As it's Stalking Awareness Week I thought I'd write a personal account and provide some suggestions to ease the problem from an LGBT point of view.
I always assumed that if I needed to contact the police it would be for a one-off emergency or to deal with the aftermath of a crime – something relaxing like a burglary. Not that I thought about it a lot. I certainly couldn’t see a situation where I would be calling them several times during the same day and into the night. I never thought the number and the recorded ‘on hold’ message would become rote and familiar. But that’s where I ended up after being stalked and harassed by an ex-boyfriend.
This post isn’t going to go into great detail about what happened, but I need to summarise some of the behaviour and how it escalated:
- Soon after we broke up (my doing, mea culpa) he saw me smiling (again, mea culpa) at a party, via a photo posted on social media. The response to this was a photo of where he had scratched ‘worthless’ into his chest followed up by a lengthy email where I was berated as the best/worst person in existence.
- I’d get texts saying things like, ‘Just talking to the Samaritans. They are worried about me. I wish I’d never lost you.’
- I woke up one morning to find he had vandalised my front and back doors with, ‘Help me Ken’ in red paint.
- I received the same handwritten at home, work, and where I studied. It ended with an ultimatum to contact him by a particular date or I, ‘…would be responsible for the consequences’.
- He lived thirty miles away in a different city. The police contacted me to say he had gone missing from his home and they believed he was staying near to me. It later transpired he was staying in a tent near to where I worked. This went on for several weeks, the police wouldn’t tell me where he was because he had ‘a right to privacy’. He would hang around where I worked, where I lived, and the city centre looking increasingly dishevelled. It seemed like he was everywhere. One morning he sat outside my house crying. The police couldn’t do anything as he wasn’t approaching me directly.
- One morning I was woken by our neighbours banging on the door shouting that my back gate was on fire. At the same moment I got an email to my work account featuring a picture of his cut and bloodied arm.
- The next day, I received a bereavement card at work – ‘Sorry for your loss’. The dedication was written in blood. The card also contained a lengthy letter detailing all of my failings and predictions of where I would find his body. Also enclosed - like freebies in a box of cereal - was a bloodied razor blade and tool than was used to scratch out the red writing.
There is more, but that’s a rough timeline of significant events. What I really want to talk about is the response of the police and support agencies like the CPS and Victim Support.
Individually, the police were great. Sure, I had to gently change their pronouns from ‘she’ to ‘he’ when they made assumptions about my ex’s gender, but they are probably right 90% of the time.
What they weren’t good at was talking to each other.
At one stage, while he was a missing person, the police – concerned with his well being, naturally – asked me to set up a meeting with him so they could swoop in and do a ‘welfare check’. I had to explain that I was being harassed by him and this would be a spectacularly bad idea. At best, it would show him that his behaviour could get him what he wanted. At worst, I would be putting myself in danger. I later found out that the ‘welfare check’ would just be some questions so they could take him off the missing person’s list.
They appeared to be more worried about his welfare than mine and I was put under significant pressure to go along with this plan. I refused, but I could easily see how someone else could have been coerced to meet their stalker. How messed up is that?
When the ‘Help me Ken’ graffiti was scrawled on my house, a police officer asked if it might be ‘a student prank’.
I lost track of how many times I had to recap everything that happened. Officers would arrive to take statement after statement without being briefed on what had happened previously. To this day I’m not convinced that everything was linked to the same case – I received multiple crime reporting numbers and my understanding of the evidence presented in court was that it featured some of the incidents, but not everything. I wasn’t asked to review the evidence, despite the fact I reported and recorded everything.
While he was free to roam about at large from his tent, the police said they were powerless. I called them several times when he was spotted but ‘he wasn’t doing anything wrong’. Aside from terrorising me. Neighbourhood teams didn’t check in with me and I began to feel like I was a nuisance wasting their time. It took arson for them to take it seriously when anyone could see that his psychotic behaviour was escalating.
After the fire, the police promised to call me as soon as soon as he was apprehended. They didn’t. I later learned he was arrested that evening. One phone call would have saved me from a sleepless night.
My interactions with victim support services were sporadic and not particularly positive. On one hand I was categorised as a victim of domestic abuse; on the other, I was flat out told that support services weren’t set up for men, so they didn’t know where I could access support. It took my own research to find LGBT services like Broken Rainbows who apparently only deal with people in imminent danger and are stretched to breaking point. I had to do my own research and make arrangements for counselling that turned out to be very general and not particularly effective.
