New protection orders proposed to help those stalked by strangers
New protection orders for victims of "stranger stalking" could be introduced amid fears the internet is fuelling an increase in cases.
Ministers are today launching a consultation on the measures, which will focus on helping those targeted by stalkers outside of domestic settings as well as deterring perpetrators before their fixations become "entrenched".
The orders would allow authorities to take steps to keep victims safe while evidence is gathered ahead of potential prosecutions.
Officials said this should mean stalking is addressed earlier, giving protection to complainants ahead of cases reaching the courts.
The Home Office consultation document says a stalking protection order could benefit victims of "stranger stalking", who may not be protected by measures that are available to those who fall victim to current or former partners.
It says such behaviour could include, for example, a patient becoming fixated on their doctor, a work colleague, or it could originate from an online interaction such as a chat room.
Studies suggest the number of instances of what could be termed stranger stalking may be increasing, according to the consultation.
"One reason for this could be that a growing usage of social networking and online communities may increase the opportunity for people to 'meet' and interact in some way," it says.
The internet can also "facilitate the ability for an individual to discover information about a person they are interested in", the document says.
This behaviour may become "extreme", it adds. In one case Elliot Fogel googled the name of victim Claire Waxman 40,000 times in a year.
The consultation says: "We are therefore concerned that a gap may exist in measures available to protect victims of 'stranger stalking' in particular and to intervene early with these perpetrators and prevent these deeply entrenched obsessions from developing."
The possibility of "engaging" stalkers at an early stage and identifying interventions such as mental health assessments or anger management programmes will also be explored.
Karen Bradley, minister for preventing abuse and exploitation, said: "Being stalked by a stranger can have terrifying consequences and we want to make sure victims have protection in place early to give the police time to gather evidence in order to bring the perpetrators to justice."
Stalking became a specific criminal offence in England and Wales for the first time in November 2012. More than 1,100 prosecutions were brought under the legislation in 2014/15, a rise of nearly 50% compared with the previous year.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which manages the National Stalking Helpline, welcomed the consultation.
A spokeswoman said more than half (55%) of those who contact the helpline are stalked by someone they have never been intimate with such as an acquaintance, stranger or work colleague.
She added: "These groups of people are unable to utilise certain protection measures designed to help people experiencing domestic abuse, such as non-molestation orders and domestic violence protection orders.
"A stalking protection order may be especially helpful for victims of stalking who are being stalked by someone they have not had a relationship with."
The Home Office also confirmed that a new offence of coercive or controlling behaviour will come into force on December 29. It will outlaw conduct that stops short of serious physical violence, such as victims being prevented from having friendships or refused access to money.
Other measures announced today include £3.85 million of funding to develop a new phase of a campaign to tackle abuse within teenage relationships and the appointment of international development minister Baroness Verma as ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas.