Over 80% of stalking victims in the UK are women. In fact, an estimated 1.3 million women experience domestic abuse per year, according to the crime survey for England and Wales. And victims don’t tend to report a case until they experience the 100th incident.
That’s probably in part down to the fact that police were recently found to be putting domestic abuse victims at risk by not investigating or recording complaints correctly. And while the number of stalking incidents has increased, the percentage of prosecution rates fell in 2018.
But there has been some progress made in ensuring that victims get the support they need in cases.
Last month, a change in UK stalking laws meant that suspected stalkers under police investigation can no longer contact their victims. Police are now able to apply to magistrates for a Stalking Protection Order (SPO), which will usually remain in place for two years. Courts will also have the power to impose an interim SPO to provide immediate protection for victims while a decision is being made. And the orders will also be able to force stalkers to seek professional help.
The recent news of a high-profile case involving Emily Maitlis highlights how important it is to keep pushing for more protection of victims. The stalker, who has harassed Newsnight presenter Maitlis for two decades, has just been sentenced for breaching a restraining order for the 12th time.
Responding to this news, Jog On author Bella Mackie – who has briefly spoken out about her own stalking experience before – made a very valid point about the role that privilege plays in getting a conviction.
Taking to Twitter, she retweeted an article about Miatlis, writing: “This man has been stalking Maitlis since she was at uni and he’s repeatedly shown he doesn’t give a shit about restraining orders. Her life will have been immeasurably changed by this hell. Stalking laws are not strict enough.”
She contineued: “I was stalked for three months and it felt like a fucking lifetime. Did warnings stop him? No. Police approach was patchy as hell until my MP stepped in. One officer asked if I’d dated the man (as if it would then be warranted). Another told me to get my dad to buy a baseball bat.
“It always seemed fairly clear to me that the only reason I eventually got proper help was because my family were middle class and pushy about it. AND I was lucky – when my stalker got out of prison he didn’t contact me. But I still worry he will.
“I feel so so so sorry for Emily Maitlis, she has endured decades of this. It’s got to be handled better. There were cuts to the main stalking clinic a few years back so I’m not hopeful. Ugh I can’t even be coherent with my thoughts on this.”
Of course, as Mackie’s experience shows, no amount of privilege can exempt a person from feeling the fear, anxiety and worry that comes with being a stalking victim.
But her words do prompt the question: would women without the same amount of emotional and financial support, and knowledge of the law, feel confident enough to report a case?