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Stalking Protection Orders

Current lockdown measures has meant for some an increase in online stalking

For those affected by stalking, current isolation as a result of COVID-19 has meant for some an increase in stalking online. One in six women and one in twelve men will experience stalking.

Since 20 January 2020, Police forces have been able to apply for a Stalking Protection Order (SPO). These new powers are an effective and early intervention. The Orders equip police with valuable powers to better protect victims or anyone connected with them in stalking cases. Sussex Police and Weightmans obtained the first SPO in the country. The force has gone on to get eight more and have a further five for hearing this month with the courts making provision to hear these important cases during the lockdown.

What is stalking?

Stalking is “a pattern of unwanted, fixated and obsessive behaviour which is intrusive”.  Stalking affects people of all ages, and victims come from a wide range of backgrounds - stalking is not restricted to public figures and celebrities. The perpetrator’s behaviours may appear ‘harmless’ and may in themselves seem lawful, particularly if considered in isolation rather than as part of a pattern of behaviour.

Who can apply?

Introduced under the Stalking Protection Act 2019, SPO’s are civil applications which are police led – not requiring a victim to support an application. The police are encouraged to consider an SPO application at the earliest opportunity to provide safeguards to victims of this behaviour.

When should you apply for an SPO?

An SPO can be sought at any time. A previous conviction for stalking is not required. So long as the legal test is met, you can apply for an order at any stage during or after a criminal investigation.

What is the legal test?

The criteria for applying for an order are set out in section 1(1) of the Act. The police should consider applying for an order where:

  • There are acts associated with stalking;
  • The respondent poses a risk of stalking to a person; and
  • There is reasonable cause to believe the proposed order is necessary to protect the other person from that risk. 

From the applications that have been progressed so far, it is clear that the issue of stalking is widespread and can occur in any scenario. SPO’s have been made against ex-partners, but also people who have become fixated in a professional relationship. Stalking can cover a wide range of behaviour and persons. The impact of stalking can be life-changing to a victim and as such SPO’s are a vital safeguarding tool for forces to consider.

Examples of stalking

  • Contacting the victim’s children, partner, other family members, friends, co-workers or other third parties.
  • Stalking by proxy (stalking people connected to the ‘primary’ victim).
  • Sending unsolicited gifts or other items to the victim.
  • Hacking the victim’s social media accounts, email, phone or computer.
  • Using multiple social media accounts, email addresses or phone numbers to contact the victim, which may include the use of aliases.
  • Information gathering on the victim, such as by contacting third parties, searching public records, stealing private documents belonging to the victim or viewing them without the victim’s knowledge.
  • Impersonating the victim in order to gather information about them.
  • Bringing vexatious litigation or making vexatious counter-allegations against the victim, or otherwise using official processes to perpetuate contact with the victim, cause them distress or drain their resources.
  • Cancelling or procuring goods or services to the victim.
  • Joining the same gym, church, medical practice, educational course, workplace, sports club or other group as the victim.
  • Criminal damage or breaking in to the victim’s home, garden or vehicle.
  • Creating or exploiting disputes between the victim and their friends, family or wider support network, to isolate the victim and make them dependent on the perpetrator.
  • Creating social media posts or websites containing malicious or personal content relating to the victim, or referencing things which would have meaning only to the victim.
  • Threatening violence against the victim, or actually attacking them.
  • Monitoring the victim by planting tracking or bugging devices, or by installing or activating a programme or application on the victim’s personal devices.
  • Publishing or threatening to publish personal information or images relating to the victim (so called ‘revenge porn’, or ‘doxing’).
  • Threatening suicide or self-harm, or otherwise manipulating the victim to respond to contact. In the case of former intimate partners, carrying out a campaign of economic abuse (for example, seeking to control their access to money, employment, food or other essential resources). 

Given the breadth of the actions and the scope offered by the legislation in terms of what can amount to stalking, it’s imperative that forces are aware of this invaluable weapon in their armoury and are using it as a mechanism for protecting people from unwanted and potentially life-threatening behaviour.

If the above update raises any issues or concerns for you, or if you would like more information on Stalking Protection Orders, please contact Hannah Walsh at hannah.walsh@weightmans.com or the author, Louise Ravenscroft, at louise.ravenscroft@weightmans.com.

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