Police have introduced new measures to combat stalking in Northern Ireland including home address checks, exclusion zones and social media contact, the PSNI has announced.
The Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs), which the PSNI can seek from Magistrates, came into effect today and are designed to better protect victims of stalking or anyone connected to the crime.
They include prohibiting perpetrators from contacting, by any means, directly or indirectly, the named person on the order including in person, calls, letters, emails, messages and on social media.
Subjects can also be prohibited from publishing any material, or making reference to any material already published, which references, refers or relates to the victim either directly or indirectly.
Exclusions zones are also included in the new powers, which means those subjected to an order will be prohibited from entering into an agreed exclusion zone, be that an area within the town or further afield. This includes where their victim works, usual routes taken for example, and walking children to school.
Officers will also now have access to the home address for the purposes of conducting risk assessments as well as subjects having to re-register their home address every year, or if of no fixed address, having to attend a police station every week.
Legislation which criminalised stalking for the first time in Northern Ireland was introduced last April. Since the introduction of the new laws, the Police Service of Northern Ireland has arrested 230 alleged stalkers and charged 119.
Detective Superintendent Lindsay Fisher, from the PSNI’s Public Protection Branch, welcomed the new powers.
She said: “This new resource really helps us to protect victims. We are already seeing positive policing in this area with alleged offenders being arrested weekly.
“We continue to raise awareness and encourage victims to come forward with the knowledge that we now have 5,000 officers and staff trained to recognise and respond and that they take all reports seriously.
“The operationalisation of SPOs now allows our officers to take swift and decisive action, putting restrictions in place and enforcing breaches, treating them as criminal offences.
“Our readiness to take action in this way we hope will have a hugely positive effect on the confidence people have in coming forward, knowing that in Northern Ireland we take stalking incredibly seriously.
“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.
“It is a pattern of behaviours that is fixated, obsessive, unwanted and repeated.
“We now have another tool in our armour to protect victims from this debilitating and dangerous crime.”
One victim who shared their ordeal with the PSNI said their stalker took away their freedom and they were harassed on social media.
In comments released by the PSNI 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 in between.”Tags: