Today on International Women's Day, the Government announced plans to make stalking a specific criminal offence.
International Women's Day is an important day to mark the injustices women suffer, both minor and major, at home and abroad.
The Government is looking at making stalking a criminal offence in England and Wales.
A Home Office spokesman has said it works with police and prosecutors to ensure the new stalking law is properly enforced, although it is up to chief constables to make sure their officers are trained.
– Home Office spokesman
Stalking is an appalling crime which destroys lives and the Government is sending a clear message that those responsible should be brought to justice.
We are working with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure the new stalking offences are being used appropriately. Our new laws will help stop people living in fear and prevent escalation to more serious violence.
Stalking became a crime in England and Wales for the first time in November 2012, with two specific new offences introduced:
- The first is dealt with by magistrates only, and applies where a person is accused of targeting someone in a course of conduct that amounts to stalking, and involves a maximum jail term of six months
- The second, more serious offence, can be heard either by magistrates or in a crown court, and applies where someone is accused of causing a person fear of violence or serious alarm or distress. This can mean a jail term of up to five years.
The latest figures on stalking arrests and charging are disappointing but not surprising, the Co-director of the national stalking advocacy said today, after it showed that only a "fraction" of stalkers had been convicted.
Harry Fletcher of Paladin said:
The number convicted so far is 10% of those arrested and a fraction of all women stalked.
They illustrate the need for comprehensive training of all criminal justice professionals. Victims must have confidence in the justice system if they are to come forward.
A "fraction" of stalkers have been convicted since it was made a criminal offence and police and prosecutors need better training in dealing with the crime, an advice service has said.
Figures obtained under a freedom of information request showed that between November 2012, when stalking became a crime, and the end of June this year, 320 people were arrested across 30 police forces.
Of those 189 were charged - so far six of those have been jailed and 27 given community disposals.
Labour's shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has welcomed the government's move to make stalking a crime.
Cooper said the move should help the criminal justice system crack down on the offence.
She said: "We campaigned hard for this new law against stalking and I am glad that the government accepted our reforms and listened to the victims who have been so determined and brave in speaking out after enduring terrible distress and abuse.
"Victims deserve swift justice and protection from the law - hopefully stalking becoming a criminal offence in its own right will help courts and the criminal justice system focus more quickly and effectively on stopping this crime."
Crime prevention minister Jeremy Browne says the introduction of new legislation making stalking a criminal offence will stop the issue being "brushed under the carpet".
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said:
It is the sort of offence that people can sometimes brush under the carpet, not be aware of, it has been trivialised sometimes, I think, in the past as something which is just people, mainly women, being a bit bothered but nothing to worry about too much.
This is a very serious problem which affects thousands of thousands of mainly women, not exclusively women, but mainly women, right across the country.
Victims and Equalities Minister Helen Grant said creating new stalking offences will ensure "victims of this heinous crime are better protected and will bring more offenders to justice".
Ms Grant said:
The Government's ambition is nothing less than ending all forms of violence against women and girls.
But we must also ensure that if people's lives are affected by crime, the right kind of help or support is available.
For the first time we have made sure nearly £40 million of Central Government funding is in place for organisations that do so much to help victims, often with so little.
New laws designed to give extra protection to victims of stalking have come into force.
The Government is also providing new support aimed at reducing domestic and sexual violence and female genital mutilation (FGM).
Two specific criminal offences of stalking have come into force in England and Wales for the first time.
This is part of a package of new funds and measures to crack down on abuse leading into the 16 days of action that follow yesterday's UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
– Crime Prevention Minister Jeremy Browne
Stalking is an appalling crime that destroys lives. The impact on victims can be devastating and we are doing all we can to make sure they have the protection they need and do not have to live in fear.
These new offences send a clear message to offenders that stalking is a serious crime and they will be brought to justice for making others' lives a misery.
A victim of stalking has created a mobile phone application that alerts family and friends if someone is in danger.
The innovation comes as the Government has introduced two new criminal offences today, stalking and stalking involving a fear of violence.
Stalking has been made a specific criminal offence in England and Wales in a move to improve the safety of victims.
Under the new Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, the Government has introduced two offences, stalking and stalking involving a fear of violence.
Previously, the Protection of Harassment Act 1997 did not specifically name stalking as an offence, instead citing two criminal offences of harassment.
An inquiry into stalking earlier this year by Parliament found that around 120,000 people are victims of stalking every year.