In this article, Emily Mercer, a Post Graduate researcher examines the impact of the increasing numbers of hunting folk reporting incidents of stalking and harassment. The author points to strategies so that the impact of these events upon those who follow hounds in any capacity can be reduced dramatically. The author argues that successfully combating these anti-social activities can be effective only if the Police are given the appropriate resources and training to deal with such incidents.
Despite stalking being a prominent concern in our society, this crime is still not being recognised and dealt with appropriately by police forces. Part of the reason for this is that currently in the UK, stalking is not legally defined. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 lists examples of behaviours associated with stalking. This includes following or monitoring a person; non-consensual communication; implied threats, and interfering with property. These behaviours must be “repeated incidents” and should “cause a reasonable person fear” to classify as stalking. In 2019 there was a 28% increase in stalking and harassment incidents reported in the UK compared to the previous year, suggesting the crime is on the rise. The implications of this are of increasing relevance to those who follow hounds due to the recent surge of saboteur incidents.
Consider this scenario… an individual receives threats via social media for their hunting activities. This them escalates to the presence of masked perpetrators waiting day and night outside their house who photograph their family regularly. The family then discover a tracking device fitted to one or more of their vehicles. The individual fears for their family. Police attend and CCTV is installed, but no other action has been taken.
Contrary to popular belief, stalking is not always about unrequited love. In fact, it is often about power and control. In the above scenario, the perpetrators would classify as ‘political’ stalkers – attempting to elicit a change of behaviour, rather than seeking a personal relationship, from their victims. They utilise the threat of violence to force victims to refrain from engaging in a particular activity, such as hunting. Which poses the question – why has no action been taken against them?
Police often tell victims of stalking that, without sufficient evidence, or identification of the perpetrator, they cannot act. Frequently, the lack of action is because stalking is not perceived as a serious crime – perhaps due to the belief that “victims make a fuss over nothing” or “there is no real danger until it gets physical”. Perceptions are key in determining whether a pattern of behaviours constitutes stalking and whether victims of the crime will be taken seriously since it is often based on whether victims identify their own experiences, and police identify other individual’s experiences, as stalking. Unfortunately, the vague legal definition of stalking means there is a lack of distinction between stalking and harassment, and therefore police often lack the training to have a full understanding of what stalking is (e.g., the incidents are treated in isolation rather than linked together), the associated risk factors and the harm it can cause (e.g., depression, anxiety, PTSD).
A standard response to online stalking (e.g., threats over the internet), is the advice to “come off social media”. This mirrors the police response to recent sexual assaults in Lincoln. When the extent of police action was to female students not to walk alone at night. In both cases, the focus is on the victim’s behaviour and asking them to change the way they live their lives, rather than taking action against the perpetrator. Although it is accepted that with the current ambiguous explanations provided it is difficult to establish the line between nuisance and malicious behaviour the failure to identify and act upon the pattern of behaviours that characterise stalking can have serious adverse consequences for victims.
The solution to this problem is a simple one: education – for both the general public and the police on what constitutes stalking and when to act. Despite the recent progress made with the implementation of ‘Stalking Protection Orders’ they should be supported by suitable training. All criminal justice workers should be trained to able to recognise patterns of behaviours and the malicious intent that accompanies stalking. Furthermore, the rate at which technology is evolving and being used by perpetrators almost “legitimises” stalking (e.g., purchasing a tracking device online is effortless and inexpensive), and legislation has not adapted effectively. Therefore, police who have the training and aptitude to tackle online offences should handle the challenge of investigating and prosecuting these crimes.
While we would appreciate police taking action in stalking cases, without further education, progress may be limited. Victims of such attacks should: – educate themselves on the crime, gather evidence of the perpetrator’s actions, (e.g., photos, diary of incidents, objects they leave), inform the police, document any keep any correspondence, and confide in a friend/neighbour.
It would be ideal if the obstacles confronted in the hunting field were the only ones we had to face but remember, it is better to be safe than sorry.