Figures published by the Ministry of Justice show that many offenders convicted of stalking or harassment are escaping prison sentences for repeatedly breaking the terms of their restraining orders.
Of the 23,057 court orders issued in England and Wales during 2015, over a third of these were breached. Failure to obey the conditions set out can result in a custodial sentence of up to five-years, although the number of offenders prosecuted expose that this is often not the case. Shockingly, 60% of those who breached their restraining orders for a second time avoided being sent to prison, with the number being 49% for a third successive breach and 38% for a fourth. Experts have put the reason for such a high breach rate down to the obsessive nature of stalker behaviour.
This news has been met with concern by victim support groups who believe unless firm action is taken, many victims’ lives could be at risk. Failure to act could result in more serious offences such as assault, rape or even murder. Indeed, a recent study conducted by the University of Gloucester found that stalking behaviour was found in 94% of the murder cases they researched.
“Stalking victims are being put at great risk when police, CPS and courts fail to uphold restraining orders and allow breaches to go unpunished,” says Claire Waxman, founder of charity Voice4Victims.
“This gives the stalker the belief that their behaviour is acceptable and that the order is meaningless. The victim suffers further trauma as they realise that they are powerless and that this legal intervention does not deter their abuser, nor provide any real security or protection. The victim is left vulnerable and fearful of what will come next.”
The Government has stated that it is “determined to do everything possible to protect all victims of stalking and stop perpetrators at the earliest opportunity.” New draft guidelines from the Sentencing Council for England and Wales are also due to be handed down this week in time for National Stalking Awareness Week.
National Stalking Awareness Week is set to run from April 24th-28th with its aim being to raise awareness of the issue and the affect it has on victims. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust has put together a programme of events about stalking throughout the week. You can read more information about this on their website.
Stalking can be defined as unwanted or obsessive attention by an individual or group towards another person. It can happen to anyone, both men and women of all ages and backgrounds. An estimated 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men in the UK are said to have been affected by stalking during their lifetime. With the advent of social media, perpetrators have also now found new channels by which to pursue their victims.