Unwelcome Valentine – Stalking and Harassment
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, many people will be expecting anonymous messages from secret admirers. Although this occasion is romantic for many, not all secret admirers are welcome. In fact, over one million individuals receive unwanted attention from stalkers every year.
Stalking, by its definition, is the unwanted or obsessive attention by an individual or group towards another person. Previously regarded as a crime which affects celebrities or high profile individuals, in the digital age it has become increasingly easy for stalkers to obtain extensive information about members of the general public via social media.
Over the past year these issues of harassment, sexual assault and consent have become international talking points. Hashtags such as #MeToo and #TimesUp are prevalent across social media as more and more people speak out and share their experiences of stalking, sexual assault and harassment. The subject of harassment first began to receive mainstream media coverage following the wave of sexual assault allegations made against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. These shocking allegations prompted actress Alyssa Milano to post a call to action via social media;
“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”.
The reaction was immediate and Facebook reported that, within 24 hours of Alyssa’s statement, over 4.7 million people around the world had engaged in the #MeToo conversation; posting over 12 million comments and reactions.
This figure, alarmingly does not include male stalking victims who account for 1 in 3 of all stalking victims. This figure becomes even more alarming when you consider that 85% of stalking victims do not report the incident to the police. So, we have to ask ourselves; if stalking and harassment are such a widespread epidemic, why is more not being done to protect the victims of these traumatic offences?
Stalking is a crime
Stalking was formally made a crime in England and Wales in 2012. As Phil Smith, a partner from Simons Muirhead and Burton LLP and recognised in Spears 500, explained;
“In 2012, the legislature inserted two amendments into the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, specifically criminalising instances of ‘simple’ stalking and ‘aggravated’ stalking. The Act doesn’t define clearly the term ‘stalking’ but provides examples of acts or omissions amounting or associated with stalking”.
Despite these amendments, a recent report undertaken by the Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate demonstrated that many investigations are poorly run and fail to provide victims with sufficient legal protection. The joint investigation revealed that out of a total of 112 cases of stalking and harassment analysed, not one was dealt with adequately.
Most worryingly, this report revealed how police failings left many victims feeling at fault for their own stalking and harassment. An anonymous victim interviewed for this study highlighted how she had been advised by police to stop using social media, and that police made her feel it was;
“My fault for being on Facebook…The only way to stop these messages is if I deactivate my Facebook account, and come off social media. I didn’t think that was very fair at all”.
Following the publication of this joint report, the National Police Chief Council has promised to implement nationwide changes which will see the number of prosecutions for stalking and harassment offences increase. As part of an ongoing effort to improve the practice of investigating stalking cases, Phil Smith highlighted that as legal representatives;
“We have been instructed by victims of stalking and harassment to act as a go-between in their dealings with the police and the CPS. This can be viewed as essential to ensure that a comprehensive and co-ordinated investigation is carried out by the police officers assigned to the task. If left to their own devices, police officers evidently are inclined to break up the individual instances of criminality and assign a task of investigating each particular crime to a different officer or team of officers. This is a recurring theme in such police investigations”.
Victims of Stalking
Despite these improvements many victims still feel powerless, living in fear and unsure where to turn for help. After all, many victims of stalking have highlighted how certain police procedures, such as Police Information Notice (PIN) harassment warnings and restraining orders, are not always effective against aggressive stalkers.
Such was the tragic case of 19-year-old Natalie Bollinger from Denver, Colorado, found dead earlier last year. Natalie was reported missing in December 2017 two weeks after she had been granted a permanent restraining order against her stalker. Natalie had previously spoken out via Facebook, stressing how she received “hundreds of texts and calls” from 42-year-old Shawn Schwartz.
Another recent case is that of Molly McLaren who was stabbed 75 times by her former boyfriend Joshua Stimpson outside a busy shopping centre in Kent. Ms McLaren had previously complained about Stimpson to the police when he posted threatening messages about her via Facebook. Police also received a complaint in 2013 from a former girlfriend of Stimpson’s who received abusive text messages from him following their break-up. Stimpson has been found guilty of murder and was jailed for 26 years in February 2018. However, Ms McLaren’s family have stressed that more needs to be done to raise awareness over the dangers of online stalking.
A Stalker’s Incentive
Experts have highlighted that one of the root causes of failing to apprehend stalkers is a misunderstanding of the motivations behind their behaviour and treating them with the gravity they deserve. The typical behaviour exhibited by stalkers has been placed into five main categories;
- Rejected – Individuals who want to reconcile with previous partners. These stalkers can become resentful and fluctuate between amicable and aggressive.
- Resentful – Persons who feel they have been wrongfully treated by their victims i.e. they were passed over for a promotion or disrespected.
- Intimacy Seeker – An obsessive individual who fantasizes about having a romantic relationship with their victim. Delusional by nature, these stalkers often believe that their victim is in love with them.
- Incompetent Suitor – An unrelenting admirer with poor social skills who attempts to start a romantic relationship with their victim.
