Prosecutions for stalking and harassment increased by more than 20% last year following the enforcement of a new law that criminalises behaviour causing serious alarm or distress.
The number of cases are expected to grow, according to Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, as victims become more confident about coming forward to seek help, and as cyber-stalking becomes more prevalent.
The figures have been released as the Crown Prosecution Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) publish details of an agreement to improve cooperation and provide greater support to victims who have been repeatedly followed, contacted, spied on or threatened.
Last year, marking a rise of almost 22%, 10,535 people in England and Wales were prosecuted for stalking and harassment, compared to 8,648 people in 2012/13, the CPS revealed.
Convictions and the number of restraining orders issued have also risen. More than 700 of the cases last year were brought under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 which introduced fresh powers to charge stalkers even when they do not directly threaten the targeted person.
The law, which came into force late 2012, makes it an offence to follow, contact, monitor the email of, loiter near, watch or spy upon, someone if it causes “serious alarm or distress” and has a “substantial adverse effect” on their usual day-to-day activities.
The new agreement between the CPS and Acpo notes: “Stalking offences can also be committed in an online environment, [such as] through social media platforms. The principles for investigating ‘online’ stalking are the same as those that apply to any form of stalking.”
It also reminds police and prosecutors to ensure that victims have the opportunity to provide a personal statement to court; to investigate why any victim withdraws a complaint to check it is not due to pressure; and to consult victims on bail and restraining orders for suspects.
The CPS said there had also been a sharp increase in the number of breaches of restraining and non-molestation orders, the majority of which relate to domestic violence and can involve stalking-like behaviour. Prosecutions rose by 14.6% in 2013/14 to 18,149 cases.