All stalking victims suffer lasting psychological damage, new research finds
Non-violent stalking can cause lasting psychological damage to victims and should be treated as seriously as domestic abuse by the justice system, new research suggests.
A survey of 128 stalking victims found that the actions of the stalker had an impact on all aspects of their lives, from mental and physical health to employment and social life.
Victims reported suicide attempts, anxiety, depression, a loss of confidence and feelings of isolation, while some were forced to change jobs or even move home as a result of being targeted.
The Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) research found almost nine in ten victims (87 per cent) were stalked by someone who was known to them while around a third (34 per cent) were targeted by a partner or an ex-partner. Around 24 per cent of those questioned said they were stalked by an acquaintance while in 11 per cent of cases, a work colleague was responsible. Just over three-quarters of those who took part (76 per cent), were women who were stalked by men.
The survey found most victims continue to blame themselves for the behaviour of their stalkers. Asked how being victimised made them feel, 83 per cent said they felt they may have done something to trigger the behaviour and 77 per cent said they felt shame. Despite suffering the negative effects of stalking, less than half (49 per cent) of those questioned reported their concerns to Police Scotland.
Stalking behaviours included spying, remote surveillance, making unwanted phone calls, sending unwanted notes or letters, texts, emails and social media messages, harassment and threats of violence.
Katy Proctor, a lecturer in criminology and policing at GCU who conducted the study, said the research shows that designated task forces and specialist courts are needed to properly handle stalking in all its forms.
“There’s a danger that by focusing solely on the physical risk posed by violent stalkers, it allows those who cause emotional damage to continue their behaviour,” she said.
“If we are to support and protect victims of stalking effectively, the justice system needs to recognise the potential of non-violent offenders to cause significant and long-lasting harm.
“The majority of behaviours, on an individual basis, are not criminal and might not seem threatening by others. The criminal justice system operates on an incident by incident basis, so it doesn’t easily recognise or pick up on a course of conduct. It is the course of conduct that creates fear and alarm, and that needs to be recognised by the criminal justice system.”
Ms Proctor stressed victims are in no way responsible and that for those stalkers who are not deluded about their victim’s feelings, their actions are about power and control, similar to domestic abuse.
The research has been released ahead of National Stalking Awareness Week, which runs from today (April 8) to Friday (April 12) and will this year focus on the impact stalking has on victims’ mental and emotional health.
Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ (APCC) victims lead Dame Vera Baird said: “Stalking is one of the most frequently experienced forms of abuse and can often escalate. It needs to be recognised and treated with the importance it deserves and that is why I wholeheartedly support National Stalking Awareness Week, which helps to shine a light on the destructive impact that stalking has on its victims. It also provides an opportunity for police and crime commissioners (PCCs), the police and other victim-focused organisations to scrutinise the services they provide, look at how improvements can be made and promote some of the positive work that is currently being undertaken.
“Many PCCs have made improvements in how police forces deal with reports of stalking and where they need to improve by commissioning external inspections as well as providing adequate training and development to all officers, irrespective of their seniority. But there is still more to be done and PCCs, through their police and crime plans, must ensure that sufficient measures are in place to tackle stalking and harassment in all its forms.”
APCC deputy victims lead, Julia Mulligan, the North Yorkshire PCC, said: “Stalking is a crime. It destroys and steals lives. PCCs must ensure that when victims have the courage to come forward to the police that they will be listened to, have their report taken seriously and offered the right specialist support service to access locally.
“There is undoubtedly some excellent work going on in this area, but it is sporadic, with many police forces still not responding in the way they should due to a lack of understanding and training. Improvements need to be made and this is where PCCs can add real value and make a difference to victims of stalking.”
A social media campaign, #StalkingStealsLives, will aim to raise awareness among health professionals about the seriousness of stalking.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “While there is no simple solution to dealing with gender–based violence, which includes stalking and harassment, we are committed to doing all we can to ensure victims are protected and can access the support they need.”