News from Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence

Friday, 19 April 2013

Stalking conference hailed a success, say organisers

The first ever event in Worcestershire to raise awareness of a significant change in harassment law took place earlier this week.

The Worcestershire Forum Against Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence – in partnership with the University of Worcester and The Protection Against Stalking Charity – held the event to raise awareness of the new legislation and to support National Stalking Awareness Day, which takes place on Thursday 18 April.

The conference took place on Monday 15 April at The University of Worcester.

The half day event welcomed a number of high profile speakers including :

Tricia Bernal - Tricia’s daughter Clare was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, a security guard at Harvey Nichols, where Clare worked as a beauty consultant.  Tricia has worked tirelessly since the tragic death of her daughter in September 2005 to strengthen anti-stalking laws.  She is on The Association of Chief Police Officers steering group for stalking and harassment and founder of the charity Protection Against Stalking (PAS).  Tricia’s other work is for AAFDA, Advocacy after Fatal Domestic Abuse.  During the event, Tricia’s heartfelt account of her daughter’s murder and the inadequacies of the then existing system - which did nothing to protect her daughter – were profoundly moving.

Laura Richards, Criminal Behavioural Analyst and Advisor -  Laura left New Scotland Yard in 2007 to take up the role of advising The Association of Chief Police Officers after a decade of working on violent crime.  She previously set up the first Homicide Prevention Unit in the UK, as well as the Violent Crime Intelligence Unit at New Scotland Yard.

Laura developed the Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment and Honour based Violence Risk Checklist (DASH 2009) on behalf of ACPO and in partnership with Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse (CAADA).  Laura also initiated Multi-Agency Domestic Homicide Reviews in London in 2011 and has worked with the Home Office on developing the guidance, which was published two years ago. 

Laura co-founded the charity Protection Against Stalking (PAS) with Tricia Bernal and Carol Faruqui, whose daughters Clare and Rana were murdered by their stalkers.  Laura was also involved in setting up the National Stalking Helpline and a year later co-ordinated the UK’s first National Stalking Awareness Week in 2011.  She led and advised the all-party Parliamentary Inquiry into Stalking Law Reform, leading to two specific offences of stalking in November 2012.

Laura has been involved in many complex murder cases, assaults and other sexual and violent crimes.

Sam Taylor – Sam has been stalked by her former partner since 2008 and gave evidence of her case in Parliament at the Stalking Law Reform campaign, which led to the change in law.  Since the new law was announced, Sam has been working with Sussex Police using her own case to highlight where improvements can be made.  Sam recounted how her partner – a convicted sex offender – tried to murder her and manipulate the system to the extent that the stalking carried on – inbetween prison sentences – for many years.
  Ruth Jones, Programme Lead for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Abuse at Worcester University – Ruth was awarded the title of Worcestershire Woman of the Year 2011 and was named as one of 12 Inspirational Women of Europe in 2012.  As a senior lecturer, researcher and consultant, Ruth leads a core team of internationally known lecturers and researchers and is at the forefront of the new University of Worcester Centre for the Study of Violence and Abuse, which will be officially launched in November 2013.

The event welcomed more than 120 professionals working in both West Mercia and Warwickshire.

Martin Lakeman, Strategic Co-ordinator for The Worcestershire Forum Against Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence opened the event.

Martin said : “For the first time in British law, stalking is now a criminal offence.  Under The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 – amended under The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 – there are now offences of stalking and harassment in British law.  The Forum welcomes this significant amendment as it now means that stalking is recognised for the devastating impact it can have on people’s lives and perpetrators can now be brought to justice under the UK’s judicial system.”

The new law in England and Wales provides a non-exhaustive list of behaviours viewed as stalking and this includes following a person, publishing any statement or other material relating or purporting to relate to a person, monitoring the use of a person via the internet, loitering in any place - whether public or private – and contacting or attempting to contact a person by any means.  The perpetrator does not need to be threatening violence before stalking becomes a criminal offence. Under section 4A of the new stalking law, behaviour that causes serious distress is viewed equally as behaviour that involves a fear of violence.

The facts around stalking make for sobering reading :

  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men will be stalked at some point in their lives;
  • 40 per cent of victims are stalked by an ex-partner; crucially, in many cases the partner would have been emotionally or physically abusive during the relationship;
  • Ex-partner stalking cases carry the highest risk of escalation to physical violence;
  • On average, a stalker will contact 21 people connected to the victim. This may include family, friends, employer, neighbours; even, in some cases, the victim’s regular gym or favourite cafĂ©;
  • It is becoming more common for stalkers to use technology like GPS on mobiles, tracker devices or spyware on phones to locate a victim;

Martin concluded : “Listening to the stories of our keynote speakers highlighted the appalling consequences that stalking can have on both victims and their families.  The tragedy surrounding the death of Tricia’s daughter Clare and the devastating impact of years of abuse on Sam clearly should never have happened.  We hope the new laws will send out a clear message that stalking will not be tolerated and, crucially, save lives.”

Residents in Worcestershire can report abuse in confidence by contacting their local police station or in an emergency by phoning 999.  For free confidential information, support and advice they can phone the dedicated 24 hour helpline 0800 980 3331 or contact The National Stalking helpline on 0808 802 0300.

For further information about The Worcestershire Forum Against Domestic Abuse please contact Martin Lakeman on 01905 822 357.

To call in confidence about domestic abuse call 0800 980 3331.