On Monday 20 January 2020 Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) came into force allowing Police in England and Wales to apply for emergency orders aimed at protecting victims of stalking.
What is stalking?
Stalking is a pattern of unwanted, fixated and obsessive behaviour which is intrusive. It can include harassment that amounts to stalking or stalking that causes fear of violence or serious alarm or distress in the victim. Even though the actual behaviours exhibited may vary between perpetrators, they are often motivated by obsession and fixation and share a consistent set of characteristics referred to as the acronym FOUR (Fixated, Obsessive, Unwanted, Repeated).
Stalking is a crime
Stalking became a crime in the UK in 2012 and according to a crime survey carried out on behalf of the Office for National Statistics it is estimated that one in five women and one in ten men aged 16 and over in England and Wales have experienced stalking at some point in their lives.
What can the Police do?
The Police now have additional powers to tackle this issue providing greater legal protection for victims of stalking. A Stalking Protection Order can be put in place for a minimum period of two years, banning a person from contacting or approaching their alleged victims. The orders can also force stalkers to seek professional help to address their behaviour. The maximum custodial sentence for people found guilty of stalking has been doubled from five to ten years and a breach of a Stalking Protection Order is now a criminal offence with stalkers facing up to five years in jail for any breach.
Applying for Stalking Protection Orders
The police may consider applying for a Stalking Protection Order where the victim has reported being subjected to stalking behaviour, or where this behaviour has come to the attention of the police during a separate investigation or through a third party referral, before or during an investigation for a stalking offence. There must be a belief that the victim is at risk of harm from the respondent and an order is necessary to protect them from such risk. The purpose of applying for the Stalking Protection Order in those circumstances is to protect the victim from any stalking risk identified prior to or during the course of any investigation and criminal proceedings. Stalking Protection Orders can also be applied for even if a prosecution is not ultimately pursued.
It is hoped that these new powers will allow police to step in before the situation escalates allowing victims to feel safer sooner and protected from ongoing harm.
Within hours of these new powers coming into force the first Stalking Protection Order was made against a 22 year old man in Sussex who was made the subject of an indefinite order following his online stalking of a woman in her early twenties.
Only time will tell how effective these orders are at protecting victims of this crime and deterring those responsible. This is however a positive step forward in seeking to try and protect those that suffer from this distressing crime.