National Stalking Awareness Week 2015 #NSAW15

April 20, 2015

It’s the UK’s National Stalking Awareness Week from 20th April.

In February it was 20 years since I first went public with my case to highlight to loophole in the law because there was nothing, legally, to stop my stalker from terrorising me.

Since then we have seen 2 laws and a myriad of initiatives purporting to be better for victims, yet still, the messages  – or myths – are the same. Examples such as;

  • That you have to be a celebrity or good looking to have a stalker
  • That you should be flattered or feel lucky to have the attention (yes, really)
  • That nothing can be done until they physically attack you
  • That because the perpetrator is retired they can’t arrest.

The list goes on….

Don’t get me wrong; we have come on in huge leaps and bounds with regards to understanding and dealing with stalking; however we still have a long way to go… Changing 2 laws was easy compared with changing attitudes!

If you are being stalked, you are feeling terrified, helpless, not knowing what is going to happen at any moment.  You are feeling stupid and paranoid because you don’t want to bother anyone because they are ‘not doing anything harmful’.  People around you might be saying “Don’t be paranoid”, “Ignore them and they’ll go away” (sometimes they do, but sometimes they don’t so you have to learn which it will be and trust your instinct)

But they are affecting you!  They are affecting your health, it could be physical or mental, your life – it might be that you start changing your route to work, are fearful of answering the phone, looking at your emails, and people around you can be affected too; lives can be destroyed. From the research I did with Lorraine Sheridan in 2005, an AVERAGE of 21 people around the primary victim were affected.  A very high percentage of victims have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, although it’s not necessarily over, so the word ‘Post’ should be ‘Persistent’ in PTSD for stalking victims; where does it end?

People have said to me that we are criminalising romance, but if you ARE flattered by the attention of someone, not feeling fearful or distressed then it’s not stalking!  The issue is about crossing over from feeling flattered and loved, to when you don’t want the attention and say ‘no thanks’… but they don’t stop, you start to feel terrified and worried about what will happen, then that is stalking.

Sadly, we know all too well, the lives of those lost because they didn’t realise the danger of being stalked, the criminal justice agencies did not understand the problem and the dangers around being stalked.

20 years on from being a lone voice speaking out, we now have many more victims and professionals with a better understanding of this terror doing so.  We just need to carry on educating people in the criminal justice and health agencies and all the other departments who are involved in keeping people safe (councils; Social Services, Housing etc…), as well as the general public and the Government to better understand the consequences of not taking stalking seriously, of ignoring a victim’s intuition or pleas for help. The police have been leading the way, especially with ACC Garry Shewan as National Police Lead.  Garry gets it, he understands and has worked tirelessly to educate police and other agencies to better respond to cases.  However, changing individual’s attitudes towards the subject is an uphill battle.  There are other fantastic people across the country who understand and do their best for victims; it’s just those who still believe that they are dealing with a minor, nuisance crime, their victims feel isolated and the feeling that they are going mad is reinforced by those who should be helping them; the terror is doubled because when you go for help, you need people to believe you, otherwise what are you to do, where do you go for help?

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust with the National Stalking Helpline are the leaders in understanding the victim perspective.  They were there at the start and, together with Diana Lamplugh, I launched the campaign for stalking legislation in the UK in 1996 on the back of a documentary on my case made by Yorkshire Television.

On the whole, the media have been brilliant in bringing to the public’s attention, as it’s vital that stalking is not portrayed as a bit of a joke.  My heart sinks when I see something which undoes our work.  Recently Gary Barlow asked people to stalk him on Twitter.  I understood what he meant, it was just the wrong choice of words.  It trivialises what is a serious and terrifying crime.  I always say that stalking is mental rape, so should anyone make a joke about stalking, replace that word with rape and see how funny it is.  If lovely Gary B had said ‘come and rape me’, what would have been the reaction?  He put himself at risk because there may well be people who see that as a green light to pursue relentlessly and terrify him and his family.  The first stalking law in the world came to being in 1990 (California) because of the murder of an actress.  But it is people not in the public eye who are most at risk. If there has been any sort of relationship between perpetrator and victim the risk goes up.  It is well known that ex-partners are the most at risk.

10 years ago I tried to get an Awareness Month in the UK, several magazines were fab and put articles in for me.  Unfortunately, there were not the people nor support around that there is now, so I ask that whomever you are, if you are able to (victims put their lives at risk by doing so, no pressure should be placed on them) PLEASE, speak out, shout it from the rooftops and smash the myths around stalking to help save lives.

Go to http://www.stalkinghelpline.org to see all that’s happening this week and watch a video all about it.

Heartfelt thanks to those who are speaking out, who are doing something about it and to those who are saving lives.

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