Stalking is a cruel and incessant crime with often terrifying consequences. Victims can be tormented for years, left too scared to leave their homes and unnerved by the slightest unexpected sound.
Just last week a court heard how a stalker who sent postcards with pictures of cats and made meowing noises through Keira Knightley’s letterbox left her too afraid to leave the house. The emotional impact has been so great that the star and her young family are now looking to move, leaving an area they know and love.
Sadly the upheaval and torment the actress went through is familiar to far too many victims. And as Home Secretary I am determined to do all I can to stop the upset that is suffered by the 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men who are stalked. That is why today I am announcing plans for new stalking protection orders to stop perpetrators before their twisted obsession has a chance to escalate.
The new civil orders will protect victims at an earlier stage and help prevent further offending, complementing the criminal offences of stalking this government introduced 4 years ago. They will enable police to ask the courts to impose restrictions on stalkers such as limiting their internet access or how close they can get to a victim, and requiring them to take action such as seeking mental health treatment. If they fail to comply they face up to five years in jail.
Yesterday, I saw the scale of the problem first-hand when I visited the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which runs the National Stalking Helpline. The trust was established in 1986 by Paul and Diana Lamplugh, 4 months after their 25-year-old estate agent daughter Suzy disappeared after going to meet a client.
I remember every element of Suzy’s story. As a woman in my twenties it was terrifying to hear how a professional my age could just disappear. Suzy’s story made our independence suddenly seem dangerous. Although Suzy’s body has never been found, she was officially declared dead in 1994, presumed murdered. It has been suggested that she was a victim of stalking.
What is clear is that stalking can happen to anyone. Doctors are targeted by patients, people in the public eye are watched by obsessed fans and ex-wives are followed by former husbands. About 30 per cent of helpline callers are men. A vast majority of people who call do not realise stalking is illegal – and has been since 2012.
Visiting the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, it was clear to me that the extra protection from stalking that I am promising today is really needed. Taking action at an early stage – even before a prosecution may be possible – could stop stalkers becoming fixated.
I am pleased that police and the Crown Prosecution Service are taking stalking seriously, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate are carrying out a joint inspection into the effectiveness of their response to cases involving stalking and harassment. This includes examining the service received by victims.
But while protecting victims of stalking is vital, violence against women and girls comes in many different forms. Violence strikes women from all backgrounds and ages – on the street, online and at home. By talking about issues like stalking, domestic abuse and sexual violence we can drag them out of the shadows and give more victims the confidence to come forward. And when they do, I am determined to make sure they get the support they need.
This government is already acting to bring offenders to justice and we’ve committed increased funding of £80 million towards ending violence against women and girls (VAWG) until 2020. And today I am publishing a national statement of expectations on VAWG, setting out exactly what is required from local areas to prevent offending and help victims, supported by a new £15 million fund.
By working together and confronting these vile crimes we will find ways to beat them. This government is committed to building a Britain that works for everyone. No woman should live in fear and every girl should feel protected. Suzy Lamplugh’s story should be a horror of the past rather than a torment of the future.