'It crushes me': Stalking and harassment rocket during pandemic

Megan Campbell, victim of domestic abuse, with her two-year-old son, Stanley, by the graffiti 'Stand

Megan Campbell, victim of domestic abuse, with her two-year-old son, Stanley, by the graffiti 'Stand Up To Abuse' she has painted highlighting Leeway, near Anglia Square. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Reports of stalking and harassment in Norfolk have skyrocketed during the pandemic, as abusers "dealt with the lack of control in their own lives" by tormenting their victims.

According to statistics released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there were 9,775 reported incidents of stalking and harassment in Norfolk between March 2020-2021.

That figure is 71pc higher than the year before, with just 5,717 incidents recorded during the 12 months prior, from March 2019 - 2020.

The spike is largely driven by the pressures of the pandemic, but also in part due to a reclassification of harassment by a partner or former partner as stalking.

This reclassification is important, as Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) research shows offences of this nature are most often committed by abusive exes.

Norfolk chief constable Paul Sanford said: "We continue to be concerned about the increase of domestic abuse, which accounts for the majority of violence against the person offences and stalking and harassment.

"These crimes are often under-reported, so while rises can be concerning, it's equally encouraging to see victims reaching out for help."

Megan Campbell, a 25-year-old domestic abuse victim living in Norwich, left her violent ex-partner in 2019 when she fled from Milton Keynes.

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But as recently as April this year he was continuing to stalk and harass her online, posting pictures of her and her young son on Instagram.

She said that struggles with money, jobs and relationships during the pandemic  meant abusers had "lost control" over their own lives and needed to exercise it elsewhere.

It also meant, however, that more domestic abuse victims — trapped at home with their partners — were facing up to the realities of their situation, and fleeing to safe ground only to be followed and pursued.

"All of the pressures in people's lives increased ten-fold in the past year", she said. 

"Not only do abusers have more time to obsess over their victims, but knowing they're back in someone's life, or on their mind, empowers them.

Megan Campbell, victim of domestic abuse, with her two-year-old son, Stanley, by the graffiti 'Stand

Megan Campbell, victim of domestic abuse, with her two-year-old son, Stanley, by the graffiti 'Stand Up To Abuse' she has painted highlighting Leeway, near Anglia Square - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

"If they lose control in their own lives, or their partner leaves them altogether, they can claw their sense of worth back by tormenting their victims."

Ms Campbell's ex breached his restraining order 12 times over the pandemic. Each time she reported it to the police.

"He does it because he knows how much it just crushes and disempowers me to have him back in my life", she said.

She added that when he was charged for assault by beating in August 2019, the sentence included a restraining order and participation in a relationship rehabilitation course.

But she was recently informed he had only started the programme this July due to Covid-related delays.

"Because of Covid his abusive behaviour just went unchecked for two years," Ms Campbell said. "It's really not on." 

Resident Gillian Dickinson at Ebenezer Place where she and other residents are fed up with drug deal

Resident Gillian Dickinson at Ebenezer Place where she and other residents are fed up with drug dealers and drug users hanging around the flats and the stairwells. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Picture: DENISE BRADLEY Copyright: Archant 2021

Public order offences, such as anti-social or violent behaviour, have also risen by 17pc over the same timeframe, jumping from 6,394 recorded offences in March 2019-20 up to 7,477 during the pandemic.

Gillian Dickinson, a psychotherapist living at Ebenezer Place in the north of the city, said anti-social behaviour near her block of flats had become even worse during the pandemic.

She and other residents have faced the daily torment of drug-dealing, human waste in the stairwells and people having sex outside their flats.

"These problems have been going on for a while", she said. "But because of the pandemic people are more flaky and anxious than ever.

"It makes them more likely to resort to this kind of behaviour", she said.

"The other day, my neighbour witnessed two men attacking the women that were with them. The police were brilliant and came immediately, but there were children who saw the whole thing."

The new temporary chief constable for Norfolk, Paul Sanford.

The new temporary chief constable for Norfolk, Paul Sanford. - Credit: Norfolk Constabulary

Crime in Norfolk generally during the 12 months from March 20-21 has decreased by six pc, with big reductions in burglary, theft, criminal damage and robbery.

Mr Sanford said this "wasn't surprising" given everyone had been at home for months, and that it is likely figures will increase again now restrictions have lifted.

Nevertheless, he stressed that Norfolk "remains a very safe place to be".

He said: "We are working harder than ever to protect the people of Norfolk, prevent crime and bring offenders to justice."

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