Stalking finally to be made an offence


by Newswire    
4:08 pm - November 14th 2011

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The Independent reports today:

Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat Home Office minister, on a visit to Manchester tomorrow, will tomorrow unveil proposals to introduce a specific offence of stalking, potentially also covering cyber-stalking. A three-month consultation will also look at the use of restraining orders and police attitudes to stalking cases, following concern that the treatment of allegations differs between forces.

Ministers are keen to hear from charities, victims’ groups, the police and public on how the new law will be drawn up – and what the penalties will be. A Home Office report last year found that cases involving stalking and harassment can be “difficult to prosecute and, because of their nature, are likely to require sensitive handling especially with regard to victim care”.

The Guardian has also followed up this story

Two-thirds of victims said the police and Crown Prosecution Service did not take their complaints seriously enough, with offenders not being charged in nearly nine out of 10 alleged cases.

According to the PAS survey, 42% of victims had been stalked for 24 months or more. One victim told of having to move 10 times; others said the constant fear was “soul destroying”.

Some 62% of victims said phone calls were used by their tormentors; 51% reported being followed; 50% received unwelcome text messages; 50% suffered harassment through the use of a third party; 30% received email they considered harassment; 25% received distressing letters; and 25% of victims suffered break-ins.

Well done on Lynne Featherstone on pushing this forward.

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Some 62% of victims said phone calls were used by their tormentors; 51% reported being followed; 50% received unwelcome text messages; 50% suffered harassment through the use of a third party; 30% received email they considered harassment; 25% received distressing letters; and 25% of victims suffered break-ins.

I do hope this legislation is going to apply to HMRC…………

Yes, also the DWP could be in hot water with these new rules…

Sensitive picture used to illustrate the story on the home page btw.

This is an utterly pointless law – there are plenty of ways to deal with genuine stalking. What it will do is give loonies like Nadine Dorries the chance to make a few accusations.

I’m worried it will criminalise large parts of normal ‘net activities.

5. So Much For Subtlety

Well done on Lynne Featherstone on pushing this forward.

How can it possibly be well done for a Liberal to betray everything Liberals claim they believe in to produce what is a knee jerk authoritarian response to what amount to little more than Thought Crimes?

Some 62% of victims said phone calls were used by their tormentors; 51% reported being followed; 50% received unwelcome text messages; 50% suffered harassment through the use of a third party; 30% received email they considered harassment; 25% received distressing letters; and 25% of victims suffered break-ins.

So, to get this right, they plan on making talking to people a crime? Walking down the street a crime? What the hell is harassment through a third party? Does that mean it will be a crime to deliver flowers to the wrong person? The only real offense here is breaking into people’s houses. Which the police do not bother with and the Courts do not punish anyway.

So what is the point?

How can anyone hope to prosecute this crime? His word against hers?

6. debra halliday

Why does the girl in the pic need to be in a state of undress?! Is being a victim sexy?

jo, debra, it appears to be tradition for LibCon OPs such as these to be accompanied by the picture of the young woman clutching the pillow.

SMFS,

they plan on making talking to people a crime? Walking down the street a crime? …Does that mean it will be a crime to deliver flowers to the wrong person?

Er… no. It is not an act (walking, talking) in itself it is the nature of the act.

The definition of stalking used in the British Crime Survey 2010/11 is “two or more incidents (causing distress, fear or alarm) of obscene or threatening unwanted letters or phone calls, waiting or loitering around home or workplace, following or watching, or interfering with or damaging personal property by any person, including a partner or family member.”

http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/stalking-consultation/consultation?view=Binary

The only real offense here is breaking into people’s houses. Which the police do not bother with

If you mean, they never bother investigating burglary, arresting suspects etc then you are wrong.

and the Courts do not punish anyway.

If you mean the Courts never find people suspected of burglary guilty and then hand down a sentence then you are wrong.

You may of course mean, “in my opinion the police do not perform satisfactorily in cases of burglary and the courts do not sentence to people found guilty of burglary what I think is appropriate punishment.”

@6 Debra: “Why does the girl in the pic need to be in a state of undress?! Is being a victim sexy?”

