If you are being stalked or harassed during the pandemic, this is what Sussex Police says you should do

Sussex Police has released a host of advice on what people targeted by stalking or harassment can do during the current pandemic.

According to the force, statistics show that one in six women and one in 12 men will experience stalking nationally, but this is believed to be grossly underestimated.

And when they become victims, they tend not to report to the police until the 100th incident.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

Sussex Police and the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner are reminding people of assistance and advice available in addition to expert investigation, in support of National Stalking Awareness Week, 20-24 April, 'See Stalking Clearly', which has an added focus on cyber and online stalking, especially during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Sussex Police

For those affected by stalking, current isolation as a result of Covid-19 may mean an increase in stalking online and special advice has been issued by Sussex Police.

The Sussex-based stalking support agency Veritas Justice has seen an increase in reports of online stalking over the past few weeks, which is thought to relate to the current lockdown and isolation as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak. Help and support from Veritas is available online and on the phone at 01273 234773.

For details of a new online chat facility, funded by the Sussex Police Crime and Commissioner (SPCC) and delivered by Veritas Justice for victims of stalking to easily reach out for help and advice during this time, go to the Veritas website and to the SPCC website.

But always report stalking to the police, who are ready to respond to calls and help victims.

Police are already advising and supporting more stalking victims than ever. As the second highest recorder of stalking offences after the Metropolitan Police, reports in Sussex are up by more than 100% in just three years, with more victims feeling confident to come forward to report offences.

The force recorded 1005 stalking offences in the 12 months to March 2018, 1547 in the 12 months to 31 March 2019, and 2020 in the 12 months to 31 March 2020.

Detective Chief Inspector Mick Richards said: “We are committed to continually improving our understanding of stalking and harassment and our response to it.

"We have improved training for officers and staff and ensured specialists are on hand across the county to offer advice and support on a daily basis to keep people safe and feeling safe. We want victims to be confident and know we will take all reports seriously."

As soon as a new law came into effect in January this year, Sussex was the first force in the country to secure court Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs), which run for a minimum of two years. The force has already secured eight SPOs and applications for a further five are due to be heard by courts in Sussex by the end of April. These Orders equip police with valuable powers to better protect victims or anyone connected with them in stalking cases. Significantly, SPOs enable police to enforce both prohibitions and/or specific requirements.

Mick Richards adds; "During the current #Covid-19 pandemic your safety online is particularly important and there are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself.

"In particular, don’t be tempted to 'block' your caller, delete messages or throw away gifts as they could be used as evidence later on. This might include audio recordings, films or pictures, copies of emails, text messages, screenshots and similar material. You can also keep a log of all the incidents that have occurred.

"Always report it. Getting help early will assist in protecting you. This can be done by contacting us online, by calling 101, or 999 in an emergency.

#NSAW2020 #SeeStalkingClearly"

Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne, said: "The theme for this week is ‘See Stalking Clearly’ and it’s very pertinent, especially during this crisis, that we all do start to see and take seriously these types of crimes.

“The rise in cyberstalking due to the ‘lockdown’ concerns me deeply. We know all too well that this behaviour causes extreme distress and can unfortunately escalate quickly.

“The severity of risk to a victim is now defined by the amount of time invested by the perpetrator in their obsession. So, with many victims receiving over 100 text messages/emails/phone calls a day, we know that these strong fixations could have a more sinister outcome.

“If you are experiencing behaviour that is Fixated, Obsessive, Unwanted or Repeated, then you are being stalked. It is a crime and you will be taken seriously when you ask for help. Please still report to the police and reach out to the team at Veritas Justice, they will both continue to be there for you whenever you need them.”

Claudia Ortiz, founder of Veritas Justice, says: “ For this National Stalking Awareness Week we are focusing on “Seeing Stalking Clearly”. More than ever it is important that stalking victims remain a visible priority during this crisis by enabling them to access the support and advice they need during these challenging times.

"We are already seeing an even more significant shift to cyber and online stalking behaviours, which are having a very negative impact on individuals and families, we are acutely aware that as domestic abuse increases so will stalking, anxiety and isolation, so we hope that the online chat facility will offer additional and flexible support to those affected by this devastating crime.

"Stalkers will continue stalking during lockdown and we will continue working with clients and partners to adapt to the changing landscape. We want to reassure victims that we are still here for them, you don't have to suffer in silence, check out website and chat to us https://veritas-justice.co.uk

"We would like to acknowledge our police partners who continue to respond to stalking incidents in unprecedented circumstances and also thank Katy Bourne and her office for their commitment to improve the lives of victims of stalking."

Here is the police's detailed advice on what to do if you are being stalked or harassed:

If you are being stalked or harassed it is important that you report it. Stalkers are fixated and obsessive offenders who will not stop.

Stalking is when someone shows repeated and unwanted attention towards another person. Often when individual incidents are put together they can reveal a pattern of obsessive behaviour.

Stalking is a crime that is distressing and malicious and is something no one should have to put up with.

Think FOUR. Is the behaviour;

F – fixated

O – obsessive

U – unwanted

R - repeated

Visit the Sussex Police website to learn more about stalking and harassment and how to report this dangerous and debilitating crime.

For further information on local support services go to Safe Space Sussex

You can report stalking or harassment online or by calling 101 or in person at your local police station.

But always call 999 if you are in danger. Our officers and staff will undertake a risk assessment and focus on keeping you safe.

If you would like further information about stalking or harassment, there are several organisations that specialise in providing advice and support to victims.

Veritas is a local organisation which provides advocacy and support for victims of stalking.

The National Stalking Helpline provides advice and guidance to current or previous victims of stalking or harassment and can be contacted on 0808 802 0300.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust provides practical personal safety advice - call them on 020 7091 0014.

A message from the Editor, Gary Shipton:

In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news, I am asking you to please purchase a copy of our newspapers.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspapers.

Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.

Stay safe, and best wishes.