Waking to find someone in your bedroom, never sleeping, being afraid to look at your phone, always looking over your shoulder - these are some of the nightmare realities often faced by victims of stalking.
But now the launch of a new campaign aims to give victims the support they need to get help to end their ordeal and bring perpetrators to justice.
The campaign, which is led by the tagline ‘Stalking is a crime: if you see the signs, we’ll see the bigger picture’, is being spearheaded by Southend, Essex and Thurrock Domestic Abuse Board (SETDAB).
The campaign aims to raise awareness to help people recognise the signs of stalking both if they believe they are a victim or suspect someone else may be.
One woman from Maldon who became a victim of stalking at the hands of a former partner after a three-month relationship ended, has welcomed the campaign.
Speaking about her ordeal she said: “Even now with him in prison I’m finding it hard to feel safe.
“In the beginning he was charming and caring, but gradually he became more controlling and suffocating in our relationship.
“When I tried to break free things went really wrong - he broke into my house and walked into my bedroom as I slept.
“He even installed a letter box on my home while I was working abroad to intercept my post and was constantly messaging and calling day and night.
“Even when we broke up I couldn’t get away. Over time I found the strength to tell the police and now he has been jailed, but the mental and emotional abuse I endured will never leave me.
“If you think you are being stalked there is help out there – please don’t suffer in silence.”
The campaign is run by SETDAB, an organisation made up of representatives from agencies and organisations working to join up and better facilitate Southend, Essex and Thurrock’s vision where everyone lives a life free from domestic abuse.
It has been launched in response to a large rise in stalking offences in the county. In 2018 there were 656 stalking offences recorded in Essex compared to 207 in 2017. In 2018 there were also 635 separate victims identified and 508 named suspects. Of the 635 victims 78 per cent were women and 77 per cent of the suspects were men.
Although the rise in offences is partly due to a change in crime recording, SETDAB is taking action to tackle the crime and support victims.
Stalking is defined as fixated, obsessive, unwanted and repeated behaviour. It may seem normal and ordinary in isolation, for example receiving a text or phone call, but when it is repeated and alongside other unwanted behaviour it may cause alarm and distress for the victim.
As part of the campaign, some of the most common behaviours carried out by perpetrators are reflected in social media and print materials including: online abuse, leaving signs, following you, finding you, tracking you, using your kids to get to you, bombarding texts, unwanted gifts and obsessive calls.
Essex Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Andy Prophet said: “For victims of stalking the emotional torment of this crime plagues their every waking thought.
“They are always wondering when the perpetrator will next appear, when they will next receive that unwanted phone call or text, and many victims become afraid to go out.
“As the launch of this campaign demonstrates, Essex Police and our partners are committed to supporting victims, catching perpetrators and driving out this awful crime. We are also committed to improving the way we support victims and we are rolling out more training for staff and officers to ensure they are equipped as best as they can be to deal with this complex crime.”
Jane Gardner, Chair of SETDAB said, “Stalking is a complex crime and can be identified by a pattern of abusive behaviours. We want to raise awareness around some of these behaviours to help victims and those who have left controlling relationships and may now be at risk.”
Alison Bird, Clinical Lead for the Independent Stalking Advocacy Service, Changing Pathways, said “Too often the signs of stalking are missed and behaviours seen in isolation. If you join the dots you will see the more sinister pattern. Friends & family may make “reasonable” suggestions e.g. it will just stop, however the true nature of fixation is not “reasonable”. Stalking is a crime and is insidious and can steal lives and take lives. So please take it seriously and get advice from the experts.”
If you think you’re being stalked and need help, visit www.setdab.org or call Changing Pathways on 01268 729707. In an emergency always call 999.