One in five young women falling victim to stalkers

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The Independent Online

Almost a million adults a year are preyed upon by stalkers, the Home Office reported yesterday after a national study of the problem.

Almost a million adults a year are preyed upon by stalkers, the Home Office reported yesterday after a national study of the problem.

Women aged between 16 and 19 were most at risk, with nearly one in five reporting "persistent or unwanted attention" from another person.

The types of stalking reported ranged from forced sexual acts to silent phone calls and waiting outside the house or workplace of the victim.

The Home Office said that of the 880,000 people who were stalked, more than half had experienced violence or the fear of violence from their attackers.

Despite the number of victims, the Home Office concluded that the problem was "not widespread" although it conceded that "risks are worryingly high among certain groups - particularly young women".

The Home Office report, which was based on responses by members of the public to the British Crime Survey of 1998, used a wide definition of stalking, which included instances where victims had been "forced to talk" to someone against their will or had received unwanted letters or cards.

Women were found to be more at risk, with 4 per cent claiming to have been stalking victims compared with 1.7 per cent of men. Women aged 16 to 19 were most at risk, with 16.8 per cent claiming to have suffered the attention of a stalker during the past year. The figure dropped to 7.8 per cent in the 20-24 age group. Students were particularly vulnerable, with 12.4 per cent saying they had been preyed upon.

Male offenders were responsible for 90 per cent of the stalking incidents involving women victims and for 57 per cent of incidents against men.

Strangers were involved in 34 per cent of cases, while partners or former partners were responsible for 29 per cent. In the remaining cases, the stalker was an acquaintance.

The Home Office report found that 49 per cent of stalkers tried to talk to victims against their will, 45 per cent used silent phone calls and 39 per cent followed them.

One-third of stalkers waited outside the victim's home or workplace; 34 per cent actually touched or grabbed their victim.

For men, the most common forms of intimidation were being forced to talk, silent phone calls and being threatened with violence.

The stalking often took place over a long period of time, with 26 per cent of victims saying they were preyed upon for between one and three months and 19 per cent saying they were stalked for more than a year. Seven out of ten victims said the stalking had forced them to change their behaviour.

Many victims of stalking preferred not to seek the protection of the law, with onequarter of victims writing off the incident as "just something that happens". Even among those victims who considered that a criminal offence had taken place, 44 per cent decided not to involve the police.

Of those who did seek police help, 35 per cent said they were dissatisfied with the way they were treated.