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Exchange of views on stalking, 6 October 2011

Remarks by Alexis Bowater, Chief Executive of the Network for Surviving Stalking in the United Kingdom:

 

Good morning and thank you for asking me here today.

 

My name is Alexis Bowater and I am the Chief Executive of Network for Surviving Stalking, the UK’s leading charity supporting stalking victims and working with organisations trying to tackle this devastating crime.

 

We are here today to talk about violence against women and how to tackle it. If we are going to do so, and do so successfully, it is vital that we now, most urgently and seriously, address the issue of stalking. We have, internationally, already confronted domestic abuse and child abuse – the new task in protecting women is to give the same attention and resources to stalking. Stalking is the new battlefront.

 

Stalking is a devastating crime that, beginning often with small, incremental, steps, utterly destroys lives. It is the repeated unwanted intrusion of one person into the life of another, in a manner which causes anxiety, fear and distress. In some horrific cases it leads to lives being taken: to rape and murder. In some cases it causes victims to take their own lives. In all cases it steals lives.

 

10% percent of women have been stalked at some point in their lives and 2% in the last year. Every year in the UK alone more than a million women are stalked.  Indeed you are more likely to become a victim of stalking than you are to become a victim of violent crime.

 

So why is stalking a problem? Stalking can lead to deep psychological trauma and long-term harm to the victim, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It breaks up peoples’ lives, affects their ability to care for their families and impacts on their work productivity. But it also can also lead to serious assault, rape and murder. Physical violence occurs in one in five stalking cases.

 

In more than three quarters of ex-partner murders, stalking is part of the build-up to that tragedy. It has been called  `murder in slow motion’.

 

Experts argue that with early intervention it can be stopped, that with early intervention lives can be saved.  But firstly we must all recognise it for what it is.

 

Stalking is an intimate, psychological relationship between the perpetrator and victim. It locks the victim in a world of fear and isolation where they think there is no-one out there to help them, to believe them, to stop what is happening to them – and where their life is being controlled by someone else.

Nowhere else in society would we tolerate someone forcing someone else into a relationship with them against their will.

There is a reason stalking is called psychological rape.

There is a reason stalking is called psychological terrorism.

You all know that violence against women is not just physical.

 

This psychological terrorism must be addressed not just because it wrecks women’s lives and robs them of their human rights. It must be tackled because it can be a clear indicator of what can come if psychological violence against another is allowed to develop unchecked.

 

Experts tell us that tackling stalking is where tackling domestic violence was twenty years ago. 

 

Now is the time to bring this crime it out of the shadows and place it firmly under the spotlight of international scrutiny.

 

Now is the time to be linking together, working together, in a fully co-operative and collaborative way to stop a crime that affects millions of women all over the world.

 

To do that we must work together. We must, firstly, all of us recognise that stalking is a crime.

 

Last year the Network for Surviving Stalking, with the support of MEPs from four member states, put forward a declaration to the EU Parliament asking for all 27 member states to recognise stalking as a crime. 143 MEPs signed up to that.

 

If every country recognises stalking as a crime then that will be the beginning of the fight back against stalkers.

 

For unless there is international co-operation then policing, prosecution and conviction of those who carry out this heinous crime will remain challenging if not impossible for those upholding the law. Indeed how can you uphold a law if there is none?

 

This is particularly pertinent with a type of stalking that is growing exponentially. It is called cyber stalking. The internet and new technologies have given the stalker a new weapon in their armoury. These new technologies make it easier to find people, easier to follow people, easier to research them – sometimes to be them- easier to infiltrate someone’s life, easier to stalk them.

 

But the world-wide web is just that: worldwide. Cyber stalking is a crime without borders. We need a cohesive, comprehensive, joined up, truly international, approach.

 

We need all countries to recognise stalking and for there to be international collaboration in investigations and prosecutions.

  

The UK has had since 1997 some of the most powerful anti-stalking legislation in the world. The Interior Minister (The Home Secretary) of the UK’s coalition government and their opposition number have made commitments to take new measures to combat stalking. And the UK’s prosecuting authority has given new guidelines to prosecutors. May I ask you? Do you have such guidelines and commitment in your country?

 

What is urgently needed is a common approach across the EU and the member states of the Council of Europe.

 

We need to take stalking seriously.

 

We need recognition in every country that stalking is a crime and laws to back that up.

 

We need education of police, magistrates and courts about stalking.

 

We need campaigns to warn the general public about stalking.

 

We need more services for women victims.

 

We need risk assessments for all victims and perpetrators.

 

We need more emphasis on treating stalkers - just as we treat sex offenders - to prevent recidivism.

 

 

These are just the minimum standards which must be met to protect women against violence.

This is not just about good governance and effective policing. It is about human rights and saving lives.