While victim support did remain in contact during the court case, I received letters that were contradictory. One said that the case had been dismissed in one line, then gave the date of the next hearing in the other. Apparently whoever sent it was using a letter template and had forgotten to take out one of the stock sentences. A small mistake, but one that caused me a panic attack and a frantic phone call.
It took me three months of active chasing to be sent a copy of the anti-molestation order issued by the court.
Victim support apparently hadn’t received it and asked me for a copy for their records if I managed to get one. While I know he was given a community order for 100 hours, no one has ever told me what that involved. I would sleep easier if I knew it involved intensive psychiatric treatment rather than picking up litter by the roadside.
As mentioned, I was never asked by the CPS to review the evidence or, aside from a victim support statement, to comment on the case they were putting forward. Months after the court case, I received an email from my ex that was identical from one he had sent before. A clear breach of the non-molestation order. My ex claimed that it was sent in error. (Because you know how easy email software makes it to send draft emails…there are at least four clicks involved.)
He was going to put forward an ‘expert witness’ that said it could have been sent by mistake. The CPS weren’t willing to put forward their own expert and so dropped the case. I Was helpfully told I could appeal the decision but they still wouldn’t reopen the case.
This all happened about a year and a half ago. After getting heart palpitations and a sense of dread from walking to work, and opening letters when I got there, I had to leave my job. I’ve had to move away from the city that I loved and my friends who lived there. I’ve had to go for counselling, which is ongoing, and I’m medication to treat anxiety and depression. Psychological manipulation and terror is really great at lowering self-esteem. This experience is likely to be a shadow over future (hopefully healthier) relationships. Although, ultimately, I know it will be up to me on how big a shadow it casts.
Suggestions for change
- Stalking/harassment needs to be seen as a continuous event. The police are used to intervening in the aftermath of an event. Whether it’s a mugging or a burglary; everything stems from that significant criminal ‘incident’. While those events might be traumatic, they are not the same as the continual feeling of being targeted and in danger. Rather than tracking individual incidents, stalking and harassment should be tracked as a pattern of behaviour with small acts being taken into account and pre-emptive action taken to try to stop things escalating.
- As Gertrude Stein almost said - The victim is the victim is the victim is the victim. Are you spending more time talking to the perpetrator, protecting their privacy and shielding their behaviour? You are probably doing things wrong.
- There also needs to be a greater understanding that stalking and harassment takes planning. In order to successfully terrorise someone, you have to have intent. It is fundamentally different to an opportunistic burglary or a drunken punch-up and so should be investigated accordingly.
- Men are stalked and harassed. So are gay men (Hi!). So are gay women. I could go on. Vital women’s domestic violence services are being hit by cuts and so are the incredibly limited number of specialist LGBT services. There needs to be more funding for all of these services to grow and be better integrated and signposted with one another. They need to look at where their work overlaps and where the gaps in support are. They need to talk to and be listened to by the police, CPS, magistrates, judges, ministers and policy makers.
- Speaking of which, the government needs to use the information it already has to gauge the extent of the problem. Data on this subject is not easy to come by, and seems to be collated by charities based on people using their services. I am unable to find official Office of National Statistics crime stats on LGBT victims or prosecutions of stalking and harassment. (Email me If you find any!). Work on LGBT domestic violence acknowledges that it is a large and mostly hidden problem, but it appears to be very fragmented and out of date (Again, if I’m wrong let me know.)
- We need to acknowledge that LGBT experiences around stalking and harassment are different and require specialist support. When you have police and security staff roaming the streets conducting a manhunt where you work, you are ‘out’ to a large number of people - whether you want to be or not. If your family believe that gay relationships are intrinsically wrong and abusive, this isn’t going to convince them otherwise.
- LGBT pressure and charity groups have spent a great deal of productive time lobbing for the criminalisation of external threats to the community, in particular, discrimination and hate crime. We need to start looking inwardly and those same organisations need to question whether they are providing enough support to the people they purport to serve. Services like the LGBT Domestic Abuse Forum, which only had a liminal existence, has had its funding pulled by local authorities and Stonewall. There appears to be no will to take the situation seriously.
- Finally, while I’m not going to suggest banning all romantic comedies (although…the idea does appeal for other reasons) culturally we need to stop glamorising Big Romantic Gestures that border on the obsessive. Contacting someone when they’ve asked to be left alone should be a taboo. Friends and family need to step in when this behaviour starts. Stalking ain't cute.