A group of MPs and Lords say that stalking should be made a specific criminal offence.
Stalkers can only be prosecuted under harassment law at present, a system which the parliamentary inquiry said was not fit for purpose.
Elfyn Llwyd MP in his foreword to the report described stalking as a hidden crime that “rips relationships apart and shatters lives” and is often under reported because victims fear they will not be taken seriously.
“Too many victims receive little or no support from the criminal justice system while sentencing practices mean perpetrators receive insufficient punishment for the damage they have caused,” Llwyd said.
“It is unacceptable that the attitudes of many working in the criminal justice system and society towards stalking remain in the dark ages. ‘Stalking’ is, for many, a joke, and victims are ‘lucky to get the attention’. The reality is very different, as the victims’ brave and traumatic evidence reminded us.”
According to the report, there are 120,000 cases of stalking per year, with 53,000 of these recorded as crimes by the police. Only 2 per cent end in a custodial sentence, however.
Laura Richards of campaign group Protection Against Stalking says that stalking is not a new phenomenon. “Cases are more common than people think and more dangerous than is currently appreciated – and it is only set to increase, particularly given technological advances,” she said in a statement.
“It is time we recognised stalking as a crime, along with ensuring professionals are adequately trained, that specialist advocates are available to support victims and that perpetrators are put before the courts and treated for it.”
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of union Napo, said it was high time that England and Wales followed Scotland’s lead, where stalking is already a crime. He said that a massive rise in the number of prosecutions followed the change in the law in Scotland.
“If police, probation, and prison officers in England and Wales knew that an individual before them had been convicted of stalking they would take into account that conduct and take measures to prevent the stalking behaviour continuing,” Fletcher said in a statement.
The Home Office says it will carefully consider the results of the inquiry.