Stalking: Prevention or Rehabilitation?
During National Stalking Awareness Week many charities have highlighted how stalking will continue during the lockdown because of the offender’s entrenched behaviour. Carl Hall, Assistant Chief Probation Officer of Seetec’s probation service in South East England, discusses the best way to make these offenders stop.
When most people think about stalking, they can probably recall some famous case involving a celebrity. These cases have helped to highlight the devastating impact this type of offending has.
But while it’s celebrity cases that often make the news, far more frequently it’s those living ‘normal lives’ who are stalked. Usually by someone they know, such as a former partner.
According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, almost one in five women over the age of 16 have experienced stalking, and one in ten men.
Stalking can be:
- Someone following or calling an individual often
- Sending unwanted emails or social media messages
Whatever it is, it is a pattern of repeated and unwanted behaviour that makes a person feel distressed or scared.
Stalking is also a sign of something more serious. A former partner, for example, might be unwilling to let go of the relationship, or a current partner wants even more control within the relationship.
While around 80% of stalking is likely to be from a current or former partner, it can also be from an acquaintance, friend, colleague, neighbour, family member, or a stranger.
Serious risks to victims
For victims, this type of behaviour is incredibly distressing. It can affect their mental well-being and poses other serious risks to the individual. Violence occurs in around 30% of cases, sometimes it can even result in murder.
Recently the government introduced stalking protection orders to help protect victims while they are waiting for the police investigations to conclude. And a couple of years before, the government also introduced tougher sentences. The maximum prison sentence has doubled from five years to ten. However, for the majority, the average length of sentence is just over a year.
So, are these actions truly effective on their own? They do offer additional protection to victims, but research shows around half of stalkers repeat their offending again.
“Treatment can save lives”
A fundamental problem is the stalking behaviour remains unaddressed.
What we need to do is treat the individual’s obsessional behaviour, and help them to build positive, healthy and respectful relationships to break the cycle. Quite simply, this can save lives in the long-run by stopping stalking escalating or happening again.
Programmes for people on probation following prison or as part of a community order can address underlying issues stalkers have such as impulsive behaviour, relationship, anger and insecurity issues.
Many people could argue that courts should punish these types of offenders rather than give them treatment. That we should work with victims not perpetrators. But by effectively treating perpetrators and reducing their reoffending, there could be fewer victims in future.
Programmes shouldn’t replace punishment. But programmes in addition to any punishment could prevent the next victim. That's something we all want to see happen.
Find out more about Seetec's probation services work here.
Carl Hall, Assistant Chief Probation Officer for Kent, Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company, part of the Seetec Group, is a trained clinical psychologist. In 2018, he developed KSS CRC’s Compulsive Obsessional Behaviour Programme for stalkers - the first of its kind in the UK for people on community sentences and prison licences.