Suzy Lamplugh Trust: Research Shows Intent Behind Stalking is an Indicator for Future Violence and Should be Investigated at Early Stages to Prevent Domestic Homicides
The results of a six-month study by the Homicide Research Group at the University of Gloucestershire suggest there is a strong correlation between some key stalking behaviours and homicide, and that identifying the intention behind the stalking, and then managing the fixation, may reveal opportunities to save lives.
Research into more than 350 cases of criminal homicide highlighted the following:
Stalking behaviours were present in 94% of the cases
Surveillance activity, including covert watching, was recorded in 63% of the cases (estimated to be much higher in reality as the victim is unaware)
Escalation of concerning behaviours was identified in 79% of the cases
Control was recorded in 92% of the cases
Isolation of the victim was recorded in 78% of cases
Acknowledged high risk action markers were present across the sample. For example: strangulation assault 24%, threats to kill 55%, suicidal threats 23% (estimate the presence of these markers could be much higher due to underreporting).
Diverse activities like court actions were not recognised as stalking.
Coercive control and stalking were more often simultaneously present where there has been an intimate partner relationship. This type of relationship formed 71% of our sample.
Threats to kill occurred in 55% of cases, and in some cases the threat was articulated to third parties as well as the victim.
85% of homicides occurred in the victim's home.
The lead researcher, Dr Jane Monckton Smith, a former police officer, now a senior lecturer in criminology at University of Gloucestershire, found that in almost every case the killer displayed the obsessive, fixated behaviour associated with stalking. The academic has teamed up with Suzy Lamplugh Trust, the UK's longest-standing personal safety charity, to call on the professionals across the Criminal Justice System to review their approach to assessing risk, so that the 1.1 million people that are victims of stalking every year can be offered greater protection.
Dr Monckton Smith commented, "Practically every case we looked at featured examples of the obsessive, fixated behaviour that typifies stalking. Sadly, it is too late for the women and children that formed part of our research so we need to do justice to their memory by acting earlier, when stalkers are demonstrating these behaviours, rather than waiting for the escalation, which can have such profound and tragic results. Understanding the motivation behind these behaviours, and the risk that they present, is profoundly important."
Suzy Lamplugh Trust runs the National Stalking Helpline and hears how frequently these behaviours are experienced, and how the police and CPS fail to consider them as part of a wider threat because they are instead too focused on the current incident reported. They believe that it is very important that these behaviours are recognised by the courts as being indicators of a broader problem and pattern of behaviour. Rachel Griffin, Chief Executive at the Suzy Lamplugh Trust said, "Stalking is an obsession which can increase in risk and severity and needs to be addressed under an early intervention model. Acting on what are currently considered to be minor, unrelated incidents, but which are driven by a malicious intent which could later put the victim at great risk, could help to save lives."
Stalking is often motivated by a need to assert control or to have a presence in someone's life against their wishes. This type of behaviour could present itself in acts as simple as rearranging a victim's garden furniture, sending unwanted gifts, loitering on the pavement outside their house, or even calling social services to maliciously report 'poor' parenting. Despite not presenting an immediate physical risk, it is behaviours like these that were found frequently in Dr Monckton Smith's research, which demonstrate a fixation, and should raise a flag with whoever is investigating.
Superintendent Simon Atkinson from the Public Protection Bureau at Gloucestershire Police Constabulary comments, "Stalking is estimated to affect 1 in 5 women and 1 in 12 men during their lifetime in the UK. We know that stalking is still significantly underreported and there is a need to ensure all services can identify and respond effectively to stalking to protect people and improve public confidence. As part of this whole system approach we see the stalking clinic best practice model as a vital element to early identification and intervention and are working closely with the Hollie Gazzard Trust in Gloucestershire to make that happen."
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust sees how early intervention is critical in handling a stalking obsession before it takes a grip and becomes something that can ruin many people's lives - including the victims' friends and family, as well as potentially extending this type of behaviour to further victims. Victims often report to the helpline that custodial sentences alone are not sufficient if the fixation and obsession is not addressed, as the behaviour can simply continue from prison or on release. The charity is currently working with three police forces and NHS Trusts to pilot intervention programmes that focus on the fixation of the stalker. This may include in some cases a therapeutic treatment programme aimed at reducing the frequency of stalkers' behaviour.
Rachel Griffin added, "To see these changes being put into action, we need real commitment from criminal justice professionals to ensure that the intention driving the behaviour is examined and assessed for threat, and that these seemingly 'harmless actions' are seen for what they are and given the attention they deserve."
Actions that should be taken if you or someone you know is on the receiving end of these behaviours:
Call the police on 101, or 999 in an emergency
Call the National Stalking Helpline 0808 802 0300
Go online to http://www.suzylamplugh.org to read more about stalking behaviours and their impact.