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British Statistics on Stalking and "Fear"

with additional comments relating to Canada, by Eeva Sodhi

British Statistics on Stalking and "Fear"

By Eeva Sodhi, Sat, 09 Dec 2000 06:12:33 -0800

Comments on:

The Law and 'Social Problems:' The Case of Britain's Protection from Harassment Act 1997 


Evonne von Heussen

*M.B.E., B.A. (Warwick), M.Soc.Sci. (Birmingham), 

Director, NASH, U.K. 

Copyright 2000 Evonne von Heussen.
First Published in Web Journal of Current Legal Issues in association with Blackstone Press Ltd. 


The purpose of this article, is to explore the issues raised by an innovatory piece of legislation, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (the Act) which came into effect on June16, 1997.  Since then, its use has been greatly hailed as 'the best piece of legislation ever created' (personal communications, 1999) for dealing with anti-social crimes involving human relationships.  Innovatory legislation involves public interference in matters that previously were left to private resolution.  When a statute innovates in matters of legal procedure as well as of behaviour, its problematic quality doubles.  The Act does so, creating a new civil tort, two new criminal offences, and unprecedented procedures to address a newly perceived problem which has psychological and social dimensions and implications.  British legal culture poses different problems for the legal use of social-science insights than in the United States, where most cross-disciplinary legal and psychological practice has taken place.  Despite common belief that stalking involves male on female sexual pursuit, the phenomenon can be female on male, same-sex, or without regard to gender and sexual issues. 

Sheridan, Gillett and Davies (1999) have considered the Act from a psychological point of view.  Their concern is not with what it does but rather with what they perceive it as not doing.  Noting `fierce' debates in Parliament regarding the Act's lack of a list of specific prohibited behaviours, they `seek the victim's perspective' by statistical and qualitative analysis of 80 questionnaires on which urban working women and female student volunteers rated events as possible stalking incidents and retrospectively described their own worst incident in detail.  The subjects did not note whether that event happened prior to or after the introduction of the concept of stalking in British public discourse. 

Sheridan and her associates find significant demographic differences in perspectives on what constitutes `stalking' but in aggregate terms they adjudge that `13.75% of respondents... have experienced a severe stalking episode.'  They predict that as prosecutions take place there will be difficulty in establishing the `true incidence' of stalking and in reconciling victim definitions of stalking with those in the minds of the authorities.  In the broadcast and print media Sheridan has raised her estimate of the incidence of stalking, suggesting that 20% of British women have been victims. 

There are a number of problems with their work in both methodological and substantive terms.  The first is their sample, which appears to be collected on an entirely ad hoc basis, without statistical validity.  Well prior to their research, Fitzgerald, Swan, and Fischer (1995) noted a profound discrepancy between women's responses in actual harassment situations and the evidence generated from `analogue methodologies' and from `available samples of non-victims' such as students recruited specifically for the task.  This is precisely the sort of population from which Sheridan, Gillett and Davies generate their quantitative data.  Also well prior to their work Arvey and Cavanaugh (1995) made important technical comments about using survey research `to assess the prevalence of sexual harassment.'  Among the flaws they consider is the uncritical `use of retrospective self-report measures,' particularly from the distant past, a technique upon which Sheridan and her associates rely heavily.  Fitzgerald, Swan, and Fischer (1995) also warn that `if psychological research is not to be misused' in legal proceedings, courts need to be made aware of the options available in a harassment situation and the meanings victims attach to those options, as opposed to drawing arbitrary links between option choices and what they signify.  Linked to that cautioning, Kidder, Lafleur, and Wells (1995) show the complexities involved in reinterpreting experience that was unpleasant but that could not have been understood as sexual harassment at the time, because the concept of sexual harassment did not exist. 

In substantive terms, Sheridan, Gillett, and Davies explicitly construe stalking as man pursuing woman, which the Act does not assume at all and which is not empirically justified.  Implicitly they import what American practice is coming to regard as the `reasonable woman' test.  This has been proposed specifically for cases of sexual harassment.  It is based on the assumption that gender does make a legally recognisable difference in the perception of offensive and potentially dangerous behaviour. ... Scholarship attempting to bridge the gap between the Act and actual experience must start with the statutory and empirical point that stalking/harassment can be male on female, female on male, same-sex, or not sex/gender related, for example a neighbour related harassment.  The assertion by Sheridan et al that stalking has a `true incidence' implies access to a reified, absolute form of stalking which in practical terms does not exist. Finally, their estimate of stalking's incidence among women in Britain as being as high as 20% implies that approximately six million British women have been stalked, a figure for which there is no support at all.

The Home Office (1999a and 1999b) has provided English and Welsh figures for the first six months after the Act took effect, in 1997 and separate figures for 1998 (Home Office 1999c and 1999d).  The 1997 figures represent the Act's start-up; the 1998 figures show it being fully enforced.  Let us consider them separately. 

