Mercy Shawn Mendes
Stalking is now recognised as a specific offence in its own right following amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 on November 25, 2012.
The crime is acknowledged by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) as "leading to some of the most serious crime police can deal with including domestic violence, sexual assault and murder".
Home Office figures show that one in five women and one in 10 men will be stalked at some point in their lives. Stalking has been described as "murder in slow motion" and a study looking at females murdered by their ex-partner found that in 76 per cent of cases stalking was present in the year leading up to their murder.
There are now two sections of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 that deal with stalking. Section 2A labels stalking as a criminal offence for the first time in English and Welsh law. Section 4A deals with stalking that has caused fear of violence or serious distress. Serious distress is behaviour that causes a "substantial adverse effect" on the victim's day-to-day activity.
Examples of the kind of behaviours that stalking can consist of are contacting, following, publishing material relating to the victim, monitoring, loitering, interfering with property and watching or spying.
If someone believes they are being stalked, they can complain to the police or apply for an injunction and damages through a civil court. However, if a person believes they are ever in immediate danger, they should call the police on 999.
Where possible, victims are encouraged to try and gather evidence and document what is happening. Evidence can include phone records, copies of text messages and emails, screenshots of web pages or IM conversations, letters or gifts. It's also helpful to keep a diary.
Detective Chief Inspector Linda Dawson from Hampshire Constabulary's Major Incident Team and the force's point of contact for the National Stalking Helpline, said: "I welcome the change in legislation, which came about due to pressure from victims and experts in the field of stalking through a recent parliamentary inquiry. The previous legislation had been diluted and utilised for harassment cases, such as neighbour disputes, leaving it very difficult to identify and deal with stalking cases.
"Victims are entitled to conduct their daily activities without having to constantly look over their shoulder. It is therefore important that the victim, friends, family and professionals identify it as stalking, support the victim and ensure that this behaviour is reported to the police.
"Our guidance to officers is to treat every case seriously and robustly, and to advise victims appropriately on where to get help and support."
Advice for victims of stalking can be found on the Hampshire Constabulary website: www.hampshire.police.uk/internet/advice-and-information/abuse-against-the-person/Stalking