It's Time for Victims of Stalking to be Heard
National Stalking Awareness Week has been and gone, but one thing remains – that the UK needs to do more to protect people from stalking.
Lily Allen's description of her terrifying ordeal at the hands of a stalker has brought home the truth that little is done to intervene until the very worst happens, an assault, or in Lily's case, being woken in the night by your stalker brandishing a knife. The Women's Equality (WE)
Party wants to see this changed and have launched their #JoinTheDots
campaign to call for immediate action to bring the law into full effect.
As a law firm that supports victims of stalking and works closely with charities including Paladin
and the National Stalking Helpline
, we're taking a look at what needs to change as well as answering some common questions.
At What Point Are Victims Failed?
Lily Allen, who is backing the WE campaign, has revealed the 7 year ordeal she endured until action was finally taken to stop her stalker.
Alex Gray first became a problem in 2009, when he set up a Twitter account with the handle @lilyallenRIP; he claimed to have written Lily's song The Fear. And then letters began, rife with abusive language and threats at numerous addresses linked to Lily. The ordeal culminated in an event where Lily had forgotten to lock the back door one evening and woke during the night to strange noises in her house:"I sat up and looked and the door handle was twisting round. This guy came steaming in and I didn’t know who he was. I recoiled and he ripped the duvet off, calling me a ‘f****** b****’ and yelling about where his dad is."
Despite numerous reports to the police about Gray's activity, Lily found herself repeatedly left in the dark.
She struggled to attain a picture of her stalker from the police, and the bedroom attack was dismissed or labelled burglary – it became clear that the police weren't able to join up the dots and recognise that this was in fact stalking:"I felt very alone. I have some trust issues now, not least with the police. Who can you trust if you cannot trust institutions like the police?"
But Lily isn't alone in her experience – a Telegraph YouGov poll found that amongst people who had reported the stalking, 43% found the police response unhelpful.
What Needs To Be Done?
Emma Hopkins Jones, an Associate Family Law Solicitor
based at Simpson Millar's Leeds office, comments:"Harassment laws were first introduced in 1997 and in 2012 stalking was made a criminal offence – it's obvious that the legal protections are there but they aren't being used properly. The police need to recognise the seriousness of stalking and treat reports of stalking with the gravity they deserve.
It's shocking to see that 1 in 10 victims feel they have to move house to escape their stalker, and that 30-40% of victims will be physically assaulted by their stalker. If stalking reports were handled effectively victims could be protected from it escalating to this severity."
campaign offers ways in which a more joined approach could be taken, they call for:
- Stalking support services to have their funding ring-fenced and to secure funding for specialist support services.
- Investment in training specialist criminal justice professionals to improve conviction and sentencing.
- For perpetrator programmes and treatment delivered by specialist.
- The introduction of a register for serial stalkers to track, manage and supervise serial stalkers.
Emma Hopkins Jones is also a proud member of the Women's Equality Party, Emma comments:"The Women's Equality Party is the only political party to actively prioritise the safety of women. They recognise that around 700,000 women are victims of stalking each year and that is a wider part of structural gender based violence.""Stalking robs people of their everyday lives; it puts individuals in a vulnerable and dangerous situation and can leave victims with post-traumatic stress disorder. It's excellent to see that the WE is addressing this head on, and we hope this will inspire necessary change."
campaign is just one of many WE campaigns that put women's safety at the forefront. Their #WEcount
campaign has been extended across the UK and encourages women to take a selfie with the hashtag at a location where they've been subjected to sexual harassment or verbal abuse. The experiences will be marked on an interactive map and displayed for a week at Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd's Bush.
Common Questions About Stalking
Our family law team support victims of stalking and is on hand to answer some commonly asked questions:What options are available to stop my stalker?Stalking and harassment is against the law
and can be both a criminal and civil wrong. The good news is that you do have legal remedies if you're a victim. Firstly, we always recommend that you report your concerns the police, if anything, this means that any future calls you make will be classed as high importance.
Our family solicitors can help in a number of ways:
- Warning Letter – Sometimes a letter from a solicitor advising the stalker to stop their behaviour can be enough to bring it to an end.
- Non-molestation order – This is appropriate when the stalker is a partner or a close relative and is an order stopping them from assaulting or harassing you in future.
- Injunctions – An injunction is for when the stalker is not related to you in any way and stops them from doing certain things.
- Occupation Orders – These can exclude a person from the home or allow you to return home.
Breach of an order is seen as a very serious offence; non-molestation orders and injunctions carry a sentence of up to 5 years if breached.The police don't understand the situation – what can I do?
As Lily Allen's ordeal has shown – many police officers aren’t equipped to understand or handle incidences of stalking.
The Stalking Helpline recommends that when you report the problem, you take with you the Stalking Risk Checklist
. Completing this identifies which stalking behaviours you are being subjected to. It's also recommended to take a diary of events and any evidence to support you.
Seeking Help to Stop Stalking
Already it's good to see that the National Stalking Helpline, which is supported by Simpson Millar, has seen the "Lily Allen Effect"
– an increase in the numbers of victims seeking help. We hope that more and more people will recognise that the treatment they're subjected to is stalking and start taking steps to stop this.
If you think you are a victim of stalking you can contact the police and organisations including the National Stalking Helpline
. If at any time you feel you are in immediate danger you should call 999 immediately.At Simpson Millar, our experts work closely with stalking and domestic violence charities including Paladin and the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence (CAADV). Your safety is our priority; we'll work with you carefully and at your pace to help you get your independence and confidence back. If you are a victim of stalking, you can take back control.