Section 2 (creating the summary offence) and Section 4 (creating the indictable offence) came into effect in June 1997.  Between then and 31 December, 456 males and 51 females were prosecuted under Section 2.  Two hundred twenty-five males and 23 females were convicted, and all but one of those received a sentence.  The more serious offence created by Section 4 saw 231 males and 12 females prosecuted, leading to convictions of 65 men and 9 women.  Of those convicted 64 men and 4 women were sentenced.  Section 3, creating the civil tort of harassment and providing for criminal prosecution upon violation of injunctions issued under it did not come into effect until September.  At the end of the calendar year there had been 7 prosecutions under it, leading to 3 convictions, all resulting in a sentence.  All the persons prosecuted were male.  There also were 23 prosecutions, sixteen convictions and fourteen sentences for breach of a restraining order.  These aggregate figures are a long way from any notion that one-fifth of all British women have been stalked

Of interest is the fact that under the British law people can now be convicted if the accuser alleges "fear", as shown in the accompanying tables. In 1998 there were 612 prosecutions for allegedly causing "fear",  resulting in 165 convictions. 

As "fear" is a subjective emotion, how is the validity of it ever proven?  Furthermore, what is the reason for it?  Is it because one is afraid of the repercussions to one's own actions?

Other tabular data:

  • Breach of restraining order 1998: 140 prosecuted; 94 convicted


  • Offence of harassment 1998: 1566 prosecuted; 763 convicted

The numbers vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Though the author makes an effort to blame the law enforcement agencies for being disinterested in the Act, she has no proof that that is the case.  To say that the reason is over-eagerness to charge and prosecute would be an equally valid statement. Based on the obvious editorial licence, I have included only the valid statistical sections of the report. No equivalent statistics are available in Canada, to the best of my knowledge. 

Statistics Canada has recently released the results of a survey documenting how the trust in the justice system is gradually eroding. Those who still have some faith in it could, in my opinion, be viewed as being the ever shrinking segment of Canadian population that still has not been touched by the draconian laws, based on nothing but the perception derived from non-scientific advocacy research by social scientists, as in the British report above. Though even that report is based on the feminist dogma, the actual data clearly indicates that that dogma is seriously flawed. The report tells us how many people were prosecuted, not how many were initially charged, and what the alleged crime was. Also, the method of obtaining a guilty verdict is not disclosed. The Canadian Family Violence Courts, as I have illustrated before, give no guarantee that the plea is an indication of guilt. Rather, it may be obtained with a promise not to prosecute.

The suggested Ontario Bill-117 would see the confiscation of personal property as soon as a charge is being laid. Once a man has lost everything that he owns, he has no means left for self defence. Though this proposed law is facially gender neutral, the prevailing police directives, based on false statistical information*, make it clear that men are the target group.Yet, the indisputable fact is that, at best, only a fraction of the allegations are eventually substantiated. 

The suicide rate of men after a divorce/separation is increasing each year. The numbers of women and children on welfare are staggering. An alarming number of children also see no option but suicide. Is this the kind of a country that the UN sees to be the best place in the world to raise a child?  Ontario Premier Michael Harris envisions that the problems can be swept aside by assuring that each child in the province has at least one Christmas present. What about giving them their fathers?

About 50 times as many men commit suicide as uxoricide.  [The ratio is in the order of 3000 men who commit suicide per year to 44 women killed by their spouses —WHS]The suicides by young men, rather than wife abuse, have reached epidemic proportions in Canada.  "Family Violence in Canada: a statistical portrait, 2000", by Statistics Canada, for the first time included men in its survey.  The result was that 8% of women and 7% of men reported being victims of family violence.  We still may not have a true picture of the scope of the alleged violence as victimization due to indirect violence, such a the use of false allegations, was not included in the questionnaire. [But no doubt, the consequences of the indirect violence are reflected in the rising number of suicides by boys and by men.  There is a very personal story behind each of these suicides, too, but those stories very seldom receive the sensationalized attention that the murder of one single woman receives. —WHS]

Though the social science researchers would want us to believe that men commit suicide as a result of a blow to their ego, including jealousy, there is no data to substantiate this claim. Rather, using the reasonable and rational person test there can be little doubt that these men, pushed to the limit, see no other way out.  The rare cases where a man takes the lives of his children as well only reinforce this perception of a desperate act by a person who sees death as the only release from a life of hopelessness. The only way to reduce these tragic events is to stop the injustice of allowing false allegations, made for perceived personal gain, to go unpunished.  In many cases this gain does not materialize as the family resources are squandered in useless litigation. [As Karin Jaeckel, Ph.D., shows in her Book "The Secondhand Man," tragically, it isn't only men who are emotionally and fatally affected by divorce.  There are also stories of despair and great loss behind every single suicide of the increasing numbers of children who take their own lives.  Check these testimonies by orphans of divorce. —WHS]

It is not rational, nor feasible, to expect that a financially and emotionally destroyed victim of those allegations will have the resources to seek redress in a criminal court, maybe after years of fruitless litigation in the civil courts, where "perjury is rampant and moreover goes unpunished" (Madame Justice Mary-Lou Benotto). Thus, as some distraught and falsely accused men realize that the system is stacked against them, they may eventually take justice into their own hands, with tragic consequences. Rather than reducing violence, this law, and other similar ones, will increase it.

