By Emma Batha
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – British charities for victims of stalking have reported a surge in calls during the coronavirus lockdown, with women isolated at home saying they feel like “sitting ducks”.
Paladin, a national anti-stalking service, said on Monday that requests for help jumped 40% since the lockdown was imposed on March 23.
Campaigners said police and the judiciary did not take “the invidious crime” seriously enough even though research showed stalking was a factor in more than 90% of domestic homicides.
“Stalking is premeditated and is extremely dangerous behaviour,” said Rachel Horman, chairwoman of Paladin.
She said most victims were reporting being stalked via social media, messaging apps and email, but physical stalking was still happening despite the lockdown.
Some women had even found their stalkers waiting for them when they dropped off shopping for relatives.
“Their stalker is watching the house and knows exactly where they are now much more than they did in the past, and that’s making them feel a lot more anxious,” said Horman, a solicitor who specialises in domestic violence and stalking cases.
“I’ve had several clients say to me they feel like sitting ducks.”
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which runs a national anti-stalking helpline, says nearly 1.5 million people are victims of stalking each year in England and Wales.
The trust could not be contacted, but calls to the helpline are reported to have increased.
Katy Bourne, chairwoman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which advises Britain’s police forces, described lockdown as a “stalker’s paradise”.
“Stalkers normally would have to go to work, but now with everyone in lockdown they have 24 hours a day to obsess over their victims,” said Bourne.
“If they went into lockdown not knowing much about social media, and how to stalk across it, you can bet your life they’ve learned an awful lot since they’ve been indoors.”
Bourne, herself a victim of stalking, said referrals to a stalking support group in the south of England were up 26% since lockdown.
She said many victims suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and that by the time someone asks for help they had on average already suffered 100 incidents.
“I want police forces to absolutely make this a priority because there are many thousands of victims out there who are suffering in silence,” Bourne said.
“It’s pretty evil … It needs to be called out.”
Horman said there was growing support for a national register of stalkers and domestic abusers similar to the sex offenders register.
“They are serial offenders. If they stop abusing one person they don’t just give up, they will then focus on somebody else and it goes on and on,” she said. “It makes absolute sense to monitor them.”
(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)