The related legal problems and the ambiguous definition of stalking have been an ongoing issue for victims of such crimes. The Protection from Harrasment Act 1997 has been largely ineffective in prosecuting stalkers, while police still seem to fail to respond appropriately to complaints of stalking.
Forms of harrassment can be very complex issues and can be both direct and indirect. There is also an increasing problem of online harrasment and cyber bullying which can be anonymous, making it difficult to trace the perpetrator. Due to the nature of these crimes they can be notoriously difficult to prosecute. This is not only due to the lack of clear and defined legislation, but also the inaction of the police, who often fail to take stalking seriously.
David Cameron is expected to announce that he will be backing a change in the law, making stalking a criminal offence. He is planning to use this Thursday – International Women’s Day – to make the announcement. The significance of trying to make this a women’s issue seems a little misguided however, as stalking does not only affect women. Women can be both victims and perpetrators in these crimes, as can men. Although women have to deal with safety concerns on a daily basis, stalking should not be labelled as an issue relating to a particular sex.
For some this change in the law has come too late. A notable, high profile case has been that of Clare Bernal, killed by her ex boyfriend after he had stalked her for some time. She had reported him to the police several times, however nothing was done. Without a change in the law it has been difficult for the police to address stalking as a crime because the only existing statute is unclear. These cases are often underreported, the main reason this particular case hit the headlines was because the murder was carried out in a department store in central London.
It is yet to be seen whether this law will be an effective tool with which to address stalking. However, the police do need to approach stalking as a serious problem and provide support for victims, whether they are male or female. This is not exclusively a women’s issue, it would be absurd to claim that only women were affected. After a long wait, stalking seems to have become a subject for public debate. Making such an announcement on International Women’s Day will bring the discussion of stalking into the public sphere, which is welcome, but it will falsely label it as a women’s issue. This would be misrepresentative of the range of people it actually affects, stalking is a serious concern and it is something anyone could be faced with regardless of their sex.