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Reporting stalking to the police – how to make the process more supportive

Illustration of a woman hugging her knees sitting on a big open hand, with a white cloud behind her.

Ten years ago, the law in Scotland recognised stalking as a crime for the first time, making it clear that stalkers can face legal consequences for their actions. What’s more, the legislation acknowledged that this type of abuse occurs over the course of two or more incidents and its purpose is to make the victim feel frightened, intimidated and isolated.

Since the law came into force in 2010, we’ve seen some positive efforts to tackle stalking in Scotland; for instance, there is growing awareness of this form of abuse and specialist victim support services have prioritised work on responding to survivors of stalking. At the same time, stalking continues to be an underreported crime.

And although we know it is mainly perpetrated by men (usually partners or ex-partners) against women, the statistics available do not yet reflect the true prevalence among women nor the context in which it primarily happens (domestic abuse).

We want women to feel confident in reporting this crime to the police. This is why recently we consulted with women who have reported stalking in Scotland and asked them to tell us how it was for them to access the criminal justice process. And while they had a variety of experiences with the police, we identified some key elements that made (or would have made) the process easier to navigate:

1. A supportive environment to give a statement

Disclosing stalking can be re-traumatising, and because it is a form of abuse that can happen over a long period or involve a large number of incidents, statements can be quite lengthy.

Victims/survivors must have the space they need to talk about what’s been happening, their physical and emotional wellbeing should be considered when giving the statement and they should be given the option to have a friend, relative or advocacy worker present to support them through this part of the reporting process.

2. Information about their rights and what to expect from a police investigation

Understanding their rights and options can empower women experiencing stalking to make decisions about their situation and to feel confident to approach the police. Having advocacy support can break some of the initial barriers when they come forward and as they move through the criminal justice process.

Security is also central for victims/survivors, which is why they should receive advice on how to increase their physical and cyber security (for example, protecting their homes and online accounts), as well as details of other legal options available to them (such as non-harassment orders and other protective orders).

3. Awareness that perpetrators are using technology to stalk their victims

According to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, most victims will experience some form of stalking online or aided by technology, (for example, through text messages or contact on social media sites). In fact, they found that since the first lockdown in March 2020, cyberstalking is on the rise.

Responding to stalking includes recognising that stalkers can be very skilled with technology and that they may use a variety of tactics to abuse and isolate the victim. The fact that stalking behaviours occur both online and offline also has implications for the safety of the victim/survivor, and so this needs to be considered when she comes forward.

4. Using technology to record incidents of stalking

Gathering details of stalking behaviours can be helpful when reporting the situation to the police. In our consultation, some women told us that they found using technology, such as their mobile phones, and particularly our mobile app FollowItApp, to be a great tool to capture and store details of incidents in a safe way.

When reporting, women should be offered information about technology available to collect essential data about past and future instances of stalking. This technology can give them more control over the situation and confidence to seek support, including taking legal action.

5. Being directed to specialist organisations that can help them meet their immediate and long-term needs

The hidden and persistent nature of stalking can take away women’s sense of safety at home and in their daily routine. In some cases, it can force them to make drastic changes just to gain some security, such as moving homes, altering their activities, avoiding certain places, and removing themselves from social media and/or online spaces, to name a few examples.

Specialist organisations can be central in women’s journey to heal and recover from this traumatic experience. They can also help them to increase any safety measures that the police may have already put in place, like creating a safety plan if the woman fears that the abuse might escalate and put her life in danger.

We understand that reporting to the police and navigating the justice system is never an easy experience. Yet, feeling supported and informed throughout this process can make a huge difference for the victims/survivors and it can ultimately give them enough confidence and trust to come forward and seek justice.

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