Recently I wrote about the hidden victims during the lockdown period and I specifically mentioned victims of domestic abuse.
In my role as a domestic abuse point of contact with my force, I will review all domestic incidents. The first thing that has become apparent is the increase in domestic cases which was not unexpected because the lockdown created a lot of pressure in many families, so there were more reports. However, this increase did not necessarily relate to a large rise in violent or controlling cases; it involved cases of family arguments or children rebelling against parents.
The hidden victims remain, where they are living with domestic abusers who are a home a lot more and they are not able to escape the situation easily. The lockdown also meant that ex-partners were not able to travel so easily to abuse their former partners. There were also many more people staying at home who were the eyes and ears to pick up on any problem, where they might see someone who should not be having contact with their former partner.
To get around physical contact, the internet has provided domestic abuse perpetrators with almost unlimited ways of stalking and harassing their ex-partner. Many ordinary people have become very tech` savvy and they have learnt to remotely hack other persons e-mails and social media accounts. In cases where they have been blocked, they set up alternative accounts and manage to relentlessly contact their ex-partner causing significant distress.
This behaviour is not only harassment, it is a direct form of control, where the perpetrator will find ways of making the victim feel they have no escape. It also causes fear, where victims will worry about being followed or unsafe in their home. Stalking and harassment is in many ways as bad as the physical abuse that the victim may have suffered during the relationship. It also makes it impossible for them to move on.
In response to this, from 20th January 2020, new laws came into force in England and Wales with the introduction of Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) which allow courts to quickly ban stalkers from contacting victims or visiting their home, place of work or study. This will grant victims more time to recover from their ordeal. The courts will also be able to impose an interim SPO to provide immediate protection for victims while a decision is being made at a subsequent hearing.
Being a court order, any breach is a criminal offence, which can result is a term of imprisonment for up to five years. They can last up to two years, therefore providing protection for the victim, as well as giving them time to recover from the ordeal with the support of specialist services.
In addition to banning perpetrators from approaching or contacting their victims, SPO`s can also force stalkers to seek professional help. This is necessary to address their behaviour and offending, so that they will stop harassing their victim and better safeguard any new partner they begin a relationship with.
SPO`s have the support of anti-stalking campaigners too, and the Home Office has provided funding to the National Stalking Helpline, run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. It has provided £4.1 million over the last 3 years to the Metropolitan, Hampshire and Cheshire police forces as part of the Multi Agency Stalking Intervention Programme, which provides interventions with stalking perpetrators.
In the meantime, a reminder about Covid-19. You can keep up to date with the latest government advice during COVID-19 and our advice to keep you and your family safe.
PC 1860 Mark Ranola.
Yateley Police Office.