When a friend of mine was being stalked in the late 90s, we were all in a bit of denial.
Only when it finally dawned on us that the post-breakup “bump intos”, pebbles thrown against her window and countless letters and flowers had escalated to screaming threats to kill himself and 24/7 surveillance – including a tap on her phone – did we appreciate how dangerous her ex-boyfriend was.
We worried his next move would be to kill her – and urged F to go to the Police.
They told her these things weren’t crimes – and they didn’t believe the thing about the wiretap. Not that they’d looked into it. They just didn’t believe – and they didn’t see the individual incidents adding up to a campaign of abuse.
I was working at a legal aid firm of Family law solicitors at the time – and once I told one of their lawyers some of what was happening, he immediately recognised my friend was being stalked and that her safety was at risk.
My friend saved her life by instructing this solicitor. He helped her with her evidence, including having BT confirm the wiretap, got her witness statement together and compelled the Police to take action.
For us, the stalker’s Magistrates’ Court conviction under the (then) new Protection from Harassment Act and sentence of community service with an “indefinite” restraining order was an amazing victory and vindication. That feeling, however, didn’t last very long.
The mutual friends she’d made during the relationship joined “Team S” – and wondered why she couldn’t just deal with a break-up like everybody else instead of “over-reacting” and involving the Police. In their world, this was all her fault.
Not only did she have to avoid places where she thought S might go, she had to steer clear of these former friends, as they were filtering information back to S.
And with S being a master of the “bump into”, the injunction didn’t feel like much of a “win”. F ended up leaving the country – and has a new life elsewhere.
The Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Stalking Law Reform
After all this time, I was disappointed to hear from Laura Richards, formerly of the Metropolitan Police’s Homicide Prevention Unit on the 7 February Women’s Hour that, “Aren’t you lucky? I’d like to have an admirer” remains the typical initial Police response – and that little progress has been made by the criminal justice system to recognise where stalking sits on the violence against women spectrum.
The good news is momentum is gathering to criminalise stalking and for the professions, including the Police and CPS, to develop more of a holistic approach of recognising and dealing with it.
As Yvette Cooper MP says, a new, specific offence of stalking would send the message to the criminal justice system that stalking is serious – and there is cross-party support for the new law.
Stalking should be a specific offence. How else will law enforcement recognise it? How else will people like S’s friends get the message that violence against women, in all its forms, is unacceptable?
Meanwhile, I’m pleased Laura Richards’ “DASH” (Domestic Abuse, Stalking & Harassment and Honour based violence) risk identification, assessment and management model could be adopted by the Police. It reminds me of, and appears to have built upon, Gavin DeBecker’s Gift of Fear thesis of trusting intuition and method of assessing violence risk.
In fact, Gavin DeBecker’s book was instrumental in shaking all in F’s circle out of our denial. Every woman, stalked or not, should read it.