25/11/2012 05:00 GMT | Updated 26/11/2012 11:37 GMT

Stalking Law To Come Into Effect On International Day Of The Elimination of Violence Against Women

Sarah’s stalker was not put off when she changed her car, or her route into work. Within two days he was following her again.

“I called the police and said 'my ex-partner is at the traffic lights, next to me.'

"That's not a criminal offence. But it was sending a very clear message. ‘I know where you are and you can change your car a million times. It's not going to change,'" the 31-year-old, who was stalked for three and a half years by her ex, tells The Huffington Post UK.


Stalking is a crime in the UK as of Sunday (file image)

What Sarah’s former partner did to her then wasn’t a crime. But it will be now after a law change, coming into force on Sunday, the International Day of the Elimination of Violence against women, after being announced on International Women's Day.

Stalking was already a crime in Scotland, but is now officially recognised as such in England and Wales

It is, according to Alexis Bowater, the chief executive of the Network for Surviving Stalking, "a massive step forward in this country".

It was implemented after a campaign by victims and an independent inquiry led by Elfyn Llwyd MP and advised by the Protection Against Stalking campaign and trade union, which represents probation and family court staff, Napo.

"This is not the end of the journey. The way that people are taking stalking victims seriously in this country needs to be stretched on a global scale," Bowater tells The Huffington Post UK.

Before the law change, police had to wait for suspects to harass their victims or break restraining orders before acting. Now offenders could face five years in jail.

Some 120,000 victims, mostly women, are stalked each year but just 53,000 are recorded as crimes by police and only one in 50 of these lead to an offender being jailed, according to evidence heard by Llwyd’s inquiry.

According to a study of 4,951 cases by the Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse 56% of domestic abuse cases involve some form of stalking - with a restraining order being granted in only 10 per cent of the severe cases.

"If you went home and you found out your house had been burgled you would expect someone to be charged with burglary. There wasn't [anyone charged] for stalking until now," Bowater says.

For campaigner Claire Waxman, who was stalked by a former classmate for a decade, the change is a “step in the right direction.”

“The law could go further but at the moment, it’s stepping stones. It’s a step in the right direction,” she tells The Huffington Post UK.

“Stalking and harassment are two very different things. It’s recognising that stalking is fear of violence and psychological injury. That’s not been there before, it is a very important factor for lots of cases,

“It would cover my case and a lot of other stalking cases at the start. If you’ve got that fear of violence, we’re hoping you can intercept early, before it escalates.

“What we’ve clarified in law is that if you had to change your lifestyle; if you had to start parking somewhere differently or you’ve got to move out of your home or change your phone, things that really impact on your day-to-day life. That is stalking.”

After chairing the inquiry that convinced David Cameron to change the law, Plaid Cymru MP Llwyd is now calling for proper training - to ensure it is “properly implemented.”

“We have got to make sure that the police, the prosecution, the CPS, courts, social services and probation are all brought up to speed and trained adequately to deal with them. That’s the point,” he says.

“Part of the problem is there’s the need for a culture change. For far too long people have said, well, the man used to know the woman and he’s walking after her now, it’s a domestic. Well, I’m sorry, that’s not good enough.

“There is some good progress but I’d like to know what’s happening all round otherwise we’re not going to have as successful a situation as we would hope. I’m sure it’s a matter of pulling all the strings together to make sure that people do treat this matter with a proper degree of seriousness.”

For Sarah, the law change is a “step in the right direction” - but she’s calling for more.

She says: “Judges, the legal professionals, police forces, everyone involved needs to be trained. I didn't know what was happening to me; I just thought 'my husband is a bit difficult'.

“I needed someone to point out I was in an abusive relationship. That's when I started realising.

“Unless awareness is raised and training is given to the professionals I think things are not going to change.”

‘When I left him he said it would be over his dead body. I didn’t realise he was being serious.’

Sarah, 31, was stalked for three-and-a-half years by her former partner, who she was with for seven years. She told The Huffington Post UK her story.

"I had a seven year relationship with my ex-partner and it was an emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship. When I left him he said it would be 'over his dead body' - I didn't realise how serious that was.

"Of course we were angry with other but I thought we'd work it out. It didn't work out like that but he started calling me, texting me, following me, slashing my car tyres.

"I thought at the time it was because he wanted to know where I had moved to, as I had moved without telling him. Then he found out where I was working, what my job was. It was never-ending.

"The police were really supportive but nothing really happened. Like the day my car tyres were slashed - they were supportive but there was no CCTV

"I phoned the police about 10-12 times but all the call outs were treated on an individual basis - I told them to link it up and then they said to pass on to social services but because there wasn't physical harm they couldn't intervene. But the psychological and emotional impact was huge.

"When someone says that they are going to kill you, you don't really know how serious they are about it. You think 'what a stupid thing to say' but you start realising some of the behaviours are not normal. Following people is not normal.

"By the time you call the police there has to be loads of incidents and the penny needs to drop in your head for you to think 'this is not normal.'

"The families of a lot of victims I know have had to change their lives. When you're living a normal life you don't think about danger all the time."