Cyberstalking increases across Sussex in Covid-19 crisis

20/04/2020

Stalkers are fixated and obsessive offenders who will not stop. 

This National Stalking Awareness Week (20-24th April), Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne is urging people to ‘See Stalking Clearly’.

For those affected by stalking in Sussex, current isolation as a result of the Covid-19 crisis has meant an increase in stalking behaviours online. Sussex stalking advocacy service, Veritas Justice, has reported a 26% increase in referrals compared to the previous three months average.

75% of their clients have also reported a change in their stalker’s behaviour, with more unwanted contact being made via calls/emails/texts, social media and even gaming platforms.

So, this week Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne is launching a new online chat facility, delivered by Veritas Justice via their website, which will allow victims of stalking to easily reach out for help and advice during this time.

‘Tech Connect’ has been designed by Veritas’ own cyber security expert, Nick Podd. Mr Podd works with victims of stalking, helping them to keep themselves safe online, preserving digital evidence that could be used against their perpetrators and giving them tips on how to reduce the distress caused by constant unwanted digital contact.

He says that some of the practical advice he would have given face to face to clients will now be available online: “Whilst it is preferable to sit with clients and take them through cyber safeguarding steps to help reduce the risks associated with any potential cyberstalking activity, the current lockdown situation has affected these working practices.

“However, we remain focused in maintaining the flow of useful and practical safety information and some step-by-step guides have been designed to assist clients with their device settings to help better protect themselves in these difficult times.

“The online chat facility will also provide an essential channel for those wishing to reach out for support and advice when they need it most.” 

A £40,000 grant was awarded to Veritas Justice by PCC Katy Bourne, from her victims’ budget, in February this year to begin creating this live online tool. From her own experience of stalking, she knows too well the distress and fear that this type of obsession can cause, and she does not want anyone to have to suffer in silence during this lockdown.

Mrs Bourne comments: “The theme for this week is ‘Seeing Stalking Clearly’ and it’s very pertinent, especially during this crisis, that we all do start to see and take seriously these types of crimes.

“The rise in cyberstalking due to the ‘lockdown’ concerns me deeply. We know all too well that this behaviour causes extreme distress and can unfortunately escalate quickly.

“The severity of risk to a victim is now defined by the amount of time invested by the perpetrator in their obsession. So, with many victims receiving over 100 text messages/emails/phone calls a day, we know that these strong fixations could have a more sinister outcome. 

“If you are experiencing behaviour that is Fixated, Obsessive, Unwanted or Repeated you are being stalked. It is a crime and you will be taken seriously when you ask for help. Please still report to the police and reach out to the team at Veritas Justice, they will both continue to be there for you whenever you need them.”

Sussex Police and Veritas Justice will be using this week to reassure local residents that support is still available and encouraging victims of stalking to keep reporting to the police during the Covid-19 pandemic.

They will also be circulating advice on how to keep yourself better protected online and how to spot the signs of stalking.

Claudia Ortiz, the Founder of Veritas Justice says: “This National Stalking Awareness Week we are focusing on “Seeing Stalking Clearly”. More than ever it is important that stalking victims remain a visible priority during this crisis by enabling them to access the support and advice they need during these challenging times.

“We are already seeing an even more significant shift to cyber and online stalking behaviours, which are having a very negative impact on individuals and families. We are also acutely aware that as domestic abuse increases so will stalking, anxiety and isolation. So, we hope that the online chat facility will offer additional and flexible support to those affected by this devastating crime. 

“Stalkers will continue stalking during lockdown and we will continue working with clients and partners to adapt to the changing landscape. We want to reassure victims that we are still here for them, you don't have to suffer in silence, check out our website and chat to us  https://veritas-justice.co.uk

“We would like to acknowledge our police partners who continue to respond to stalking incidents in unprecedented circumstances and also thank Katy Bourne and her office for their commitment to improve the lives of victims of stalking.”

Sussex Police are already advising and supporting more stalking victims than ever. As the second highest recorder of stalking offences after the Metropolitan Police, reports in Sussex are up by more than 100% in just three years, with more victims feeling confident to come forward to report offences. 

Detective Chief Inspector Mick Richards said: “We want victims to be confident in reporting to us and know that we will take all reports seriously. During the current Covid-19 pandemic your safety online is particularly important and there are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself. 

"Don’t be tempted to delete messages or throw away gifts as they could be used as evidence later on. This might include audio recordings, films or pictures, copies of emails, text messages, screenshots and similar. You could also keep a log of all the incidents that have occurred.  

“Always report it. Getting help early will assist in protecting you. This can be done at www.sussex.police.uk, by calling 101, or 999 in an emergency.”

The force recorded 1005 stalking offences in the 12 months to March 2018, 1547 in the 12 months to 31 March 2019, and 2020 in the 12 months to 31 March 2020.

As soon as a new law came into effect in January this year, Sussex was the first force in the country to secure court Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs), which run for a minimum of two years. The force has now secured eight SPOs and applications for a further five are due to be heard by courts in Sussex by the end of April. These Orders equip police with valuable powers to better protect victims or anyone connected with them in stalking cases. Significantly, SPOs enable police to enforce both prohibitions and/or specific requirements such as making the offender attend courses.

Stalking is a crime that is distressing and malicious and is something no one should have to put up with.

Think FOUR. Is the behaviour;

F –  fixated

O – obsessive

U – unwanted

R -  repeated

Visit https://www.sussex.police.uk/cp/crime-prevention/harassment/sh/stalking-and-harassment-advice/what-you-can-do-about-stalking-and-harassment/  to learn more about stalking and harassment and how to report this dangerous and debilitating crime.

For specialist stalking advice and support visit the Veritas Justice website. ‘Tech Connect’ will be live on their website on Monday: https://veritas-justice.co.uk

Advice will be circulated during the week via @SussexPCC, @VeritasJustice and @Sussex_Police using the hashtags #NSAW2020 #SeeStalkingClearly

You can report stalking or harassment online at https://www.sussex.police.uk/stalking by calling 101 or in person at your local police station.

But always call 999 if you are in danger. Officers and staff will undertake a risk assessment and focus on keeping you safe

 

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