News story – Stronger protections for stalking and harassment victims – Home Office

The government has announced measures making it easier for police to apply for stalking protection orders, meaning more victims will be protected earlier.

It will be easier for police to protect victims and apply for a stalking protection order at the earliest opportunity under new plans announced on Monday 22 April by the Minister for Victims and Safeguarding, marking the first day of National Stalking Awareness Week.

Under updated statutory guidance, published today, police officers are instructed that they will no longer need to meet the high criminal standard of proof threshold in order to apply for a stalking protection order. Instead evidence which meets the lower civil standard will likely be accepted by courts to apply a stalking protection order.

Stalking protection orders were introduced in January 2020 and protect victims by addressing the perpetrator’s behaviours before they become entrenched or become more severe.

Under the orders, perpetrators can face restrictions such as having to notify the police of their whereabouts or travel. If breached, an individual faces prison time of up to 5 years.

Minister for Victims and Safeguarding, Laura Farris said:

Stalking is a complex form of abuse, and it can have a devastating impact on the lives of victims and their families. Sadly, it can end in the most tragic circumstances.

We must continue to treat stalking with the utmost gravity. Having doubled the maximum sentence and introduced a new civil order to protect victims, we know there is more we must do.

Lowering the standard of proof that must be met to grant these orders will make a big difference to how easily victims can access protection. I will continue to work closely with the police to improve how they can support victims of this disturbing crime.

In recognition of the impact of public sexual harassment on victims, especially women, the government backed the Protection from Sex-Based Harassment in Public Act 2023, which introduces a specific offence for public sexual harassment.

The new offence, which will see perpetrators face up to 2 years in jail, will come into force from 1 October 2024.

To mark National Stalking Awareness week, the minister visited the Suzy Lamplugh trust to see the vital support given to stalking victims, including the National Stalking Helpline, which the Home Office funds with over £160,000 annually. This enabled them to answer more than 8,000 calls and emails from or relating to victims of stalking between April 2023 and March 2024.

In-keeping with the week’s theme of ‘multi-agency working’, the Home Office will work with criminal justice agencies such as the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and College of Policing to consider the findings of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust’s super-complaint into the police’s handling of stalking cases.

Together with the agencies, the government will formulate a multi-agency response to any recommendations when they are published in the summer.

Emma Lingley-Clark, Interim CEO of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said:

We welcome announcements from government that they are updating statutory guidance on Stalking Protection Orders (SPO) to instruct police officers that they will no longer need to meet the higher criminal standard of proof threshold in order to make an application. We know that this requirement can act as a barrier to victims getting immediate protection when they need it the most. However there is an urgent need to increase the use of SPOs across the country and improve understanding amongst police officers given the extremely low uptake and lack of knowledge within police forces currently. Every victim should have the opportunity to access an SPO when they choose to report stalking to the police.

NPCC’s Lead for Stalking and Harassment, Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, said:

Stalking is a highly impactive crime, which leaves victims fearful of what their stalker may do next. Without appropriate intervention and safeguarding, the potential for the risk to victims to escalate quickly is very real.

It’s important that within policing, and as a society, we recognise the patterns of stalking and acknowledge the risk that it poses to victims.

The police service is continuing to work hard to improve and standardise its response to stalking. Over the last number of years we have improved training, rolled out the use of Stalking Protection Orders and launched a new assessment tool to assist officers to identify and better act upon the signs of stalking. In addition, we have introduced embedding dedicated officers in forces to better support and safeguard victims.

However, we know that there is more to do to improve criminal justice system outcomes for victims in these cases and ensure a consistent response in all cases of stalking. We continue to work with partners, other agencies and charities to bring about these important changes.

Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor Olivia Rose, national lead for stalking at the CPS, said:

Stalking impacts so much of a victim’s life, and our prosecutors carefully consider this alongside the evidence available when they’re building a robust case.

We take this offending seriously, identifying relevant protective orders and assessing whether a new offence has been committed if an order is breached. This provides added protection for victims, as it enables the court to consider the totality of offending when sentencing and to issue focused protective orders.

The CPS remains focused on bringing offenders of stalking to justice and driving improvements in these cases, which often involve violence against women and girls.

Kathleen Spencer Chapman, Director of Communications, Advocacy and UK Programmes at Plan International UK, says:

The government’s announcement that the law to tackle public sexual harassment will become legally enforceable from 1 October, alongside new measures to better protect victims of stalking, is a significant milestone towards making the UK’s streets safer for girls and women. It’s thanks to all the girls who have shared their stories and tirelessly campaigned that these stronger protections for harassment survivors are being implemented.

Public sexual harassment is an everyday reality for girls, that restricts their freedom and impacts their mental health. Girls have a right to feel safe wherever they are, and we hope this new offence will change how public sexual harassment is dealt with by the police, in our courts and in public, giving girls the route to justice they expect and deserve and helping change the attitudes that make too many perpetrators feel they can harass without consequences.

While there is more to do, this is the latest in a series of actions the government has taken to tackle stalking and harassment and protect victims.

In 2012, we created two new stalking offences in order to highlight stalking as a specific behaviour. Through the Policing and Crime Act 2017 the maximum sentences for the most serious harassment and stalking were increased from 5 to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Our landmark Online Safety Act also includes stalking offences in the list of specified ‘priority offences’. Priority offences represent the most serious and prevalent illegal content and activity online, and companies will need to take proactive steps to tackle such content, for example preventing users from encountering it.

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