New legislation was introduced to Northern Ireland in April 2022 which criminalised stalking for the first time. Since then the Police Service of Northern Ireland has arrested 88 alleged stalkers and charged 47.
Today, 24th April, marks the beginning of National Stalking Awareness Week and the one year anniversary of stalking legislation going live across Northern Ireland. Throughout this week Police will be working with partners to raise awareness of this crime type and encourage more victims to come forward.
District breakdown of arrests:
Belfast – 20
Newry Mourne & Down – 15
Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon – 9
Antrim & Newtownabbey – 9
Derry City & Strabane – 8
Causeway Coast & Glens – 5
Mid Ulster – 6
Lisburn & Castlereagh – 4
Ards & North Down – 4
Fermanagh & Omagh – 4
Mid & East Antrim – 4
Detective Superintendent Lindsay Fisher from the Service’s Public Protection Branch said: “We are asking the public to not ignore the red flags. If someone’s behaviour towards you is fixated, obsessive, unwanted and repeated, this is stalking.
“I think many people when they hear the word ‘stalking’ will think of someone lurking in the shadows. Stalking can actually take many forms and can be online as well as in person and could be someone known to you or a complete stranger.
“It is an insidious crime that takes over and destroys lives. Statistics show that people will suffer up to 100 incidents before reporting to Police. It often results in fear, trauma and a reduction in the victim’s quality of life, in some tragic cases it has resulted in murder.
“We don’t want victims to suffer in silence. Stalking is a crime, which will not be tolerated or accepted within our communities. Over 4,500 officers and staff have now been trained to recognise and respond to these crimes and we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to bring offenders to justice.”
Stalking victims from Northern Ireland have anonymously shared how they have been affected, they said:
“My stalker took away my feeling of freedom. Living with looking over my shoulder, at times fearing for my life.”
“On one occasion I had 155 WhatsApp messages in a few hours and was also receiving messages on two other platforms (phone messages and Facebook messenger) at the same time. With calls between.”
“One night, although he was 15 miles away, music started playing through the Bose sound system in my house. He did this through the Spotify app and then selected which device he wanted to play it on. I woke in the middle of the night to music playing, significant songs from our wedding etc. It was terrifying as I thought he was in the house and I’d no idea how it was happening.”
Sarah Mason, CEO of Women’s Aid Federation NI said: “Women’s Aid had long campaigned and greatly welcomed the introduction of specific stalking legislation here in Northern Ireland last year, as we are very clear of the direct links between Domestic Abuse and Stalking, often making leaving a coercively controlling relationship very difficult.
“Many of the women we support would often experience stalking behaviours from their perpetrator as they try to break free from the abusive relationship.
“Now that stalking is a specific offence in Northern Ireland, we expect to see many more perpetrators charged under this new offence as the knowledge of the law change becomes more common amongst the public.”
The Police Service of Northern Ireland have outlined stalking and harassment behaviours to look out for on their website here.
Red flags of a stalker may include:
• Regularly following someone and tracking their movements
• Repeatedly going uninvited to their home or workplace
• Checking someone’s internet use, email or other communications
• Hanging around somewhere they know the person often visits
•Interfering with their property
•Watching or spying on someone
•Identity theft (buying things in someone’s name)
If you are experiencing any of the above or worried about a loved one who may be being stalking – report to the Police via 101 or call 999 in an emergency.
There is also other help and support available to you:
National Stalking Helpline
Practical advice and information to anyone who is currently or previously has been affected by harassment or stalking.
Phone: 0808 8020300