New figures from the Ministry of Justice reveal that offenders convicted of stalking or harassment who repeatedly breach their restraining orders often escape with fines and non-custodial sentences.
Politicians and victim support groups warn that lives are being put at risk by this failure to take action against repeat offenders who habitually breach the orders, which can be imposed for a range of offences including domestic violence and coercive control.
MoJ figures reveal that almost two-thirds of those who breached their orders received a non-custodial sentence. Even when the offender had committed multiple breaches, a custodial term was unlikely.
“Stalking victims are being put at great risk when police, CPS and courts fail to uphold restraining orders and allow breaches to go unpunished,” said Claire Waxman, a stalking survivor who founded the charity Voice4Victims.
“This gives the stalker the belief that their behaviour is acceptable and that the order is meaningless. The victim suffers further trauma as they realise that they are powerless and that this legal intervention does not deter their abuser, nor provide any real security or protection. The victim is left vulnerable and fearful of what will come next.”
Given that a recent study by the University of Gloucestershire found that stalking was present in 94% of the 358 cases of criminal homicides they looked at, this lack of serious consequences for stalking perpetrators is deeply troubling. “Practically every case we looked at featured examples of the obsessive, fixated behaviour that typifies stalking,” researcher Dr Jane Monckton Smith said.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which runs the National Stalking Helpline, warned that failure to take action on stalking could lead to an escalation in violence and potentially death. It called on courts to recognise stalking as a broader problem and pattern of behaviour.
Stalking could present itself in acts such as rearranging a victim’s garden furniture, sending unwanted gifts, loitering on the pavement outside their house, or even calling social services to maliciously report “poor” parenting.