BDSM fetishism seems to attract quite a following on the web and beyond with commercial support. Try this on recent uses of the San Francisco Armory after its acquisition in 2006 for $14.5 million by Kink.com
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_Armory

Jacqueline Gold, the CEO of the Ann Summers and Knickerbox shop chains in Britain, was voted the second Most Powerful Woman in Retail by Retail Week in 2007. She has been rated the 16th richest woman in Britain.

Let me say, right up front, that I certainly accept that stalking can be extremely serious, ending in murder in the most extreme cases. I hope no one’s going to think that I’m opposed to proper efforts to deal with it.

From the articles in the Independent and the Guardian, it seems to be largely a matter of enforcement.

Problems of enforcement need to be dealt with as the problems of enforcement that they are. Passing another, duplicative law doesn’t actually solve that problem, and just means there’s yet more law for the police and others to fail to properly enforce.

The thing that really strikes me about this piece of news, though, is that we’ve been here before, and legislation was passed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protection_from_Harassment_Act_1997

This sounds all too much like New Labour’s approach of passing yet more legislation instead of dealing with actual problems of enforcement. While the two articles say that enforcement, etc, are to be looked at, the stuff about introducing a specific anti-stalking law seems to reveal ignorance about the existing 1997 Act.

In light of how the existing Act can be abused, I’m immediately concerned with how the Home Office, police, etc, might abuse and misapply a new, more specific law. There is also the concern with how such a law could be abused by those wishing to effectively harass others by making malicious complaints of stalking.

The Independent article says, “Every year, up to 5 million people suffer incidents of stalking or harassment in some form, research suggests.” Note that that’s not just “stalking”, but “stalking or harassment in some form.” Perhaps that’s how they were able to arrive at such a large number, making it sound as though stalking itself is a much larger problem than is likely, as the headline and byline demonstrate: “Stalking – in person or online – to be made an offence”, “Law to restrain unwanted obsessives aims to protect an estimated five million victims a year”.

One of the more curious bits of the Guardian’s article is the following: “Police and courts can issue restraining orders under the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act, but it is so widely drawn that it covers all kinds of harassment, including bullying at work.” It is strange that the widely drawn nature of the existing legislation is seen as somehow being a deficiency. It suggests that this is yet more Home Office nonsense.

It sounds like this government is failing to deliver on what it promised about ending this culture of excessively legislating instead of actually dealing with real problems of enforcement, etc.

The duplicative and seemingly disingenuous nature of the proposal can be seen in the following bit of the Independent’s article: “Only one in 50 incidents of harassment reported to police result in a prison sentence. At present, people accused of stalking are prosecuted under other offences, frequently harassment or breach of the peace.”

Discounting effective enforcement of existing and related laws as somehow not counting, because they’re not explicitly “stalking” laws, seems obviously wrong, especially when the existing harassment law, brought in to deal with stalking, is being used. The low rate of prison sentences could also be interpreted as due to successful deterrence of more serious harassment, including stalking, and successful intervention early on. I’m not saying such an interpretation would be correct; I’m just not prepared to assume that a low rate of imprisonment automatically means that the law isn’t working.

Finally, that bit of the Independent’s article again shows how stalking in particular is being conflated with harassment more generally. Amending the law to explicitly define “stalking”, in such a way as to omit most of the harassment and other non-stalking cases, while including most cases that do end up in prison sentences, could easily result in the superficial appearance of vastly improved statistics. But nothing need actually change in practice. It looks like this could be a cynical PR exercise to give this government what would appear to be a roaring success against stalking after what would be spun as thirteen years of New Labour failure.

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Is Lynne Featherstone really this cynical? Or is she just gullibly naïve and is being taken for a ride?

10. debra halliday

Can I just add that women who stand up to bullys -whether they be stalkers, abusive partner etc, are incredibly strong and brave, and I would welcome pictures which infer that and challenge this idea of women as victims.

11. debra halliday

Can I just add that women who stand up to bullys, whether they be stalkers or abusive partners etc, are incredibly brave and strong, and I would just like to see pics that challenge the idea of women as victims particularly on a progressive website such as this.

