The Home Office has launched a new consultation designed to addressing a rise in so-called "stranger stalkings" which can happen online. Ministers have launched the eight-week consultation which could help those targeted by stalkers outside of a domestic abuse setting and could see perpetrators slapped with a court order before being officially charged.
Under current laws, measures are available to those who fall victim to aggrieved current or former partners – but they do not help those who are being stalked online or by people they barely know. It's hoped the new measures could stop obsessions before they become "entrenched".
The way ministers plan to combat this hole in the law is with a "stalking protection order" that is aimed at stopping stalking early. An order may lead to stringent mental health assessments or an anger management programme. And breaking an order could lead to prosecution.
Stranger stalking is common
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which manages the National Stalking Helpline, estimates that more than half of those who contact the helpline are stalked by an acquaintance or stranger. A spokesperson said to ITV: "These groups of people are unable to utilise certain protection measures designed to help people experiencing domestic abuse, such as non-molestation orders and domestic violence protection orders.
"A stalking protection order may be especially helpful for victims of stalking who are being stalked by someone they have not had a relationship with."
Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation Karen Bradley says early intervention could mean that stalking does not become violent and physically damaging. "So what we're looking at is whether we can introduce a civil order, which we could use at an earlier stage, including having positive interventions for the perpetrator," she said to the BBC.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said to the Telegraph: "The nature of stalking can be delusional and obsessive with offenders going to extreme lengths to contact, follow and monitor their victims.
"While it is encouraging that prosecutions under the legislation the previous government introduced in 2012 are increasing, I am concerned that there may still be a gap between the time when the offending behaviour begins and the time when a prosecution can be commenced where we could be doing more to deter the perpetrator from their obsession."
Psychological abuse law
Another new measure is the launch of a new "Coercive or controlling behaviour offence", which comes into force on 29 December.
The new law wants to target people who engage in coercive and controlling behaviour that does not constitute physical violence, but can be construed as extreme psychological and emotional abuse. The offence is set to carry a maximum of five years' imprisonment or a fine.
Other measures that the government have committed to are:
- £3.85m worth of funding to develop a new phase of the This Is Abuse campaign aimed at preventing abuse within teenage relationships,
- A new Violence against Women and Girls government strategy, and
- The appointment of International Development Minister Baroness Verma as the new ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas.