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How many victims of stalking in Suffolk are still suffering in silence?

PUBLISHED: 10:06 21 July 2016 | UPDATED: 10:06 21 July 2016

'Sarah' was stalked in Bury St Edmunds by her former partner after the break down of their five-year relationship. Photo : Steve Adams

'Sarah' was stalked in Bury St Edmunds by her former partner after the break down of their five-year relationship. Photo : Steve Adams

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2016

The number of stalking reports made to police in Suffolk has doubled over the last three years.

Detective Superintendent David Cutler at the Suffolk Constabulary HQ in Martlesham.Detective Superintendent David Cutler at the Suffolk Constabulary HQ in Martlesham.

But a senior detective has said the crime is still hugely under-reported and urged victims to come forward.

Since 2013, Suffolk Constabulary has received more than 200 reports of stalking, with 44 complaints in 2013; 64 in 2014; 81 in 2015; and 13 in the first four months of this year.

Detective Superintendent David Cutler, head of Suffolk’s protecting vulnerable people directorate, said it was difficult to know whether this reflected an increase in the number of people being stalked, or greater awareness around the crime which leads to more victims feeling confident to speak out.

He added: “It can be absolutely horrendous – being scared to come out, ongoing long term psychological effects.

“It really preys on people and affects every facet of their lives and it just wears victims down.”

Det Supt Cutler said in the majority of stalking cases the perpetrator is known to the victim, either as a former partner, a friend, a family member or work colleague.

According to the statistics, released by Suffolk Constabulary following a Freedom of Information request, some people have been stalked for more than six years.

In late 2012 the law in England and Wales was amended and for the first time stalking became an offence in its own right, with a maximum prison sentence of five years if the perpetrator puts a person in fear of violence, or serious alarm or distress. Prior to this stalking cases would have mostly been dealt with under harassment legislation.

Det Supt Cutler said in the 10 years preceding this law coming into force stalking was seen to be an issue that needed to be treated in isolation, rather than police having to rely on other legislation.

“Beforehand we were encouraging victims to get non-molestation orders, or orders that prohibit people coming into contact with them, which is putting the onus right back on the victim, and actually the onus needs to be on the person doing the stalking,” Det Supt Cutler added. “That’s what criminal offences are, it prohibits the offending behaviour, it doesn’t try and make the victim do something.”

In April Suffolk Constabulary supported national Stalking Awareness Week, which highlighted the dangers of social media. The internet has created unprecedented access into people’s lives – where they are, what they are eating, who they are seeing – and it is often used as a tool of choice for stalkers.

However, Det Supt Cutler said cyberstalking was much more difficult to police than physical stalking.

“It comes with the added complications of trying to prove the evidence through social media, but we’ve got specialist officers and specialist units whose job it is to do that,” he added.

“What makes it more difficult is it removes the offender a little bit more so we have to adapt our tactics and become much more creative in how we use technology.”

Despite the rising figures, under-reporting is an issue in Suffolk and police are working to raise awareness of the crime and confidence in victims.

Det Supt Cutler added: “We want people to know that we do treat it seriously, we are sensitive and we are compassionate.

“Victims or someone who thinks they are being stalked shouldn’t be concerned about overreacting. If they are worried or angered by someone’s behaviour then we very much encourage them to come forward and talk to us about it and let us support them and help them.

“Our main objective is to make victims, and if appropriate their families, safe.”

Anyone who has concerns about stalking can call Suffolk Constabulary on 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

Even the daily school run was a time of fear and panic for ‘Sarah’

One woman from Bury St Edmunds has told how she was stalked by her former partner following the break down of their five-year relationship.

Sarah, who has been given this name to protect her real identity, split from her ex-partner two-and-half-years ago after experiencing emotional, psychological, sexual and financial abuse at his hands.

But the torment did not stop there. Sarah was followed by her former partner on school runs, at work, in the supermarket and outside her home.

She said: “He was self-employed and I would always see his van driving on my way to the school run. I have got four kids so at one point I was going to three different schools and I would always see his van.

“I was completely paranoid, I would say that he was following me and anyone I spoke to would say I’m just imagining it, and they are sure it’s just a coincidence.

“Then I got offered a job in Bury St Edmunds and I would park the car by the cathedral and walk down the back streets because I was terrified of bumping into him. He then started walking past my work several times a day.

“The worst thing is having to hold your breath and brace yourself for what happens next.

“When I was walking in town or going to the supermarket I would purposely go at odd times. You go to the car park and scan the car park to see if his car is there and you don’t park until you have scanned the whole car park. You quickly get out of the car and to the till, you check which till will shelter you and which is the nearest to the door.

“For a long time I didn’t want to believe what was happening.”

Sarah now has a court order in place which means her former partner cannot come within 100 metres of her or contact her directly or indirectly.

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