Leicester psychologist discusses new stalking legislation

As tougher judicial guidelines on the sentencing of stalking offences are introduced for the first time in the UK, Dr Lynsey Gozna, a psychologist specialising in risk and public protection in the Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour, has discussed the issue in an interview with BBC Radio Leicester.

In the UK, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are stalked at least once in their lifetime and guidelines for sentencing the offence have been introduced for judges for the first time.

In the interview, Dr Gozna said that: “Stalking comes under the banner of intimidatory offences with links to domestic violence, coercive control, harassment, and the disclosing of private sexual images, otherwise known as revenge porn.

“It is an area people do not have a great understanding of. People often think of celebrities and those with a high public profile but what stalking really amounts to is persistent and unwanted attention.

“It is about causing alarm and distress to somebody and it can, when it moves into more extreme levels, put somebody in fear of violence.”

Dr Gozna explained that the majority of cases of stalking, accounting to half of all reported incidents in the UK, can be described as ‘ex-partner stalking’: “The majority of stalking happens to people in the process of a break up of a relationship and this can link to a history of domestic abuse and other controlling aspects of a relationship.”

A second category of stalking offences looks at those people who become infatuated with a victim, although Dr Gozna said that these incidents are often less concerning and can be dealt with relatively easily, often relating to a mid-life or youthful unrequited interest in someone.

Dr Gozna further explained: “In other cases we see people who could have mental health issues and could become fixated on somebody. This could be the result of perceiving they have been wronged in some way and have an angry disposition toward the victim or by becoming infatuated with somebody perceiving they are in a relationship with the victim. This can relate to the targeting of those in public office, celebrities or professionals in public services."

A much more concerning area of stalking is what Dr Gozna described as ‘sadistic stalking’: “When people may not know their victims personally but see them as something for spoiling – where they find a victim and want to take them on a course of behaviour to really try to destroy that person’s life. In addition, this can also be someone who is targeted purely because there is no reason for this, leaving the victim wondering why such negative acts are happening to them."

Stalking can cause a huge psychological and emotional impact on the lives of victims. Dr Gozna explained: “People can fear for their safety, they may have to change their routines and usual behaviours. The impact is also psychological because people can be in fear of violence, particularly from ex-partners.”

Dr Gozna suggested that: “Sentencing guidelines have allowed judges more flexibility and the maximum sentence has been increased form 5 years to ten years, and from 7 to 14 years in more aggravating cases.

“However, the biggest problem with stalking is ensuring that people report it to the police and that their complaints are dealt with in a way that they understand what is happening and they get the correct support.

“Stopping stalking depends on the individual offender. We have to be aware of protecting victims, not only when the offence is happening but also when the offender is released from prison.”