Reports of stalking have doubled in Gloucestershire in just one year.
A total of 77 cases of stalking were recorded by police across the county in 2017, up from 27 the previous year. The Forest of Dean saw 17 reports, up from three. In Cheltenham, 25 cases were recorded, compared to 10 in 2016, while cases in Tewkesbury rose from one to seven. Gloucestershire police said 13 of the county’s complainants feared becoming the victims of a violent attack and 34 cases involved serious alarm or distress.
Those numbers do not include cases with higher crime classifications where stalking was also investigated. Police believe the problem is still either under-reported or under-recorded, though attempts have been made to address this.
What has changed since Hollie’s death?
Nick Gazzard said: “Stalking is about fixation and obsession, and is one of the most frequently experienced forms of abuse. It is a serious crime which can destroy the lives of victims. No-one should be afraid or embarrassed to come forward if they feel they are being harassed or stalked.”
Gloucester MP Richard Graham and Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk were among those who successfully campaigned for the maximum sentence for stalking to be raised from five to ten years, which happened in January last year.
Mr Chalk believes more needs to be done to combat the problem. He said: “Stalking is a horrible, violating crime which can destroy lives, and so I want to see analysis done into what is behind this concerning spike. The vital work done by Gloucestershire’s Hollie Gazzard Trust and our local police may have prompted more victims to have come forward, confident that this behaviour will no longer be treated as a joke. But social media provides ever-greater opportunities for sinister cyber-stalking, and we need to establish what role new technologies are playing.”
The agencies fighting stalking
Gloucestershire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Martin Surl says he has worked with the Hollie Gazzard Trust and police to tackle the issue. He said: “An Independent Stalking Advocacy Case Worker (ISAC) was recruited and funded through the Hollie Gazzard Trust to identify people who are most at risk.”
The ISAC is a member of a ‘stalking clinic’ which includes representatives from the police, probation service, Crown Prosecution Service and other agencies.
“It is a multi-agency approach that not only recognises those most at risk, but also identifies perpetrators most likely to pose a threat of violence. Originally launched as a six-month pilot, the trial period was extended to a year to enable three university students to evaluate its worth. The clinic will be assessed on what difference it has made to those most at risk, the service it provides to victims and how successful it has been in raising awareness amongst the police.”
How can we make ourselves safer?
Gloucestershire Constabulary’s sexual violence strategic coordinator Sophie Jarrett says there are steps you can take to increase your safety. She said: “You should always contact the police if you feel you are being stalked and in any immediate danger. To support your report to the police, you should aim to keep a diary of what is happening and collect evidence such as keeping any messages or gifts you receive. To increase your own safety, try to vary your daily routine when travelling to or from work, home other places you go to regularly. Check security at home. You might like to consider a camera, alarm or changing locks. If you’re being followed in a car, drive to an area where there is lots of CCTV.”
Ms Jarrett has urged anyone who has concerns to always know where the nearest safe location is, and tell people at home and work what is happening.
The free personal safety smartphone app has continued to grow in numbers since being introduced. The downloads are heading towards 20,000 users with organisations such as Cleveland Police using the app to help with stalking and domestic abuse victims when trying to give them a sense of living their life. The app has not only been developed for victims, but more as a safety device for anyone travelling alone, whether to and from school or work. The app will track your planned route and alert an emergency contact if the danger setting has been activated. In addition, the app can act as a deterrent to perpetrators by sounding an alarm, flashing lights and recording information immediately, which is stored externally.For more information on how to download see our Hollie Guard page on the website.
What is the Trust Doing Now?
Nick is currently undertaking numerous sessions with organisations both in Gloucestershire and throughout the UK to deliver training to help companies look after their staff and inform them of what they can do to help victims. Often victims are stalked or abused using company equipment, such as mobile phones or emails, or even see employee behaviours change which may indicate they are suffering from stalking or abuse away from work. This might range from lateness, unexpected time off, withdrawal from colleagues or changing bank details for salary payments. The training is not only aimed at senior management level, the ‘Intervention Initiative’ is another project being delivered to aid anyone of the ways they can spot the signs of domestic abuse, coercive control or stalking, and how you can make a difference safely and without making the situation worse for the victims.
Nick said: ”Since Hollie’s death our sole aim has been to make a difference to others who might find themselves in the unfortunate situation that Hollie found herself in. Knowing what we know now, we may have been able to prevent Hollie’s needless death so by administering the knowledge we have gained to others we know we can make a difference.”