Non-violent stalking can cause lasting psychological damage to victims and should be treated as seriously as domestic abuse by the criminal justice system, according to new research.
More than 125 stalking victims from across Scotland were asked to detail their experiences as part of a survey by Glasgow Caledonian University.
The actions of their stalker had an impact on all aspects of their lives, from their mental and physical health to employment and social life.
Victims reported suicide attempts, anxiety, depression, a loss of confidence and feelings of isolation. Some changed jobs and moved house after being targeted.
Stalking behaviours ranged from sexual assault, harassment, and threats of violence, to spying, remote surveillance, making unwanted phone calls, sending unwanted notes or letters, texts, emails and social media messages.
Katy Proctor, lecturer in criminology and policing at GCU, who carried out the study, believes designated task forces and specialist courts should be set up to handle stalking in all its forms.
Ms Proctor said: "There’s a danger that by focusing solely on the physical risk posed by violent stalkers, it allows those who cause emotional damage to continue their behaviour.
“If we are to support and protect victims of stalking effectively, the justice system needs to recognise the potential of non-violent offenders to cause significant and long-lasting harm.”
Of the 128 victims who took part in the survey, 87% were stalked by someone who was known to them. Around one in three, 34%, were targeted by a partner or an ex-partner, 24% were stalked by an acquaintance and 11% by a work colleague. Three in four of those who took part, 76%, were women who were stalked by men.
Less than half, 49%, of those surveyed reported their concerns to Police Scotland.
Asked how being victimised made them feel, 83% said they felt they may have done something to trigger the behaviour and 77% said they felt shame.
Ms Proctor said: “It is important to stress that victims are in no way responsible. Non-delusional stalking is about power and control, similar to domestic abuse. It's a conscious decision made by the perpetrator, they are not out of control.
“If we accept that power and control are fundamental to stalking, then it becomes apparent why perpetrators deliberately make their targets aware of being stalked.”
Experts are calling for specialist training to be rolled out throughout the criminal justice system to recognise stalking can take place across all relationship types.
National Stalking Awareness Week, which runs from Monday, April 8, to Friday, April 12, will this year focus on the impact stalking has on victims’ mental and emotional health.
A social media campaign, entitled #StalkingStealsLives, will aim to raise awareness amongst health professionals of the seriousness of stalking.