By Ross Deuchar

THERE will be many lasting effects following the Covid-19 pandemic, but one which many wouldn’t think about is an increase in stalking behaviour. A recent report by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust identifies that there has been a significant increase in the intensity and frequency of stalking across the UK since the pandemic began.

During the first national lockdown, some stalkers used their allowed daily exercise time to follow or monitor their victims, and capitalised on the use of masks to aid their anonymity. In Scotland, the throughcare support service offered by the charity, Action Against Stalking, has seen more than a 30 per cent increase in the number of victims seeking support during, and as a result of, lockdown measures.

Stalking is a relatively new concept in criminal law, and there’s currently no overall consensus on how to best define it legally, clinically or academically.

Stalking behaviours can sometimes appear innocuous, but when pieced together, demonstrate a course of conduct intended to terrify and intimidate. This might involve sending unwanted letters, cards or gifts, unwanted emails, text messages or posts on social media; making unwanted telephone calls; waiting outside someone’s home or workplace; sharing intimate pictures of someone publicly without their consent; or making threats.

Around one in six people in the UK will be affected by stalking at some point in their lives. Victims often suffer serious psychological consequences including anxiety, depression and feelings of loss of control. A third of all stalking cases progress to physical violence, and around half of all victims develop post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.

Action Against Stalking evolved into a charity after enabling stalking-specific legislation to become embedded in Section 39 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. Its long-established collaboration with the University of the West of Scotland has now led to the launch of the new Centre for Action Against Stalking.

In its first year, the centre’s priority is to explore the general profiles of perpetrators and their behaviour, and what sustains their motivation. It will also examine the use of cyber technology to track, locate and communicate with victims. The centre will also focus on the extent to, and ways in, which the pandemic has made children and young people more vulnerable to being groomed for sexual abuse and wider forms of exploitation.

In the years ahead, it’s essential that research also begins to explore the emotional and psychological impact of stalking on victims; the links between stalking behaviour, coercion and control within the context of intimate relationships; workplace stalking; victims’ experience of reporting stalking to the police; and police approaches to stalking.

It is my hope that in the years ahead, the new centre will play a valuable role in providing the empirical evidence-base to best support Action Against Stalking to further influence the shaping of policy, legislation and practice in this area. In doing so, perhaps Scotland can lead the way in responding proactively to prevent this hugely abusive and damaging behaviour from occurring in society.

Ross Deuchar is Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice and Interim Director of the new Centre for Action Against Stalking at the University of the West of Scotland. For enquiries, please email: