ITV News Presenter Lucrezia Millarini writes here about the impact on stalking victims as an ITV News investigation discovers barely any take-up of new police powers designed to protect them.
It’s only when you talk to victims of stalking that you can really understand the devastating impact it can have on a person’s life.
What struck me most about hearing Abbey's story was how this young, intelligent, professional woman is now living in a state of hyper-vigilance after being stalked by an ex-colleague for more than two years.
He would follow her to bus stops, to work or when she was out with friends. He would ask inappropriate, as well as sexually explicit questions.
Lucrezia Millarini - who has herself experienced online stalking - reports on the devastating impact the crime can have on victims' lives
But despite reporting all this to the police, it was Abbey who was forced to change her behaviour: switching jobs, moving home - all just to feel safe.
Stalking Protection Orders were introduced in 2020 to offer victims fast protection from potentially dangerous stalkers.Abbey has repeatedly asked for an SPO which (among other measures) would prevent her stalker from coming anywhere near her.
However, to apply for an order, police must first gather enough evidence of stalking behaviour to reach the legal threshold that would convince a magistrate to hand one out.
But the very nature of stalking can make it a difficult crime to prove. For example, you might know that someone is regularly leaving nails under your car tyres - but without having CCTV footage directly implicating a perpetrator, how can you prove it? Is it up to the victim to collate their own evidence?
Our investigation revealed that (of the forces who responded to us) 50% handed out five or less SPOs in the first 18 months since they were introduced.Sussex Police is a force which has fared better. They run a dedicated stalking unit which not only takes this crime seriously, it works with partner agencies to also look at the rehabilitation of offenders to try and break the cycle of abuse.
Charities and campaigners point out that while SPOs can be an effective tool to protect victims, they can only fulfil that ambition if they are applied for in the first place and if breaches are dealt with effectively.There is no doubt that stalking is a complex crime which, in order to be tackled effectively by police, requires training, resources and, surely, a more holistic approach?
The challenge now is even greater with social media platforms providing offenders with new avenues to pursue and torment their victims, often with the additional layer of anonymity.
Abbey told me police have closed her case because the stalking behaviour appeared to have stopped.
But it has stopped before only to restart, with greater intensity.
This is a reality, not just for Abbey but for so many others like her.
How do I know if they are watching? How do I know if this anonymous online threat will be taken a step further? Why, when I report this am I being told there is nothing the police can do? Why will this response be different depending on where I live in the country?
If you think you’re being stalked, or want advice around stalking, you can find help here:
National Stalking Helpline – 0808 802 0300 or complete a form here: https://www.suzylamplugh.org/forms/national-stalking-helpline-enquiry-form
Paladin - the National Stalking Advisory Service can be reached on 020 3866 4107
Protection against Stalking- email@example.com