Concern over rising number of cyberstalking offences

Malicious communications and stalking increased significantly this summer Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Malicious communications and stalking increased significantly this summer Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Covid restrictions likely had an impact on rising online harassment as perpetrators used messaging services to target victims, police have said.

Suffolk Constabulary said it shared national concern over a rise in cyber-stalking and challenges around capturing evidence.

Data comparing July, August and September with the same period of 2019 showed a 20% increase in harassment and stalking offence – from 1,309 to 1,568 – with the biggest rises in malicious communications (33% to 681) and a six-fold increase in stalking (from 32 to 208).

Detective Chief Superintendent Eamonn Bridger said regular training, changes to crime counting rules, and restrictions of movement during lockdowns, had all contributed to the rise.

In January, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found that issues with understanding crime recording rules had not been fully addressed by Suffolk police since being identified in 2014.

It recommended further training for supervisors, officers and staff in crime recording roles, including on rules for recording common assault, harassment, malicious communications, coercive control and stalking.

Det Ch Supt Bridger said: “Stalking has a huge impact on victims and we take reports of stalking extremely seriously as a precursor to other serious crimes.

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“An increase in recorded figures is primarily due to Home Office changes in crime recording rules in this area. Harassment and stalking are now recorded in addition to other crimes reported, as well as primary offences.

“A large number of harassment crimes now occur in the digital space as well as offline. We share the national concern around the increase in cyberstalking offences, which present challenges around evidence capture.

“Lockdowns as a result of Covid are likely to have had an impact on recorded cyber harassment offences this year and perpetrators continue to use online messaging services to target victims. Many people can actually be considered to be more vulnerable at home, particularly those who are isolated and rely heavily on external support networks.

“We undertake regular training to improve our crime recording and we would ask anyone who is experiencing harassment to contact police.”

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