- Predatory – Sadistic, predatory individuals who enjoy the power and control of stalking their victims via surveillance, aggressive phone calls, exhibitionism and voyeurism, often with malicious intent.
Similarly, stalking victims cannot simply be classified as one type of category. Victims can be targeted by all manner of stalkers; they could have been in a previous romantic relationship with their stalker, they could be a casual acquaintance or friend as well as a professional contact such as a colleague from work or a client with whom they previously interacted. One of the most worrying instances of stalking is when it comes from a complete stranger; someone who simply admires their victim from a distance without any prior connection. This is what makes stalking such a far-reaching and indiscriminate offence; it can impact anyone, of any age, gender or social status.
Changes in legislation
Fortunately, the joint report mentioned above has suggested some substantial changes which would directly target the flaws in existing harassment investigation proceedings. It has been suggested that police forces should immediately end the use of PINs and that the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 should be reviewed, making clear the definitions of the different types of stalking offences. Moreover, it is important to recognise the psychological impact that stalking has upon its victims.
Phil Smith highlighted how changes in legislation have begun to recognise this issue;
“The need to coordinate criminal investigations has been recognised by the Government in statute in the analogous situation of abuse during domestic relationships. Thus, section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 introduced the offence of Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship. The main objective in introducing this offence was to reflect the accumulated psychological harm and fear engendered in the victim by a sustained period of domestic abuse and to make it easier to prosecute such conduct as a single offence”.
The impact of stalkers
Recently, TV presenter Emily Maitlis has compared her stalking to a ‘chronic illness’ which has impacted her life for over 20 years. Despite her stalker, 47 year-old Edward Vines, being issued with an indefinite restraining order in 2009, he has been convicted of twice breaching this order in the last year alone. Emily discussed the long term psychological impact of stalking within a BBC News interview, candidly revealing how;
“You turn into this person who shouts at your kids for the wrong thing…It just makes you jumpy – and that’s stressful and it’s tiring and it’s time-consuming…It’s not that you think everyone is out to kill you. You recognise it as a paranoia. But it doesn’t make it any easier…This has literally been going on for 20 years. It feels like sort of a chronic illness…It’s not that I ever believe it will stop or he will stop, or the system will manage to prevent it properly”.
This long-lasting psychological harm of stalking has been reported by all manner of victims; irrespective of their age, gender or profession. For instance, Bob Coughtrey, 53 from Lancashire, was stalked by one of his pupils. Although Bob’s stalker was issued with a suspended prison sentence and restraining order, Bob says that the ordeal has left a lasting impact on his everyday life;
“She sent me a message which said ‘part of me wishes I hadn’t passed my test, because I would have got to spend more time with you’,” he recalls…I didn’t reply, but the texts just kept coming all night. They got darker and darker. I thought she might be at risk so I called the police, who went to her house…
I’m a grown man, but I felt very vulnerable and anxious. The next evening, my doorbell rang repeatedly. I looked out of the window and it was her again. She then phoned me eight times while she was outside. I phoned 999, and within a few minutes a police car arrived and they arrested her on suspicion of harassment…
It’s horrible. It’s almost suffocating. It changes your life, how you feel about people. You feel as if you’re not quite being taken seriously, because you’re a man…Some people might think it’s harmless – it’s just a woman that’s just giving you some attention. It’s not, because the attention is unwanted, the attention is unsolicited, and it was never reciprocated. I’m very cautious now, always looking around me when I go outside. I don’t feel safe”.
What’s being done?
To rectify this, Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for stalking and harassment, has publicly stated that chief constables will be told to make sure the accused are prosecuted for the appropriate offence. Similarly, Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said that the CPS would introduce new measures including mandatory stalking and harassment training for all prosecutors;
“The CPS has made significant strides over recent years in identifying, understanding and successfully prosecuting these cases and I am pleased to note that the report highlights many instances of good practice. But, as this important report makes clear, there is much more that needs to be done”.
Steps to take if you feel unsafe
Whilst this new legislation is being implemented, there are steps that you can take to protect yourself from the advances of a potential stalker. Our Blackstone Consultancy security specialists have decades of experience in providing close protection details to individuals at home, work and whilst travelling. Our highly experienced surveillance operatives have backgrounds in law enforcement, military and the government so we can help you to collect evidence of your harassment which you can present to the authorities.
Concrete evidence of a stalker’s harassment can prove invaluable. Julie, 25, from Cheshire, was stalked and harassed by a former abusive partner. Thanks to the evidence she presented to the police, her stalker was arrested and prosecuted. As Julie herself advocated;
“The more evidence you can gather, the better. I recorded one of the abusive calls using another phone, with my own phone on loudspeaker. Anyone who is clever about their harassment won’t put it in texts and emails because they know it could be used as evidence”.
If you feel that you have become the victim of stalking or harassment then our Blackstone Consultancy security team can provide you with the reassurance of bespoke, close protection detail as well as experienced investigators who can advise on how to effectively gather evidence of the stalking. With the help of our seasoned security specialists you can quickly and discreetly resolve any stalking or harassment against you or your loved ones.