'Stranger stalking' targeted in new protection plans
The Home Office is planning to introduce a new court order to tackle stalking in England and Wales.
This follows concerns about a rise in so-called "stranger stalking" where people target victims they have never met or barely know.
Cases include people becoming fixated on a doctor, a workmate or someone contacted briefly online.
One in five women and one in 10 men are victims of stalking, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales.
An eight-week consultation on the stalking protection order comes as part of wider proposals to help victims of domestic abuse.
A major part of government plans will be the launch of a new coercive or controlling behaviour offence, which comes into force on 29 December.
The legislation will target perpetrators of coercive and controlling behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse.
The offence will carry a maximum of five years' imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Other measures include:
- Funding of £3.85m to develop a new phase of the This Is Abuse campaign aimed at preventing abuse within teenage relationships
- A new Violence against Women and Girls government strategy, to be announced next year
- The appointment of International Development Minister Baroness Verma as the new ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas
The Home Office says the new stalking protection order would address the problem earlier by deterring perpetrators before their fixation with a victim becomes entrenched, or by preventing them from moving on to other victims.
Officials said it would also mean victims could be kept safe while police gather evidence ahead of any potential prosecution.
Minister for preventing abuse and exploitation Karen Bradley says early intervention could mean that stalking does not become violent and physically damaging.
"So what we're looking at is whether we can introduce a civil order, which we could use at an earlier stage, including having positive interventions for the perpetrator," she said.
Those subject to the order might be required to undergo a mental health assessment or anger management programme, as well as being banned from contacting the victim. Breaching the order would result in prosecution.
Jane Clough, 26, from Lancashire, was stabbed to death by her ex-partner Jonathan Vass in July 2010. He was on bail accused of raping her.
Ms Clough's family have campaigned for a change in the law since her murder.
Her father John says people need to be aware of the level of fear that stalking victims face.
"It's romanticised. It's joked about in the workplace. But there's certainly no romance involved in stalking. There is no joking matter for it. It is psychological terrorism against the individual," he told the BBC.
The Home Office consultation document also discusses the rise in what it terms as "stranger stalking".
The report says: "One reason for this could be that a growing usage of social networking and online communities may increase the opportunity for people to 'meet' and interact in some way.
"We are therefore concerned that a gap may exist in measures available to protect victims of 'stranger stalking' in particular and to intervene early with these perpetrators and prevent these deeply entrenched obsessions from developing."
Since the introduction of stalking legislation in 2012 there were more than 1,100 prosecutions in 2014-15 - nearly a 50% rise on the previous year.
There is no strict legal definition of stalking, but it is considered to be actions that "curtail a victim's freedom, leaving them feeling that they constantly have to be careful", according to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Rachel Horman, chairwoman of the charity Paladin, which helps victims of stalking in England and Wales, said the measures were "massively welcome" but more work was still needed.
She said: "Stalking is being dealt with in the same way as domestic violence was about 30 years ago - it's not understood. Stalking does lead to rape, murder and domestic violence.
"The average victim will be stalked 100 times before they even bother to report it [but] we recently published a study that shows that only 1% of stalking crimes reported to the police resulted in any charges at all."