12. So Much For Subtlety

7. ukliberty

The definition of stalking used in the British Crime Survey 2010/11 is “two or more incidents (causing distress, fear or alarm) of obscene or threatening unwanted letters or phone calls, waiting or loitering around home or workplace, following or watching, or interfering with or damaging personal property by any person, including a partner or family member.”

Two or more? That is how weak this definition is? Who defines if it causes distress, fear or alarm? Presumably this is self-reported by the victim? Who defines what obscene or threatening amounts to? If it is the victim again this law is dumber than I thought. A reasonable man test? What evidence is demanded that someone did loiter? Or watch?

This just sounds like a recipe for malicious accusations coming to a divorce hearing near you. As such it is utterly illiberal.

And yes, it is prohibiting talking, walking or even watching, as long, it seems, as the victim wants to complain.

Can someone make SMFS go and learn something about the criminal law before he is allowed to post on articles like this?

Who defines if it causes distress, fear or alarm? Presumably this is self-reported by the victim? Who defines what obscene or threatening amounts to? If it is the victim again this law is dumber than I thought. A reasonable man test? What evidence is demanded that someone did loiter? Or watch?

AIUI, in the BCS, no evidence is required other than the respondent’s testimony; in court, obviously a person is not sent to prison purely on the basis that the complainant said she felt distressed.

CPS Guidance will help, here:

http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/stalking_and_harassment/

15. Leon Wolfson

@14 –

“obviously a person is not sent to prison purely on the basis that the complainant said she felt distressed”

Why are you so sure this won’t continue after this law’s passed?

@11 – If someones being stalked they are a victim of stalking. I know what you mean but whether they are brave or not a victim of crime is still a victim of crime.

More and more and more laws. And who benefits from this legal snowstorm?

Lawyers, and those with plenty of money to hire lawyers. You only have to look at the case of the Fortnum and Mason protesters or the Barnet (and Bexley) bloggers to see that the legal system nowadays is being used to silence ordinary people by entangling them in its fearsome convolutions.

Before we know it every bureaucrat and functionary will be claiming they’re being “harassed” and “stalked” by any of us little people who dares to criticise them and their actions:

Just look at this for a sign of the way they’re moving: “I also do feel that by going beyond the Post to naming the Post Holder, referencing my personal blog and making particular comments, the said blogger may have crossed the line and placed myself and my family in this uncomfortable place of feeling harassed online.”

http://davidhencke.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/barnets-mad-and-bad-plan-to-censor-and-criminalise-the-nations-bloggers/

http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.com/2011/11/mrs-angry-on-blogging-and-who-says-what.html

18. Chaise Guevara

@ 6 debra

“Why does the girl in the pic need to be in a state of undress?! Is being a victim sexy?”

For some reason, Sunny appears to think that all stories about sexual or relationship-based crime require a picture of a young woman in bed looking sad. The problems with this have been pointed out to him before.

19. So Much For Subtlety

14. ukliberty

AIUI, in the BCS, no evidence is required other than the respondent’s testimony; in court, obviously a person is not sent to prison purely on the basis that the complainant said she felt distressed.

So it is an unenforceable waste of time bringing no benefits but to lawyers?

Great.

Either ex-boyfriends are jailed on the unsupported word of their ex, which even in modern Britain I think we can agree is unlikely, is this authoritarian criminalisation of thought crimes will never be enforced. Either way why bother?

SMFS,

in court, obviously a person is not sent to prison purely on the basis that the complainant said she felt distressed.

So it is an unenforceable waste of time bringing no benefits but to lawyers?

Um, no.

Again with your binary nonsense. You do understand there is a position between the two extremes, yes? That is, a criminal court will hear both sides of the argument – the prosecution and the defence – and come to a decision?

Either ex-boyfriends are jailed on the unsupported word of their ex, which even in modern Britain I think we can agree is unlikely, is this authoritarian criminalisation of thought crimes will never be enforced. Either way why bother?

I certainly hope that “authoritarian criminalisation of thought crimes will never be enforced”; I’m not entirely convinced that, say, writing and sending a series of nasty letters and making nasty phone calls is a mere “thought crime”.

In your imagination, of course, it appears that something is either on or off, it either lets nothing through or everything through. I suppose potentiometers don’t exist?

