Do the new stalking laws show we are taking this crime seriously?
All too often victims of stalking are not believed or their fears are brushed off – which in turn makes them less likely to come forward "One of the things stalkers do," explains Alexis Bowater, chief executive of the Network for Surviving Stalking (NSS), "is wrap their victims in a cloak of darkness and make then feel no one will believe them." Bowater should know – in 2009 a then 25-year-old man called Alexander Reevewas jailed after launching a sustained stalking campaign against her. The former ITV newsreader was sent more than 50 emails with violent and sexual content, some threatening her and her unborn child, and even fake bomb threats. She feared she was being followed home, and installed a panic button in her house. Today her persecutor is out of jail, but Bowater still considers herself lucky. "I had an excellent police force, CPS and a fantastic judge – they understood the crime." Too often, she says, victims of stalking are not believed or their fears are brushed off. This could be set to change after new legislation was introduced this week, which makes stalking a specific offence for the first time. Previously, such behaviour was dealt with under existing harrassment laws – the same legislation, Bowater points out, that covered neighbour disputes. This, she says, "led to confusion among victims, but also police officers, in properly identifying the crime. One of the big problems is encouraging victims to come forward. Some wait until they have experienced 100 incidents of unwanted behaviour before reporting them. Then they can find it hard to be taken seriously when they go to the police. Stalking leads to serious crimes such as rape and murder but it was being lumped in with disputes over hedges." Part of the problem, she says, is the fact that stalkers are too often seen as rejected suitors rather than criminals. "We are socialised through romantic films to think that the guy...
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