Jokey attitudes about stalking are pervasive. The Spectator’s ‘Cartoon at Noon’ published on Friday 14 July joked about stalking: “How do I get my stalker to lose interest in me”, said one woman to another. “Marry him”, the answer. Just one such example published by a high profile magazine with 110k followers – a publication that should know better. This was followed by Cosmopolitan‘s image in their magazine joking about stalking followed by an article in The Guardian about “stalking” ex’s on Facebook – namely looking up to see what they were doing – which is not stalking.
Stalking is a pattern of unwanted fixated, obsessive behaviour, which is intrusive and causes fear of violence or serious alarm of distress. It became a criminal offence in 2012 following our successful All Party Parliamentary Stalking Law Reform campaign. The Parliamentary Inquiry heard from Tricia Bernal, mother of Clare who was stalked and murdered on September 5 2005 in Harvey Nichols. She was terrified and reported a threat to kill before she was murdered. John and Penny Clough, whose daughter Jane was also scared that she would be murdered by her stalker and refused to leave the house, such was her fear, was murdered after she returned to work from maternity leave nine months after she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She was stabbed 71 times in the hospital car park where she worked.
These are not isolated incidents either. There was a pattern of fixated, obsessive and intrusive behaviour before the murders. In fact, at least two women are stalked and murdered each week. Paladin, National Stalking Advocacy Service, the world’s only trauma informed high-risk service for stalking, has assisted over two thousand victims following our launch in 2013. We well understand that 76% of murders happen on separation; 34% in the first month (Femicide Census 2016).
At Paladin we take all threats to harm and kill seriously, including an alarming increase in threats to throw acid at a victim, which has happened in 12% of our recent cases. We know that 1 in 2 of domestic stalkers, if they make a threat will act on it and it’s 1 in 10 of non-intimate stalkers, if they make threat, will act on it. There is a critical window of opportunity to intervene and prevent what we call ‘murders in slow motion’ and we work hard to better protect victims and their children. Figures from the Crime Survey of England and Wales show at least one million are targeted by stalkers every year and not all of them have had a relationship with their stalkers.
Helen Pearson suffered 124 behaviours that she reported to Devon and Cornwall Police, including graffiti to her apartment and car, paint thrown at her property, threat letters, her windows being put in in the middle of the night, damage to her car and a dead cat being left on her door step across five years. The 125th call was her attempted murder, whereby she was grabbed on the way to the gym and stabbed multiple times by the stalker. A female intervened and saved her life. The stalker had asked her out and reacted to the rejection in this way. This could have happened to anyone, yet she was not believed or taken seriously.
In fact, alarmingly, just 1% of stalking cases are being recorded by police, and the same proportion result in charges or prosecutions. While this rate has increased marginally in recent years, we believe the police service, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and agencies have much to learn. However, many people continue to make light of such serious, terrifying and damaging patterns of behaviour – until it happens to them or someone they know – and yet these links are not made and we continue to count dead women.
On August last year Shana Grice was murdered in the bedroom of her Brighton flat. Her ex boyfriend had been stalking her for months. He was obsessed with her and had placed a tracking device on her car. She was scared and reported him to police a number of times. However, police issued her with a fixed penalty notice for wasting police time. She was dead within four months.
Michael Lane had stalked 13 other girls before Shana. The Judge criticised Sussex police for jumping to conclusions. Mr Justice Green said “there was seemingly no appreciation on the part of those investigating that a young woman in a sexual relationship with a man could at one and the same time be vulnerable and at risk of serious harm.”
Last October, 24-year-old Alice Ruggles was found dead in her home in Gateshead, having been fatally stabbed by former boyfriend Trimaan Dhillon. Dhillon, 26, had become obsessed with Alice, stalked and threatened her after she ended the relationship.
Justene Reece took her own life in February. Her ex was convicted of coercive control, six counts of stalking and manslaughter. We hear from victims who attempt suicide because the war of attrition becomes too great – battling the stalker, the system and these attitudes.
These horrific cases are not isolated incidents – they were murders in slow motion and all referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I am writing this two weeks after Paladin’s first national best practice conference at Amnesty International HQ and when Alice’s father, Clive, gave the opening address and said his daughter would still be alive if police took stalking seriously – you could hear a pin drop.
Last week stalking was back in the headlines as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and the CPS published their damning report highlighting that victims of stalking continue to be let down and placed further at risk.
Helen Pearson and I went on Good Morning Britain and spoke with Victoria Derbyshire at the BBC about what needs to change. We highlighted cultural shift was necessary and jokey attitudes must stop.
The Spectator cartoon serves to illustrate there is still much to do. At Paladin we strive to educate people including the media as well as train police, CPS and other agencies to identify the warning signs and use the law to protect victims. These jokey attitudes are damaging and harmful and have no place in society. Stalkers steal lives and take lives. Take stalking seriously.
Founder and Director of Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service
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