The scale of stalking and harassment in North Yorkshire has been revealed as the county's force prepares to launch a new campaign urging victims to speak up.
There were 132 offences of stalking recorded by the force in the year ending December 2018, with a further 1,347 reports of harassment made.
While harassment can include some of the same behaviours as stalking and causes a victim fear and distress, stalking is differentiated by the motivation of the stalker.
According to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, 96 per cent of victims are stalked by someone they know and more than half of stalking victims are targeted by a former partner.
It says 94 per cent of women murdered by men nationally were also stalked in the year leading up to their deaths.
But the Paladin National Advocacy Service, which specialises in supporting victims of stalking, says a victim will typically experience more than 100 incidents before actually reporting the matter to police.
It is for this reason that North Yorkshire Police has joined the two charities to begin a campaign to raise awareness of the different types of stalking and help people to recognise the signs.
Detective Superintendent Allan Harder, head of safeguarding at the force, said: “There are numerous misconceptions about stalking with many people not realising the devastating impact it has on its victims.
"It is not romantic; it is about fixation and obsession. It is an extremely serious crime and it can, and does, escalate to rape and murder.
“Victims of stalking are often vulnerable and have frequently suffered the actions of perpetrators over a long period of time.
"Many are survivors of domestic abuse, who leave coercive and controlling relationships only to become the victims of an extension of this behaviour by way harassment and stalking."
The 'No matter how small' campaign, which begins on Monday, aims to send a clear message about the severity of stalking to encourage people to seek advice.
Stalking can be defined as “a pattern of unwanted, fixated and obsessive behaviour which is intrusive and causes fear of violence or serious alarm or distress”.
The risks posed to victims of stalking are often significant, due to the nature of the offending and the motivations of the perpetrators.
Det Supt Harder said: “Our ‘No matter how small’ campaign seeks to send a message to victims and witnesses that we want them to come forward at the earliest stage with any concerns, even if other people would consider them to be trivial or insignificant.
“Stalking thrives on secrecy and so the most important thing is to tell someone – be it a friend, family member, support organisation such as the National Stalking Helpline, Paladin, or the police.
“By telling someone we can give you the help and support you need.”
The campaign will share key statistics about stalking, examples to help victims or witnesses to recognise the signs, information about the types of perpetrators, myths and facts, helpful tips and how to report offences.
It follows on from the first national inspection in 2016/17 into how police and prosecutors respond to the issues of harassment and stalking.
North Yorkshire Police has since adopted a new procedure for how it responds to stalking and harassment reports and will be investing in training for officers and staff over the next three months.
Victoria Charleston, policy and development manager of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said: “Stalking is a devastating and insidious crime that can have tremendous impact on people’s lives.
"This campaign by North Yorkshire Police is a positive step in supporting people to come forward and receive an informed and expert response from officers.”
Paladin echoed the sentiment, saying that it heard victims all too often saying that they did not think their concerns would be taken seriously.
Its chairwoman, Rachel Horman, said: "On average victims experience more than 100 incidents before reporting it to the police which is far too late.
"We hope that this campaign will also lead to an increase in charges and convictions for stalking which may save lives as stalking can escalate to homicide if nothing is done.”
The campaign forms part of the force’s wider programme of work to tackle stalking, harassment, domestic abuse and other vulnerabilities.
It has also won the backing of Julia Mulligan, the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire.
“Having spoken to and supported many victims of stalking over the years, it is a crime which can have a devastating and long term impact on lives," she said.
"There is never a bad time to come forward to the police, but if this campaign can highlight that stalking can start in relatively inconspicuous ways, it may open victim’s eyes to come forward sooner and prevent the case developing into something more serious.
“Improvements in this area of policing are welcome, and I am pleased there is now a concerted effort to put better support in place for victims, and better training for better investigations.”