‘I wouldn’t be here without my advocate’ - stalking victims support petition calling for more protection

·6-min read
 (PA)
(PA)

“If it hadn’t been for my stalking advocate, I don’t think I would be here, because being stalked is horrendous. But what is equally as bad is the handling of it by the police. It just takes over your life.”

In 2017, Jane*, which is not her real name, befriended the man who went on to stalk her for four years, giving him a job at her shop in south-west London.

But when his behaviour began to escalate, lashing out at other staff members and refusing to work, Jane had no choice but to let him go.

Soon after, malicious posters went up around the area where she lived, badmouthing her with allegations she was trying to poison her customers.

He went on to wage a sustained stalking campaign against her, smashing the windows of her shop and slashing her tyres, harassing her and her friends, sending endless messages threatening violence, suicide and even death threats.

“Somebody phoned me up to say they put a tracker on my van and they knew where I lived. They said they were ‘going to get me’. That evening I got a series of death threats. Different numbers texting me to say they were going to kill me, so I called the police.”

‘I had a breakdown’

Jane, who is in her late 50s, said the stalking caused her previous relationship to break down, and the stress of it saw her withdraw from work and social circles.

“I had a breakdown, I couldn’t function anymore,” she said.

After taking time off, and being prescribed medication for anxiety and depression, eventually Jane decided, “I can’t hide, I have to face it head on”.

Her stalker pleaded guilty to nine charges and is due to be sentenced next month.

While Jane said she has tried to move on and put the ordeal behind her, the impact of stalking is far-reaching and something that still affects her to this day.

“I have a constant feeling that something awful is going to happen, and I don’t think that’s ever going to go,” she told the Standard.

Jane is backing a petition which is calling for more funding for stalking advocates, who she credits as “life savers”.

 (Petition.parliament.uk)
(Petition.parliament.uk)

A stalking advocate provides victims with specialist independent support, advice and advocacy. They act as the main point of contact throughout their case.

“I have a fantastic advocate who, if I’m particularly suffering, will phone me and we will have a long conversation,” Jane added.

“It’s essential that you have a stalking advocate, because otherwise you get lost in the wilderness. Having an advocate gives you some power, because as a victim you feel like you don’t have any rights.”

Petition calls for better protection for victims

The petition, which will be debated in Parliament after gaining over 100,000 signatures, was started by nurse Jackie Barnett-Wheatcroft.

Ms Barnett-Wheatcroft, 49, from Chesterfield, said she started the petition because she was “fed up of all the violence that was happening and Gracie Spinks’ death was the last straw.”

Gracie Spinks is thought to have been killed by a former colleague (Instagram)
Gracie Spinks is thought to have been killed by a former colleague (Instagram)

23-year-old Gracie Spinks was fatally stabbed in June last year. The body of her suspected killer, colleague Michael Sellers, was found half a mile away in Derbyshire.

It is believed he had become obsessed with her in the months before her death.

Ms Barnett-Wheatcroft, who said she was stalked as a teenager, wants police forces to allocate specific funding to help victims and met with safeguarding minister Rachel Maclean on January 11.

Surge in stalking cases

The pandemic has emboldened perpetrators, as lockdowns have confined victims to their homes and made them more easy to stalk.

The Metropolitan Police reported a 300 per cent increase in stalking reports in London during the first year of the pandemic.

Stalking advocacy service, Veritas Justice, saw a 26 per cent surge in demand for their services during lockdowns, and a 76 per cent increase in cyber-stalking activity on existing cases.

“Most of us were told to stay at home where you will be safe, but for a stalking victim home isn’t necessarily safe,” said Veritas Justice co-founder, Claudia Ortiz.

“Where perpetrators weren’t able to stalk their victims by following them, what they were able to do was to increase the amount of contact they received online.”

Ms Ortiz said perpetrators had used social networking apps like Houseparty to contact victims during the pandemic, as well as messaging them through games consoles, sending fake deliveries and even naming victims to NHS Track and Trace so they would be made to self-isolate at home.

The NHS Track and Trace app was used by perpetrators to keep victims at home (PA Wire)
The NHS Track and Trace app was used by perpetrators to keep victims at home (PA Wire)

Caroline Alabi, who lives in north London, said her ordeal of being stalked intensified during lockdowns and made her life a living nightmare.

Ms Alabi has been stalked for the past four years by a man known to her. During the pandemic it got so bad, she was signed off sick from work due to stress, anxiety and migraines.

“Trying to work from home during a global pandemic and a national lockdown, when you’re being stalked, there are no words for how oppressed you feel. How trapped you feel when the stalker is effectively monitoring your every move and everything is closed.

“It really got out of control during the lockdown in terms of the cyber-stalking.”

She spoke in favour of seeing better protection for victims and said the petition was a “fantastic” sign that people are beginning to realise just how common stalking is and how dangerous it can be.

She continued: “There’s definitely a gap in the system. Advocacy for stalking is limited, there is quite a long waiting list so even if you are eligible, it could be months.

“In my situation, I was hoping for advocacy support for dealing with the police.”

‘Advocates play a vital role’

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which runs the National Stalking Helpline, has helped more than 40,000 victims to date.

But the charity said they do not have enough advocates to answer the amount of calls that come in.

Violet Alvarez, senior policy and campaigns officer at the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said: “Advocates play a vital role in ensuring the victim’s voice is heard. Most of the time victims just want to be listened to and believed.

“Often they have had negative experiences with the criminal justice system and need support through that journey. We bridge that gap.”

Victims commissioner Claire Waxman (Ben Lister)
Victims commissioner Claire Waxman (Ben Lister)

London’s victims commissioner Claire Waxman wants to see further investment in services such as London’s Stalking Threat Assessment Centre, which brings together the police, probation service and CPS.

She said it was “vital that victims feel believed, validated, and support the whole way through the criminal justice service”.

”This means we need police to respond robustly and an expert voice to help advocate for victims going through the criminal justice process would greatly help victims navigate a criminal justice system that does not always recognise the insidious nature of stalking and the terrible impact it has on its victims.”

*Name has been changed to protect the victim’s identity

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