradually takes over and ruins lives, and perpetrators must be reprimanded.
“The SPOs have allowed officers to take swift and decisive action, putting restrictions in place and enforcing breaches, treating them as criminal offences.
“Sussex Police has been the leading light in putting this new piece of legislation into practice incredibly quickly and have safeguarded many victims already.
“Officer’s readiness to take action in this way is having a hugely positive effect on the confidence people have in coming forward, knowing that in Sussex we take stalking incredibly seriously.”
If you are being stalked or harassed it is important that you report it. Stalkers are fixated and obsessive offenders who will not stop.
You can report stalking or harassment online or by calling 101 or in person at your local police station.
But always call 999 if you are in danger. Officers and staff will undertake a risk assessment and focus on keeping you safe.
If you would like further information about stalking or harassment, there are several organisations that specialise in providing advice and support to victims.
Veritas Justice is a local Sussex organisation which provides advocacy and support for victims of stalking.
The National Stalking Helpline provides advice and guidance to current or previous victims of stalking or harassment. The helpline can be contacted on 0808 802 0300.
Further information and advice is also available on the Sussex Police website.