A new scheme to reduce the harm caused by stalking is under way in Sussex.

30 stalkers, who have been issued separately with a Stalking Protection Order to safeguard their victims, will now receive specialist intervention to address and stop their fixated behaviours, as part of a ground-breaking pilot scheme in Sussex.

A partnership project has been set up to identify and target specific stalkers for psychological therapy that will enable them to address and modify their own behaviour. It brings together Sussex Police, rehabilitation and criminal justice service Seetec Justice andlocal stalking advocacy service Veritas Justice.

Police are receiving an increasing number of stalking reports. In Sussex last year (2020) 2661 crimes involving stalking were recorded.

In each case, whether or not it resulted in prosecution, police were also able to take action to safeguard victims, putting protection plans in place where needed, and ensuring they had access to sources of further expert advice and support.

However, previous national research has found that 55% of stalking perpetrators go on to re-offend in some way, with complex psychological issues associated with stalking often failing to be addressed within the current criminal justice system. This shows a need, alongside enforcement, to provide support for perpetrators to address their offending behaviour and reduce the likelihood of harming again.

In November 2020 Katy Bourne was awarded £98,000 Home Office funding specifically for stalking intervention and evaluation, as part of an overall package of interventions on domestic abuse.

The project will focus on people in Sussex who have been given court-ordered Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) and each person given an SPO will be considered as a potential subject for this intervention.

Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) were introduced nationally in January 2020, and Sussex Police has led the way, securing 29 SPOs in the first 12 months, with a further seven awaiting court hearings.

The programme will use the Seetec Justice Compulsive and Obsessive Behaviour Intervention (COBI) based on tested and proven psychological therapy.

This means that participants will take part in twelve, intensive one-to-one sessions where their case will be forensically dissected and future focus placed on maintaining non-offending behaviour.

The ultimate goal is for the service-user to learn pro-social, interpersonal skills and improve their ability to manage their behaviour during periods of emotional crisis.

The skills they will learn to achieve this are: mindfulness; distress tolerance; emotion regulation; and interpersonal effectiveness.

Carl Hall, the Deputy Director of Community Development at Seetec Justice, said: “There is no place in our society for stalking – it is a terrifying crime that leaves victims traumatised. Seetec is determined to work with local partners to address how certain behaviours lead to an individual choosing to stalk in the first place. The purpose of this scheme is to enhance the effectiveness of the court-ordered Stalking Protection Orders issued to offenders in Sussex. The intervention we are deploying highlights that Sussex is at the forefront of using innovative approaches to tackle some of the most complex issues faced in the criminal justice system. Highly skilled staff will tackle the causes of the problem, addressing the perpetrator’s obsessive and compulsive behaviours to prevent more people from becoming a victim of this type of crime in the future.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Rayland of the Sussex Police Public Protection Command said: “This approach gives us an opportunity to look forensically at cases whilst providing a future focus for non-offending behaviour. There will be regular assessment and independent oversight of the work and of the staff carrying it out. 

“Through the funding and access to specialist interventions I hope that we can begin change behaviours of those individuals who have stalked their victims.  Helping address the root causes of obsessive, compulsive and unwanted behaviour is vital in driving down repeat victimisation and protecting future victims.  Individuals who participate in these interventions but who still go on to offend will still be investigated for prosecution wherever possible.”

Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne, said: “Not that long ago, stalking was a somewhat misunderstood crime in Sussex and arguably still is in many parts of the country.

“I’m pleased with how far we have come in Sussex in better protecting victims of this crime, working hard to prosecute offenders where possible and now, finding innovative ways to stop their fixated and unwanted behaviours completely.

“I successfully bid for and secured this funding so that we could bring together experts that understood the deep-rooted, psychological obsession stalkers have with their victims and who could analyse this and address the reasons why they do what they do.

“Today, we are finally taking steps to identify and tackle the root causes of stalking behaviours, filling the gaps in our response to these heinous crimes.”

Police, in partnership with stalking advocacy service Veritas Justice, will be working very closely with the victims where their perpetrators are engaged in the programme, to ensure their needs are being met throughout and that they are properly safeguarded.

In 2020, Veritas Justice, supported 1,085 victims. They have seen steady increases in referrals since they began supporting victims in 2016 and know first-hand the complex and challenging nature of these crimes.

Director Claudia Ortiz said: “We are very excited to be part of this important work that can make a real difference to the lives of stalking victims in their journey to safety.

“This program represents a crucial step in the development of our response to stalking in Sussex and we are confident that by working in partnership with Sussex Police and Seetec Justice, the complex psychological issues that drive and sustain stalking behaviour can be addressed at the earliest possible opportunity, meaning that current victims of stalking will be safer whilst also preventing future victims from being targeted in the first place.”

Louise and Sarah (names changed for anonymity) both live in Sussex and were referred to Veritas Justice in January 2020 after being stalked by the same stranger simultaneously in 2019.

Convincing himself that he was in a relationship with both women, their stalker followed them everywhere, sent gifts, turned up at their home and displayed threatening behaviour.

He was arrested, charged and convicted of stalking both victims. He was sentenced to 19 weeks custodial sentence for Louise’s case and 18 weeks for Sarah’s.

He was released on licence and is currently supervised by probation to whom he has disclosed that he is still of the believe that he is in a relationship with Louise and in love with her.

He has not breached his licence conditions yet but both victims are fearful that he will.

Louise fully supports the introduction of this stalker behaviour intervention programme saying: “This is good news for victims of stalking, I believe that there is something wrong within the current mechanisms for dealing with a stalker such that jail sentences do not stop the behaviours. They may ease off initially, only to repeat their actions with the same victim or transfer their obsession to another person, where the police reporting process starts all over again with an unknown lead period. They need help so as to protect us. I don’t believe it can fully stop any other way, despite the very good support and reactive Police.”

Read this case study from a stalker who benefitted from COBI. 

See further information about SPOs in Sussex on the force website here

If you are being stalked or harassed it is important that you report it. Stalkers are fixated and obsessive offenders who will not stop.

You can report stalking or harassment online or by calling 101 or in person at your local police station.

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

Veritas Justice is a local Sussex organisation which provides advocacy and support for victims of stalking.

Further sources of local information and advice are also available at the specialist advisory site SafeSpaceSussex and on the Sussex Police website.