Boys aged 11 are stalking women and young girls, according to the first British study carried out into stalking victims.
Psychology experts at Leicester University, which advises the Home Office on stalking behaviour, found that in five out of 95 cases, children and teenagers were the culprits. Their hate campaigns included following the victim, making abusive phone calls and harassing their targets with text messages.
These findings, published next month in the Howard Journal, will put further pressure on the police and the Home Office to tighten laws against stalking behaviour and set up a register for offenders. The Metropolitan Police is already setting up a new squad to target potential murderers as well as stalkers who have the potential to kill.
Leicester University interviewed 87 women and seven men whom they contacted through the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. A quarter of these victims said they had received death threats from stalkers. In the majority of cases, the stalking lasted one year but in 14 cases it has lasted for more than 12 years and in one case the victim had been harassed for 43 years.
Nearly half of those who took part in the survey were unhappy with the way police handled their case. One reported being told by the police to "ignore it".
Lorraine Sheridan of Leicester University, who took part in the research, estimates that one in four women and one in 20 men are stalked at some point in their lives and that anyone could become a victim. "Modern technology such as e-mail and mobile phones are another string to the bow of stalkers," she said.
"Often family and friends make abusive phone calls because stalkers manage to take people into their delusion that they have been wronged by the victim."
Britain did not pass anti-stalking laws until 1997, with the Protection from Harassment Act. The most recent Home Office statistics show that, in 1998, 661 people were cautioned under the harassment laws. Last week, Britain's most notorious stalker was jailed for life after nearly severing his girlfriend's hand when she ended their relationship. Anthony Burstow had already been jailed under the stalking laws for a seven-year campaign of abuse against another woman, Tracey Morgan.
Ms Morgan has now set up the Network for Surviving Stalking and is demanding the Home Office set up a special register for stalkers. "It's mental rape. Just because there are no cuts and bruises doesn't mean it's less serious," she said.Reuse content