A Sussex woman has spoken out about her experience as a victim of stalking.
Sarah (not her real name) had been in a relationship with her stalker for 10 years and had a child with him.
She said for a long time she did not realise the severity of what was happening, as throughout their relationship her partner had chipped away at her sense of self esteem.
“It was so covertly done I didn’t realise it was going on,” the young mother said, “So often when you say ‘stalker’ people think of someone physically following you, but that’s not what a stalker is. It can be part of it, certainly mine was, but he was also using other people.”
Sarah said in the beginning of the relationship her partner was very affectionate and would ‘love bomb’ her. But, when things turned sour, she said, “It was all ‘I love you, we are doing this for our family’. Very covert. It felt normal.
“The relationship was abusive anyway, more psychological than physical, but there was physical abuse as well. It was the psychological abuse that was the hardest part.”
When the relationship broke down, his behaviour got worse. “It became more erratic,” she said, “He would say things like ‘look what you’ve made me do, this is all your fault. We are going to lose everything because of you’.
“He wouldn’t accept blame, he can’t accept fault. Progressively, things got worse as he realised he was losing that control.
“There were incidents that happened that police were aware of that I didn’t follow through because I was scared. I didn’t want to lose access to my son.”
Her stalker would use mutual acquaintances to find out where Sarah was and what she was doing, under the guise of checking up on her. He would then turn up and harass her. “I still don’t know how he found some things out,” she said, “I’m not 100 per cent sure how he’s doing everything but I know it’s happening.”
The situation escalated to the point Sarah no longer felt safe in her own home.
“It was that fear that he’s hanging around. It’s such a weird feeling to be in your own home but not feel safe. I can’t put it into words.
“You think to yourself ‘why am I changing my day to day routine?’ But it takes over your life.”
After around a year of the ordeal, including physical attacks, she decided enough was enough.
“For me when I had to say no was when things started to happen in front of our child,” Sarah said.
She followed it up with police and went to court to eventually get a non-molestation order in place.
“It took a lot of courage to go to court. That brought a lot of anxiety. I was already suffering, having panic attacks and nightmares.
“So sitting in a court room was horrendous. But I knew it had to be done so I could protect myself and, in turn, my son.”
Sarah says the order does not fully protect her but it is a deterrent. Her stalker did breach the order but he was then charged with doing so and has been ‘careful’ since, she says.
“He’s found other ways,” she said, “But I feel like having that in place has meant that I have been able to start my healing process and dealing with the abuse and coming to terms with what happened to me.
“Accepting it wasn’t my fault, his behaviour isn’t normal.
“It took a lot to start that process. I’m not there, I’m still not okay, there’s still a lot going on but I know that everything he’s doing to me is because of him not because of me.”
Reflecting on what happened to her, she said the key reason she did not come forward sooner was due to fear.
“Fear of what the consequences were, not only from him but from other people,” said Sarah, “What it looked like from the outside – he was telling everyone that he cared for me and I was the crazy one.
“It’s difficult when they make it out to be your fault to then stand up to that, you feel like you have to prove to other people your own worth.”
‘Coming forward is empowering’
Now she is sharing her story in the hope it will encourage other victims of stalking to speak out.
She says, “I think from a victim’s perspective, staying strong but not silent is a huge thing. Because using your voice and coming forward is empowering in itself.
“It takes a lot of courage to do that but it’s worth it. You feel like you are taking back control that they had over you for such a long time.”
The first signs of the behaviour, Sarah says, include elements of controlling what a person can and cannot do.
“The belittling was a big thing,” she said, “Making me feel worthless. Telling me everything we have is because of him.
“When I went online and looked up coercive control and harassment and stalking behaviours, I could tick almost every box on that check list. I realised what was happening was more serious than I was willing to admit.
“It really hit home. I was not myself at all. I had lost my identity because I became who he wanted me to be.
“Since my healing process started I have started to fall back in love with myself again and realise the things I enjoy, and that I‘m worth something.
“Use your voice, even if it’s just speaking to a friend and saying ‘this is happening to me’.”
She says stalking happens to both men and women, but sometimes men do not feel able to come forward.
This comes in a week where Sussex Police has introduced new Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) which aim to protect victims of stalking.
The new orders can prohibit suspected stalkers from contacting a victim or going to certain locations. They also have ‘positive’ requirements which could include the offender having a mental health assessment or attending a rehabilitation course.
Significantly it also means the victim would not have to go to court as police officers would apply for the order for them.
Sarah believes SPOs are a positive step forward. She said, “If they had been in force when I was going through it, I think my perpetrator would have been deterred from carrying on as long as he has done.
“I think they are going to be great for victims who really feel stuck and as if they have no way to turn.”
She is also supportive of stalkers receiving rehabilitation services. “There’s definitely a mental health issue there and I would like to see some programmes these people use. Because otherwise the perpetrators carry on with that behaviour because they don’t see anything wrong with it.”
Sarah said, “I just want to help people in my situation, if I can get one man or woman to come forward that’s amazing.
“I want people to understand there’s help out there, but staying silent is letting them win. It’s letting them continue their behaviour and it’s keeping you the victim.”
• If you are being stalked or harassed it is important that you report it. Stalkers are fixated and obsessive offenders who will not stop.
• You can report stalking or harassment online or by calling 101 or in person at your local police station.
• But always call 999 if you are in danger. Police officers and staff will undertake a risk assessment and focus on keeping you safe.
• If you would like further information about stalking or harassment, there are several organisations that specialise in providing advice and support to victims.
• Veritas is a local organisation which provides advocacy and support for victims of stalking.
• The National Stalking Helpline also provides advice and guidance to current or previous victims of stalking or harassment. The helpline can be contacted on 0808 802 0300.