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Stalking victims being failed, says research by University academics

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Victims of harassment and stalking are being left at risk because of failings by police and prosecutors in England and Wales, research by academics at the University of Worcester has found.

A quarter of victims of harassment and stalking felt so discouraged by their contact with the police they said they would not approach them again. The report, which looked at the experiences of victims, revealed both a lack of understanding by police officers of the cumulative impact of such behaviour, and its seriousness, but also of the current legislation and how to use it effectively.

Senior Lecturer Dr Holly Taylor-Dunn, who led the report, is calling for a review of police training for such cases.

“Police need to understand the bigger picture,” she said. “It’s about putting incidents in context and that’s something my research has shown police aren’t doing.

“Unless police officers have the time and resources to be able to understand the impact that this is having on someone and the understand incidents in context, they’re never going to interpret the legislation effectively.

“The majority of negative experience related to the fact that they were told the offences they were reporting just weren’t serious enough, which just isn’t actually accurate.

“They were also in some cases being blamed or held responsible.” This was particularly the case when the abuse was via social media and online.

Commissioned by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) as part of a wider review into harassment and stalking, researchers from the University’s Centre for Violence Prevention questioned a number of victims about their experiences.

Although 60 per cent of victims surveyed felt their first contact with police was positive, others felt their ordeal had been trivialised. And only 10 per cent felt they had had a completely positive experience in their dealings with police and the criminal justice system. A quarter said they would not turn to police for help again.

Despite all participants describing behaviour that might constitute offences of stalking and harassment, only 40 per cent of offenders had been arrested, with 20 per cent being convicted.

The research said there appeared to be a “misunderstanding of the nature of stalking and harassment legislation”.

“Not having a definitive definition of stalking doesn’t help but it’s also about how police officers interpret and implement the legislation and we still haven’t solved that problem,” said Dr Taylor-Dunn.

In the report, Dr Taylor-Dunn recommends a review of police training on stalking and harassment, a review of the use Police Information Notices, given as a warning to offenders, and auditing of police reports on cases to check officers are using the right legislation.