Five years ago, when Suzy Lamplugh Trust got funding to set up the world's first national helpline for victims of stalking, some people were asking if it was needed and if it would be used.
Having worked as a civilian officer for the police, based on my research I knew there was a genuine need for the helpline. Within a week any doubts or questions about its relevance were answered unequivocally, with the helpline receiving hundreds more calls than it had the capacity to answer.
Still being new to the Trust, I set about learning as much as I could about stalking.
My first port of call was to speak to the campaigners who had worked alongside the Trust to set up the service; this included survivors of stalking Tracey Morgan and Claire Waxman as well as Tricia Bernal and Carol Faruqui whose daughters, Clare and Rana, had been murdered by their stalkers.
All these women gave (and continue to give) their time and energy to improving services and support for people affected by stalking. Listening to their experiences it was clear stalking always causes emotional harm but also in many cases also psychological and physical injury.
I went on to look at what the research said about stalking. The majority of people (over 80%) are stalked by someone they know, with stalking by an ex-partner making up between 40% and 50% of these cases. Research by Dr. Lorraine Sheridan (2005) had found that on average a victim will experience over 100 incidents of stalking before making a report to the police and that there had been recorded cases of stalking which lasted more than 30 years.
From the very first day we received calls from victims of stalking who said they felt let down by the criminal justice system, who had been told they should just ignore their stalker or be flattered by the attention. We spoke to people experiencing anxiety, depression and agoraphobia, people who had been assaulted and whose own lives and the lives of their loved ones, including partners and children, were being threatened.
The fact so many people were reporting similar experiences meant we were able to bring the voices of stalking victims together on a scale not previously possible in the UK. These voices added to those already calling for change in the police, Crown Prosecution Service, courts and government and helped us to champion improvements including contributing to the successful campaign for stalking law reform in 2012.
However, despite such significant progress there is still a lot more to be done.
Research by advocacy organisation Paladin recently found only 1% of cases of stalking recorded by the police result in a charge and prosecution by the CPS. Mandatory training on stalking law is needed in all criminal justice organisations.
Alongside this a cultural change is needed so that the word 'stalking' is not joked about and is always treated with the seriousness it deserves. This is the reason that we have created a video called 'This is Stalking' for this year's National Stalking Awareness Week. The video shows typical stalking behaviour and emphasises stalking doesn't just mean someone lurking in the bushes or peering through your window, it can also be phone calls, emails, even social media abuse.
Stalking can happen to anyone and is one of the most common forms of interpersonal violence with one in six women and one in 12 men experiencing it at some point in their lives (CSEW 2013).
Over the last five years helpline staff have spoken to over 10,000 people affected by stalking. However, due to limited funding we are still unable to answer over 40% of the calls made to the service during opening hours. To watch the film, and if you feel able, make a donation to support the work of the Helpline, then please go to www.givey.com/suzylamplughtrust
Through campaigns such as National Stalking Awareness Week we want to raise awareness about the seriousness of the crime of stalking and ensure we keep victims' voices at the forefront of all our work.