West Yorkshire Police made the plea after a poll of 4,054 adults, which was commisioned by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, found more than 18 per cent of women and almost eight per cent of men have suffered repeated and unwanted contact or intrusive behaviour which causes them fear or distress. Of those, more then 36 per cent of were stalked using online methods.
Survey respondents suggested they had been cyber-stalked via email, Facebook, Twitter, dating websites and apps, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr and Snapchat.
Where online activity was the sole form of stalking behaviour, only nine per cent of victims reported it to the police.
The survey revealed that 22 per cent of all those who had been stalked have withdrawn from some form of online activity or social media.
The report also found that of all stalking cases, more than 26 per cent have been reported to police, with more than 43 per cent of those who did report their experiences finding the response “not very helpful” or “not helpful at all”.
Detective Chief Inspector Fran Naughton of West Yorkshire Police, said; “Stalking of all kinds can cause significant alarm, distress and fear to victims. We want everyone affected by stalking to know that there is help available and that they are not alone.
“We have dedicated safeguarding teams based across the force, who focus on taking appropriate action against perpetrators and supporting victims. We would always encourage victims to come forward to the police, and that their concerns will be taken seriously and dealt with sensitively.”
Forensic psychiatrist Dr David James, who worked on the study, said: “New methods of communication mean stalking online is something you can never get away from.
“In effect, you carry the stalker in your pocket in the form of any mobile phone. This can be especially traumatising for victims.”
Rachel Griffin, director of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said: “It is incredibly important that we are aware that victims of stalking can be harassed and abused both when they are going about their daily lives and when they are online.”
Last year the Government set out proposals for new protection orders for victims of ‘stranger stalking’ amid fears the internet is fuelling an increase in cases.
Twitter declined to comment. Under the microblogging site’s rules, accounts responsible for harassment of others can be temporarily locked or permanently suspended.
A spokeswoman from Support After Rape and Sexual Violence Leeds, said: “It is deeply concerning to see that such a large number of women are being targeted online on an increasing number of social and web platforms.
“It’s also worrying that these women feel that they can’t go online for fear of being harassed, and that many feel that their complaints aren’t taken seriously by the police. We would encourage any woman or girl who experiences sexual harassment online to remember that charities like Support After Rape and Sexual Violence Leeds will always be there to listen to you and support you.” The National Stalking and Harassment Helpline can be contacted on 0808 802 0300. Or call police via 101 in a non emergency.