Taking Stalking Seriously

Stalking as a phenomenon has been noted in human behaviour for well over a century.  References to obsessive behaviour and the need to retain intimacy with another person can be seen in the writing of Victorian author, Louise May Alcott, who wrote Little Women. In her novel, A Long Fatal Love Chase, a woman is chased across the seas for years by her estranged husband, until he mistakenly kills her whilst trying to murder her new partner. Holding her dead body in his arms, the ‘stalker’ then kills himself and as he does so he says “Mine first - mine last – mine even in the grave!” This obsession to the point of murder is not a sensational, fictitious idea but a behaviour which is worryingly still prevalent within our society in 2017.  In this blog post Victoria Charleston, Policy Officer at Suzy Lamplugh Trust explores stalking and potential implications for policy.

In April of this year, Suzy Lamplugh Trust released research from the University of Gloucestershire which explored the links between stalking and homicide.  Analysing over 350 femicides in the years 2012, 2013, and 2014, the Homicide Research Group found that 94% of femicides contained stalking behaviours in the year leading up to the murder.  And this data is borne out in cases we have experienced in the UK in just the last 18 months.  In August 2016, Shana Grice was murdered by her ex-partner after a campaign of stalking which included the use of tracking devices, sending unwanted gifts, and damage to her car.  In September of the same year, Alice Ruggles was murdered by her ex-partner who, among other behaviours, entered her home without permission, sent a barrage of texts and emails to Alice and tried to persuade her family to his campaign.

Despite the gravity of these behaviours and the possibility of the worst outcome, stalking is not taken seriously.  It is not uncommon for people to refer to ‘facebook stalking’ when they are interested in lives of former friends and acquaintances on social media.  Valentine’s Day often produces merchandise equating stalking with love.  More concerningly, it is still not uncommon for those reporting distressing behaviours to be told that they ought to be ‘flattered’ by the attention.

On the National Stalking Helpline (UK), we will speak to around 4,500 people this year.  When victims call us, they are often at their wit’s end. They tell us they do not know where to turn, that they haven’t been taken seriously by the services that are meant to help them, or that other people don’t appreciate why the seemingly commonplace acts used by their stalker to harass them are so terrifying. Far too frequently, we hear that the victim has approached the authorities, but has been told the police are unable to act until a physical threat or violence has happened.

This attitude towards stalking is not limited to the UK.  Internationally, there is a struggle to appreciate the severity of stalking and to find an appropriate response to the fixation and obsession inherent within the stalker.  There is a struggle to find a common definition of stalking within law and appreciation of the impact of seemingly random or unthreatening behaviours. 

Collectively, we need to better understand the impact of stalking and the psychological trauma victims face.  We ask both criminal justice professionals and the public to support victims, recognise worrying behaviours, and report stalking as quickly as possible. It is vital to identify stalking through intention, not just actions, and to consider frequency and persistence, as well as severity of the actions, when measuring how serious each case is.

Stalking remains grossly under reported, and while there is a growing understanding that it is a serious crime, we continue to see a lack of understanding in both professional and public settings. Until the impact of stalkers’ actions are fully appreciated, it is imperative that we demand more is done to recognise the risks.