National Stalking Awareness Week

26/04/2022

 

“We take stalking seriously in Sussex”

Sussex PCC Katy Bourne looks at how Sussex is leading the way in tackling stalking.

This week (April 25-29) is National Stalking Awareness Week - an annual campaign developed by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust to raise awareness about the severity of stalking and focus on different issues related to the crime.

The theme this year is ‘Bridging the Gap’ which highlights the vital role that Independent Stalking Advocates play in bridging the gap between a victim and the criminal justice system.

Sussex PCC Katy Bourne, who is also the National Stalking Lead for the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners is marking the week by highlighting the great strides that Sussex and other forces have made to tackle stalking and raising awareness of the services and help available to victims of stalking. 

Stalking is a serious and dangerous crime

At the beginning of 2020, Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) were introduced – they make it easier for victims of stalking to get support and for perpetrators of stalking to face restrictions such as staying away from a particular location. If someone breaches the conditions of the order, it becomes a criminal offence and could result in a sentence of up to five years imprisonment. Sussex was the very first police force in the country to secure SPOs. Through working with designated, specialist officers and putting the victim’s voice first, they have already secured 44 full SPOs with a further 11 awaiting court hearings.

Further to this, a new specialist police unit has been established in Sussex this year. The Complex Domestic Abuse & Stalking Unit (CDASU) co-ordinates all court applications for SPOs and supervises people who are subject to them, to help ensure compliance and to deal with any breaches.

As part of her ongoing work to tackle this dangerous crime, PCC Katy Bourne commissioned a countywide Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Framework with accompanying action plan which puts a spotlight on stalking. This plan included fully funding the new Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) lead role within Sussex Police.

Earlier this year, PCC Katy Bourne was joined by the Minister for Safeguarding Rachel Maclean MP and Hampshire Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth to detail the ongoing, innovative Sussex approach to tackling violence against women and girls.

Supporting victims

Having been a victim of stalking herself, as well as speaking with many other victims about their experiences, PCC Katy Bourne knows all too well about how frightening stalking can be and the detrimental impact it can have.

She says: “We must absolutely listen to victims, to make sure they are not dismissed or overlooked and to fully understand the depth of the emotional turmoil they face. What they have to say must inform how we all move forward.”

Supporting and protecting the vulnerable is top of the Commissioner’s priorities. She has financially backed Veritas Justice - one of the only dedicated stalking advocacy services in the country – to provide specialist support, help and advice to all victims of stalking across Sussex.

The funding enables Veritas to provide a wealth of services including: online chat facilities; practical and emotional support; outreach work in the community; art therapy; peer support; as well as vital stalking awareness training sessions for police and criminal justice partners.

Around 2,000 people were referred to Veritas over the last year, with the service providing ongoing advice and support to around 1,000 people. 98% of those receiving support from the service said it had made a positive difference, with 95% feeling safer following support.

With funding secured by PCC Katy Bourne from the Home Office’s Safer Streets Fund, Veritas have been awarded monies to provide free stalking awareness training. The sessions have proved so popular that further dates have been offered throughout the summer. 

PCC Bourne has also funded a ground-breaking multi-agency Stalking Clinic which meets regularly and brings together partners from: the Crown Prosecution Service; police; cyber specialists; housing; mental health support staff; stalking advocates; Probation Service; and Interventions Alliance staff working on the stalking intervention programme. The clinic’s purpose is to ensure that all available steps are taken to support stalking charges and bring cases to trial where appropriate, as well as to safeguard the victim and provide options to manage a perpetrator’s behaviour.

Intervening before it’s too late

Stalking is a hidden crime and victims often suffer in silence.

It is not acceptable for a police force to wait until something horrific happens before taking action”, PCC Katy Bourne says. “We must adopt a proactive approach to tackling stalking by dealing with the causes – it is a complex crime and perpetrators are often exposed to events that trigger their behaviours and heighten their risk of offending.

With experts in place, we can stop offenders in their tracks, rehabilitate them and change negative behaviours by providing them with the right tools to choose a different path and, in turn, protect those who are vulnerable so they don’t have to be afraid.”

Challenging and changing behaviour

In November 2020, PCC Katy Bourne was awarded £98,000 Home Office funding specifically for stalking intervention and evaluation, as part of an overall package of interventions on domestic abuse. From this award of funding, a Stalking Perpetrator Programme for Sussex was developed by Interventions Alliance.

The programme allows perpetrators of stalking to attend twelve, intensive one-to-one sessions where their case will be forensically dissected by a specialist and future focus placed on maintaining non-offending behaviour. The goal is for the perpetrator to learn better social, interpersonal skills and improve their ability to manage their behaviour during periods of emotional crisis.

Standing up against misogyny, abuse and violence

Focusing on intervention and stepping in before it’s too late, PCC Bourne has also launched the ‘Do The Right Thing’ campaign which encourages men to recognise sexual harassment and misogynistic behaviour and gives them the confidence and skills to safely call it out when they witness it. 

Signposting to safe spaces

Responding to detailed consultation with partners and the public – PCC Bourne developed the brand new Safe Space Sussex’ app which is aimed at helping people should they feel unsafe outside of their home.

The app, which is available to download on Apple and Google stores features over 250 designated safe spaces in Sussex, including retail stores, community centres and cafes. Users can be directed to their nearest safe space, send their location to an emergency contact and access support and advice. If they’re in an emergency – they are directed to call 999.

Remember FOUR

PCC Katy Bourne commented: “I am pleased with the progress we have made in Sussex. We have innovative approaches here that put victims’ voices first and challenge offenders’ behaviours before it’s too late. I am encouraged by the commitment of other Police and Crime Commissioners and police forces to adopt the best approaches to stalking but we still have a long way to go because it’s such a misunderstood and under-reported crime.

In National Stalking Awareness Week, it’s not only important to raise awareness of the crime of stalking but also to help people realise what it is. To describe what behaviours to look for, I devised the acronym FOUR:

If it’s Fixated, Obsessive, Unwanted and Repeated – it’s stalking. Police forces and Police & Crime Commissioners are ready to help you.

Notes for editors

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