Saturday, January 21, 2012
The Shadow of Fear
The shadow of fear that stalkers leave on their victims
by Grace Hammond
Jennifer Aniston recently had a restraining order issued against 24-year-old Jayson Peyton, who staked out her home for eight days and was found to have duct tape, dvds of her films and a sharp object in his car.
The story made the headlines and saw the former Friends star join the likes of Halle Berry, Mel Gibson and Gwyneth Paltrow, who have all been victims of stalkers.
But it is not just Hollywood A-listers who suffer what can be a terrifying experience. More than 1.2 million women and 900,000 men are stalked in the UK every year and in the worst instances, stalking can lead to violence, criminal damage, rape or even murder.
One of the most chilling cases in recent years involved German office worker David Heiss who murdered British student Matthew Pyke in a sustained and savage stabbing attack after becoming obsessed with his Yorkshire girlfriend, who he had met in the chatroom of a war game website.
Thankfully, such horrific cases are rare but for anyone who has been the victim of stalking it can be a traumatic ordeal. "People think stalkers are strangers lurking in the bushes, but research shows 50 per cent of stalking cases involve ex-partners," says Jane Harvey, from the charity Network for Surviving Stalking. "Anybody who deals with the public is more at risk – I was speaking to a teacher recently who was being stalked by the mother of a pupil."
Ms Harvey says stalking can have a huge impact on lives – making people feel panicked, depressed and lonely.
"It affects your relationships, your ability to trust people and to function as a normal human being."
At present, the only law against stalking is The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and although the law in the UK doesn't define what stalking is, Harvey says it "could be someone phoning you repeatedly, emailing you, following you, sending you presents or other 'gifts'."
Experts believe the rise in reported stalking incidents over the last decade is, in part, down to the development of the internet and mobile phones which have made it easier for stalkers to prey on their victims. But while celebrity figures like Jennifer Aniston are quick to contact the police, research in the UK has shown that 77 per cent of victims didn't report they were being stalked until more than 100 incidents had happened.
The story of Jemma, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, makes for unsettling reading. She met a man on a dating website who shared her interests. She was excited but wary. "He was my first internet date and I'd arranged to meet him in a public place – just as you're supposed to do," she says.
After a couple of dates, she decided to end their relationship which is when the emails started. "They pleaded for another chance, saying we'd both regret it if we didn't try again, but the emails continued, becoming stranger and darker. It frightened me."
He kept phoning in the middle of the night and threatened to come round if she wouldn't meet him. It left her feeling vulnerable and frightened. "I was finding it impossible to concentrate on work."
She called the police and her stalker was finally arrested and given a restraining order. But the stalker posted a fake profile on the same dating site and got in touch with Jemma asking to meet. "I was horrified he'd invented a new identity to harass me again."
He was finally caught by police again and they fitted a panic alarm in her home. But the experience has left her shaken. "How many more people are out there, creating false identities and stalking their victims under the cover of websites?"
Jane Harvey says if someone is making you feel uncomfortable then you should trust your instincts and go to the police. "Victims themselves don't take stalking seriously. If someone walked up to you and punched you in the face, you'd go to the police. But stalking can happen more slowly, a few texts one day, a few the next week."
There are basic precautions that anyone can follow, such as limiting the amount of personal information they put on the internet and social network sites like Facebook.
But the advice is simple – never confront a stalker, and keep a record of any text messages, emails and letters as evidence to help the police.
For more advice and information in the U.K., visit the Network for Surviving Stalking, http://www.nss.org.uk
original article here