Number of stalking and harassment victims in region almost triples in two years
PUBLISHED: 06:30 09 May 2018 | UPDATED: 08:21 09 May 2018
The number of victims of stalking or harassment in the region has almost tripled over the course of two years.
In some areas there are multiple reports of the crimes every single day, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed.
And some social media apps such as Snapchat may be contributing to figures, according to a Norfolk charity.
In the first release of figures in such detail, it showed the number of stalking, harassment and sending of malicious communications offences reported in Norfolk, and some parts of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, was 1,747 in 2015.
But by 2017 this had risen almost threefold to 4,996.
The ONS advises these changes could be down to improved reporting by the police.
But in some areas, such as Norwich and Waveney, it meant there were more than two reports every day.
In the rest of Norfolk, east Cambridgeshire and Fenland, there was at least one report a day.
Last year, a Norfolk father and daughter were jailed after a “prolonged and cruel campaign of harassment” which left “a cloud of suspicion” hanging over a community.
For almost two years, people in Melton Constable and Briston were sent threatening messages as part of a campaign of harassment by Edward and Sarah Clitheroe.
Victims had dog faeces posted through a letterbox, car tyres drilled, rocks were thrown at properties at night and rude and offensive messages spray-painted on homes, cars or outside properties.
Some of the text and Facebook messages included phrases like “tick-tock”, “I’m going to kill you all and the best bit is you have no idea who I am”, and one victim also received an In Sympathy card at or around the time of the birth of a child.
Both admitted stalking and Sarah Clitheroe also admitted attempting to pervert the course of justice.
A spokesman for Norfolk domestic abuse charity Leeway said the people they help were often victims of stalking and harassment.
And he said technology had only had matters worse.
He said: “Particularly with apps like Snapchat and the location feature on there, you can see where people are.”
And he said social media made it easier for people to get in touch.
“The thing is you can block someone but there’s nothing stopping them getting a new account, and you can block them multiple times but there’s no overall system.”
In 2016 Paul Coe, then 60, became the victim of stalking.
Mr Coe fled from Gateshead to Norfolk to escape 29-year-old Hemin Sharif’s advances but within days he was followed to Great Yarmouth.
Two days after he had been due to be sentenced for stalking, Sharif - of Vine Street, Gateshead - found Mr Coe on Great Yarmouth seafront and subjected him to a “rain of blows with a shard of glass”.
A report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate last year highlighted the importance of police recognising risks to victims.
It said on some occasions police information notices - a protection order in place to help prevent this kind of offending - were used inappropriately instead of perpetrators being pursued for stalking or harassment charges.
Temporary Detective Superintendent Andy Coller, who leads Norfolk Constabulary’s safeguarding department, said: “While I understand the public may be concerned by these figures, I think it is important to provide some context.
“The figures include a combination of stalking, harassment and malicious communications offences, which are similar but separate types of crime that have varying degrees of seriousness.
“One of the reasons for the increase is down to improvements in crime recording, so that incidents of harassment that may previously have been recorded as an incident are now recorded as a crime at a much earlier stage.
“We recognise the huge emotional impact that all of these offences, but in particular stalking, can have on victims, who can often feel very much alone and unable to seek help for fear of repercussions or that they will not be taken seriously.
“I would like to take this opportunity to reassure anyone who feels they are a victim of such crimes to please come forward.”
What impact does social media have?
A two-year project at The National Centre for Cyberstalking Research at the University of Bedfordshire found it was difficult to separate offline and online stalking as the average stalking case had a cyber element to it.
But the rise of social media is believed to have meant if traditional lines of communication and contact are shut down, there is now an easy way for those carrying out stalking and harassment to access their victims.
It comes at the same time as a government committee warned that we do not know the impact social media has on young people’s mental health.
The House of Commons Education and Health and Social Care Committees said in a report released today: “There are particular concerns about the potential risks of cyber-bullying.”
Cyber-bullying can be classed as harassment and the number of cases of sending a malicious communication is thought to have increased.
New law could help victims
Tougher powers to curb the stalking and harassment which blights the lives of thousands are in the works.
The government is currently passing a Stalking Protection Bill, and has said it is giving £4.1 million to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust to better educate police officers about stalking and harassment.
Stalking has been a difficult crime to prosecute, as although it is a specific criminal offence the term is not legally defined, which leads to different interpretation.
The bill will create new civil Stalking Protection Orders to help victims earlier.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Stalking can have terrifying consequences, which is why this government is working to protect victims and stop perpetrators at the earliest opportunity.
“These orders will make it possible to intervene in cases before concerning behaviours become entrenched and escalate in severity, especially in cases of ‘stranger stalking’.”
Breaching the order could result in up to five years in prison.
Recording harassment and stalking together blurs lines
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, a charity which campaigns to reduce the risk of violence and aggression, said: “We welcome the ONS including stalking and harassment
in the recorded offences
“However, recording stalking and harassment in the same data set does not give a clear indication of the prevalence of these individual, distinct crimes.”
A spokesman said the charity believes that stalking is still being vastly underreported - meaning figures could be even worse - as
there is a huge disparity between the recorded crime statistics and the ONS’ more reliable national figures - the Crime Survey of England and Wales.
A report by the charity released last month showed that in 2017 police forces recorded a record number of 8,364 cases of stalking.
But it said that represented less than 1pc of the total estimated cases which take place every year.
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