This week we are pleased to host a guest blog from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, a charity working to reduce the risk of violence and aggression. The tragic murders of Alice Ruggles and Shana Grice, both of whom were murdered by ex-boyfriends after a period of stalking behavior, have made it clear that connections bewteen stalking and an escalation of violence are not being taken seriously.
When victims call the National Stalking Helpline, they are often at their wit’s end. We hear that victims 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 the 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 become involved. This needs to change.
Imagine receiving anonymous texts, calls and even presents. It might be fine at first, your friends might even say it’s flattering, but if this behaviour continued for days, months and years, even though you asked the sender to stop, it would become more sinister. No matter how ‘nice’ these messages were, they’re unwanted, and not knowing how to make them stop has the potential to make anyone feel vulnerable and threatened.
Regardless of the bewildering and strange ways that stalking behaviours can be presented, it is vital that we take every allegation of stalking seriously. The reality is that victims are at risk of not only emotional distress, but also physical violence and, in the worst cases, murder.
During National Stalking Awareness Week this year, we released a report, written by Dr Jane Monckton Smith, to explore the links between stalking and homicide. The lessons of the report highlighted why it is vital for stalking to be identified early. Irrespective of the severity of actions, stalking is an indicator for serious harm, and concerning behaviours are more likely to be prevented from escalating if they are recognised as early as possible.
The report observed that, where stalking resulted in homicide, the perpetrator had often reached a crisis point in the ‘emotional journey’ they had experienced. The level of planning and the time behaviours took to escalate varied in each case, but there was a clear trend: homicides related to stalking were rarely ‘an explosion of spontaneous and immediately provoked violence’, and more often, were premeditated.
While predicting homicides in relation to stalking will never be an exact science, we should learn from previous cases to inform best practice. By identifying and managing the fixation and obsessive behaviour, we can better protect victims.
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.
If you are a victim of stalking, contact the police. If you want advice and support, contact the National Stalking Helpline. If you are aware of someone committing this offence, report it. You are not alone.
National Stalking Hotline: 0808 802 0300
National domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline Scotland: 0800 027 1234
'Exploring the relationship between stalking and homicide' - Suzy Lamplaugh Trust