It is not in the interest of the population as a whole that the Canadian taxpayer has to shoulder all the consequences of those allegations, including, but not limited to, incarcerations, welfare and juvenile delinquency**. A few convictions will act as a deterrent.

Once again, it is easy to file any kind of an allegation, especially if one can be confident that there are no consequences, no matter how false the accusation is.  It is next to impossible to prove the malicious intent behind that allegation, even if one has the stamina and finances to seek justice. 

*"97% of all victims of domestic homicides in Canada were women in 1992" [Solicitor General of Ontario]. 

The Homicide Survey does not support this statistic, even if that year saw the highest rate of intimate murders where the woman was the victim.  Nor is that year representative when viewed over a standardized time period.  Furthermore, domestic homicides include parents, siblings and children, as well as spouses.


What Can the Federal Government Do To Decrease Crime and Revitalize Communities? by U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs National Institute of Justice Executive Office for Weed and Seed January 5-7, 1998."Trend Four: There is an Increase in the Number of Fatherless Children, Who Are More Prone to Delinquency and Other Social Pathologies."

As the incidence of father absence grows, community disintegration and crime, especially youth crime, will continue to grow.  Between 1960 and 1990, the percentage of children living apart from their natural fathers increased from 17 to 36 percent.  By the year 2000, half of the Nation's children may not have their fathers at home.  While the heroic efforts of single women to raise their children alone are laudable, the economic and social requirements for raising healthy and productive children are hard to achieve by poor single parents alone.  Re-engaging fathers in the economic and social life of their children is an important but overlooked aspect of addressing poverty, community revitalization, and crime.

Many of our problems in crime control and community revitalization are strongly related to father absence.  For example:

  • Sixty-three percent of youth suicides are from fatherless homes

  • Ninety percent of all homeless and runaway youths are from fatherless homes

  • Eighty-five percent of children who exhibit behavioral disorders are from fatherless homes

  • Seventy-one percent of high school dropouts are from fatherless homes

  • Seventy percent of youths in State institutions are from fatherless homes

  • Seventy-five percent of adolescent patients in substance abuse centers are from fatherless homes

  • Eighty-five percent of rapists motivated by displaced anger are from fatherless homes.

Without fathers as social and economic role models, many boys try to establish their manhood through sexually predatory behavior, aggressiveness or violence.  These behaviors interfere with schooling, the development of work experience, and self-discipline.  Many poor children who live apart from their fathers are prone to becoming court involved.  Once these children become court involved, their records of arrest and conviction often block access to employment and training opportunities.  Criminal histories often lock these young persons into the underground or illegal economies.

Behaviors related to father absence that directly contribute to the growth of welfare and the difficulties in creating jobs in communities include:

  • Sexually predatory behavior that results in out-of-wedlock births. (Most teen mothers are impregnated by older men, not teen boys.) 

  • Domestic violence that occurs as a result of arguments over enforcement of child support payments. 

  • Welfare pimping, which is the practice of men collecting part of the welfare check from girlfriends or the mothers of their out-of-wedlock children.  Some pimps collect from five or six mothers on welfare per month.

Innovative father engagement programs have had an impact on child rearing, family economic stability, and gang involvement.  Unless community revitalization and crime reduction programs begin to address the need for father engagement programs and services, the cycle of poverty and crime could continue virtually unabated." URL: http://www.ncjrs.org/txtfiles/172210.txt

MESA, the Men's Educational Support Association

Related article:

Quoted from the conclusion of the discussion paper:

Growing up with a single parent harms children for three primary reasons: A disrupted family usually has fewer financial resources to devote to children's upbringing and education, less time and energy to nurture and supervise children, and reduced access to community resources that can supplement and support parents' efforts. Fortunately, none of these factors are beyond the control of parents and society. Thus, to the extent that parents and government can address these risk factors, the effect of father absence on children's wellbeing could be significantly softened....

Note by Fathers for Life: Although the discussion paper presents a fairly good analysis of the consequences of father absence, the primary solution seen by Sara McLanahan for addressing the consequences of father absence is to bring about more and stronger child support enforcement.  That is in addition to ensuring more secure financial circumstances (out of tax revenues) for single-mother families.
   Not once does the discussion paper mention, let alone critique, the deplorable drive to systematically destroy the traditional nuclear family and to eliminate the presence of fathers in children's lives.

Posted 2000 12 10
2007 10 17 (added reference to Father Absence and the Welfare of Children)