Today on National Stalking Awareness Day I am reminded of the brave women I met in November last year when I visited the National Stalking Helpline. I was struck by their resilience and humility when they have gone through so much and was grateful that they shared their stories with me. Meeting them reinforced the importance of the work being done to both raise awareness of stalking and how important it is to support those who go through such difficult experiences. It also reminded me that there is always more that can be done.
On that day we marked the introduction of two new stalking offences; stalking and stalking where there is a fear of violence or serious alarm or distress. I hope that introducing the specific offences will raise awareness of the crime resulting in more victims coming forward and give police and other professionals the ability to help victims swiftly and more effectively. Ultimately I want to protect more men and women who have, and could be, victims of this insidious crime that creeps in to every aspect of a victim's life.
Stalking is a real problem in the UK - in the last year, 4% of women and 3% of men reported having experienced stalking (Crime Survey for England and Wales 2011/12). For those affected it can have serious and long term impact. A study by the University of Leicester found that a third of stalking victims had lost their job, or relationship, or had been forced to move (Sheridan, 2005). Yet it is still not a problem that the public, and indeed many professionals, fully understand and take seriously.
As a lawyer with over 20 year's experience of working with families I fully understand the devastating impact crimes like this can have. The government takes the issue of stalking very seriously and the new laws will help us better support victims. However, it is clear that changing the law is not enough. We are working with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to make sure they have the appropriate guidance and training for the police and prosecutors to support victims and make sure they get the justice they so deserve.
As victims' minister I am determined that victims will have a louder and clearer voice and will be put first at every stage of the Criminal Justice System. Every victim has the right to know that the Criminal Justice System will help them recover and move on with their lives. So many organisations and individuals do so much, but in particular I cannot help but admire the commitment of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust who work so hard running the National Stalking Helpline to support victims of this vile crime.
As victims' minister my role is to ensure that no victim is forgotten, but it is a job I cannot do alone. If you, or anyone you know, are a victim of stalking, don't stay silent. Please come forward and ring the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300 or visit http://www.stalkinghelpline.org/