Thousands of stalking crimes have been recorded in Avon and Somerset in recent years – but few victims will see their stalkers punished, figures suggest.
Home Office data shows police forces across England and Wales recorded nearly 100,000 stalking crimes in 2020-21.
Of those, 2,805 were investigated by Avon and Somerset Constabulary.
The force has recorded 7,289 such offences since records began in 2014-15, including 1,703 between April and September last year – the latest available figures.
Nationally, 98,544 stalking offences were reported to police in 2020-21 – the first year of new guidance requiring all cases of harassment reported between ex-partners to be recorded as stalking, unless the police were satisfied stalking was not a factor.
In comparison, there were 33,006 stalking crimes the previous year.
Forces across England and Wales had already recorded 60,000 offences in the six months to September 2021.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for stalking and harassment, Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, said improved police response, increased reporting and more understanding of the extent of stalking behaviour had contributed to the national rise in recorded crimes.
But the Suzy Lamplugh Trust says while recent changes in law and procedures may have influenced the stark rise, stalking remains significantly underreported.
The anti-stalking charity and the NPCC have urged victims to report their "life-changing" experiences and access support.
However, separate figures show that many victims whose cases are investigated are unlikely to see justice done.
In January 2020, the Government introduced Stalking Protection Orders, which place conditions on a stalker’s behaviour and allow police to intervene early to protect victims.
Figures which only cover the first year of the new powers show Avon and Somerset Constabulary applied for six SPOs. In that time, between one and five were issued, along with six interim orders, which can be made pending the outcome of a full application if there’s an immediate risk of harm.
One application might lead to more than one order being applied, the Home Office cautioned.
Different Home Office figures show that 2,292 – 85% – of stalking cases closed by the force during 2020-21 were dropped due to difficulties gathering evidence, while just 110 (4%) resulted in a charge or summons.
DCC Mills said the NPCC was working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service to improve criminal justice outcomes for victims, adding: "Stalking and harassment are serious crimes which can have a devastating effect on the lives of victims and their friends and family.
"The police service is committed to doing everything possible to bring offenders to justice."
Violet Alvarez, from the Suzi Lamplugh Trust, said the charity was dealing with more distressed clients requiring greater support since the outbreak of Covid-19.
She said calls to the National Stalking Helpline and reports of cyberstalking had increased, adding: "Stalking is an incredibly prevalent crime with one in five women and one in 10 men experiencing stalking in their lifetimes."
A Home Office spokeswoman added: "The Government takes its response to stalking extremely seriously, and we have tripled our funding to the National Stalking Helpline, introduced SPOs and doubled the maximum sentence for stalking from five to ten years."
The spokeswoman said systems were being improved to enable frontline agencies to work together to prevent potential stalkers from harming people.