Sussex Police and the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner are reminding people of assistance and advice available, in addition to expert investigation, in support of National Stalking Awareness Week, 19-23 April, ‘Unmasking Stalking‘.

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.

The force recorded 13,324 reports of offences involving stalking during 2020.

Detective Chief Inspector Mick Richards said: “We are committed to continually improving our understanding of stalking and harassment and our response to it.

“We have improved training for officers and staff and have ensured specialists are on hand across the county to offer expert advice and support to colleagues every day to keep people safe and feeling safe. We want victims to be confident and know we will take all reports seriously.”

As soon as a new law came into effect in January last 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 already secured 30 SPOs and applications for a further five are currently due to be heard by courts in Sussex. 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.

Mick Richards adds; “During the current Covid-19 pandemic and as it hopefully recedes, your safety online remains particularly important and there are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself.

“In particular, don’t be tempted to ‘block’ your caller, 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 material. You can 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 by contacting us online, by calling 101, or 999 in an emergency.”

Sussex Police have also just initiated a Stalking Perpetrator Programme, with extra government funding. Up to 30 spaces are available for people who have been given an SPO and who agree to engage with specialist therapists in behavioural intervention therapy sessions. These are 12 1:1 consultations. The aim is to help the perpetrator to acknowledge, accept and recognise the difficult emotions and thoughts that trigger harmful behaviour, in turn helping them manage those emotions and behaviour without causing harm to others.

So far four people have been identified for participation in the programme with all new cases being considered.

But police emphasise that anyone who participate in these interventions but who still go on to offend will still be investigated for prosecution wherever possible.

In an extra move to help increase awareness of the stalking issue, from April local people will also see eight marked police cars on the streets of Sussex with messaging that highlights the ‘FOUR’ behaviours of Stalking (Fixated, Obsessive, Unwanted & Repeated) urging people to use their instinct and report it to police.

Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne, said: “The continued rise in cyberstalking over the last year has been a real cause for concern with stalkers adapting to the restrictions of the pandemic and developing their digital skills to track and torment their victims.

“The theme for this week is ‘Unmasking Stalking’ and I think this is apt as we all begin to transition out of lockdown.

“Stalkers will now have more opportunity to cross over into the physical world and so the risk to the victim is heightened.

“With many victims receiving over 100 text messages/emails/phone calls a day during lockdown months, we know that these strong fixations could escalate and have a more sinister outcome.

“It is important not to suffer in silence at this time. If you are experiencing behaviour that is Fixated, Obsessive, Unwanted or Repeated (FOUR), then you are being stalked. It is a crime and you will be taken seriously when you ask for help.

“Please trust your instincts and report to the police. Specially trained officers and the team at Veritas Justice are here to help and support you.”

Claudia Ortiz, founder of Veritas Justice, says: “ For this National Stalking Awareness Week we are focusing on “Unmasking Stalking” to better understand the changing landscape that stalking victims face as live returns to normal. Now more than ever it is important that stalking victims remain a visible priority by enabling them to access the support and advice they need during the challenging times ahead.

“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 acutely aware that as domestic abuse increases so will stalking, anxiety and isolation. Despite the challenges, we remain committed to continue offering flexible and comprehensive support to those affected by this devastating crime.

“We will continue working with 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.

“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.”

Carl Hall, Deputy Director of Community Development at Interventions Alliance, the group working with Sussex Police and the Police and Crime Commissioner on the Perpetrators project said; “We are pleased to be helping police in Sussex to address the terrible harm caused by stalkers by providing a targeted specialist behaviour change intervention to those subject to a Stalking Protection Order.

“The growing shift towards cyber stalking and it’s reduced visibility highlights the increasingly essential role of Sussex Police and Veritas Justice in their efforts to protect victims of stalking”

Background and detailed advice;

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

Stalking is when someone shows repeated and unwanted attention towards another person. Often when individual incidents are put together they can reveal a pattern of obsessive behaviour.

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 the Sussex Police website to learn more about stalking and harassment and how to report this dangerous and debilitating crime.

For further information on local support services go to Safe Space Sussex

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

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

If you would like further information about stalking or harassment, there are several organisations that specialise in providing advice and support to victims.

Veritas is a local organisation which provides advocacy and support for victims of stalking. Also for details of an online chat facility, delivered by Veritas Justice for victims of stalking to easily reach out for help and advice during this time, go to the Veritas website

The National Stalking Helpline provides advice and guidance to current or previous victims of stalking or harassment and can be contacted on 0808 802 0300.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust provides practical personal safety advice – call them on 020 7091 0014.