In all seriousness can someone explain how making stalking an explicit offence will do anything that the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 doesn’t already cover?

Leon,

“obviously a person is not sent to prison purely on the basis that the complainant said she felt distressed”

Why are you so sure this won’t continue after this law’s passed?

I don’t recall making a comment about the future, therefore I don’t understand why you suggest I am “so sure this won’t continue after this law’s passed”.

I hope that the our criminal courts will only punish people found guilty beyond reasonable doubt after a fair hearing etc.

23. Leon Wolfson

@23 – They don’t right now, they punish people based on political objectives.

So, this will be another step towards providing a handy charge whenever the police want, along with the “squatting” law, where if you fail to immediately move off private land for any reason… (stop and sneeze? Arrestable!)

24. So Much For Subtlety

20. ukliberty

Again with your binary nonsense. You do understand there is a position between the two extremes, yes? That is, a criminal court will hear both sides of the argument – the prosecution and the defence – and come to a decision?

Because I was given the process the benefit of the doubt. What you mean is that a wide range of perfectly legal behaviours will be prohibited, but instead of a clear cut law that provides certainty, people will face a more or less random process where they can’t be sure if the jury will like them or if the DPP has been under pressure lately or any number of other factors and so they will be convicted capriciously. Yes, introducing a massive expensive system that only benefits the lawyers and jails people based on whims is much better than binary thinking.

What this means is that the socially excluded and the abnormal will be going to jail while the slick, the plausible and those able to afford a good lawyer won’t. Such a massive improvement. I mean it is not as if the police and juries have a bad reputation dealing with people like Barry George is it? But not to worry, lots of people with very expensive legal educations will get to put their little ones through Harrow and that’s what counts, right?

I certainly hope that “authoritarian criminalisation of thought crimes will never be enforced”; I’m not entirely convinced that, say, writing and sending a series of nasty letters and making nasty phone calls is a mere “thought crime”.

Explain what it is then. Because it is not a crime to send a letter. It is not a crime to make a phone call. The crime is not even in the intent of the person writing the letter or making the phone call. The basic element of the crime lies in the opinion of the person receiving it. Worse than merely a Thought Crime.

SMFS,

I certainly hope that “authoritarian criminalisation of thought crimes will never be enforced”; I’m not entirely convinced that, say, writing and sending a series of nasty letters and making nasty phone calls is a mere “thought crime”.

Explain what it is then. Because it is not a crime to send a letter. It is not a crime to make a phone call. The crime is not even in the intent of the person writing the letter or making the phone call. The basic element of the crime lies in the opinion of the person receiving it. Worse than merely a Thought Crime.

It is about a course of conduct, which is why I said “a series of letters” instead of “a letter”.

Again, not much point in me quoting what is easily available here:
http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/stalking_and_harassment/

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1997/40/section/1

A case from early this year http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2011/4.html read from para 17 for examples of the sort of behaviour that might constitute a course of conduct within the meaning of the law.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. M

    “@sunny_hundal: Stalking in process of being made an offence, with a focus on social media http://t.co/TGUtwJXA << good news” -BAD NEWS!!

  2. Angela Webb

    Stalking in process of being made an offence, with a focus on social media http://t.co/kfdG64Kg << good news

  3. Louisa

    Stalking finally to be made an offence http://t.co/JXArl0pJ

  4. Safeera Laher

    Stalking in process of being made an offence, with a focus on social media http://t.co/kfdG64Kg << good news

  5. Safeera Laher

    @tush Stalking in process of being made an offence, with a focus on social media http://t.co/RbfNEElB << nooooooo wat am i gna do!!

  6. Adam Round

    Stalking finally to be made an offence http://t.co/JXArl0pJ

  7. Chris Paul

    Stalking in process of being made an offence, with a focus on social media http://t.co/kfdG64Kg << good news

  8. Noxi

    RT @libcon: Stalking finally to be made an offence http://t.co/V3Lr9tJX #vaw

  9. Annie Powell

    RT @libcon: Stalking finally to be made an offence http://t.co/mg21N8Pp

  10. Jonathan Taylor

    Good work from Lynne Featherstone RT @libcon: Stalking finally to be made an offence http://t.co/98hFzEdn





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