National Stalking Awareness Week: Unmasking Stalking

This National Stalking Awareness Week 2021 we will be giving you a daily insight into stalking. Alison Bird, Clinical Lead for Stalking, national stalking professional and an accredited Independent Stalking Advocate will be helping to unmask stalking in order to help survivors.

Today’s blog is to raise awareness about how stalkers have reacted to the pandemic and used it to their advantage.

Stalking is fixated, obsessive, unwanted and repeated behavior that causes a victim serious alarm & distress or fear of violence. If you think you’re being stalked, then trust your instinct. As a victim of stalking your mind will want to rationalise things and may say it’s just coincidence or it will stop but fixated behaviour does not just go away. You may be being bombarded with unwanted calls/texts, threats, see the stalker loitering outside, the stalker being in your shop you use (when they have no reason to be there), damage may be done to your property e.g. car/house – there are many other stalking behaviours. This is a criminal offense so call police on 101 for non-emergencies and on 999 for emergencies.

The lockdowns caused by COVID19 have seen #stalkers change the way they stalk their victims. The most common type of stalker is the ex-partner – the Revenge Stalker. They are usually the most dangerous as they know the routines and habits of their victims i.e. where they live, the layout of the house, the routes they take to take their children to school, the GP surgery they attend, where they work and they will use this knowledge to their advantage. So with the majority of the population’s world’s closed down to working at home, only making important journeys out for exercise or to get medication and food this has further opened up the world of the stalker. In the words of the stalking victims “we feel like sitting ducks”.

Pivotally due to the pandemic stalkers have had more time on their hands. As stalking case workers, we know that stalkers with more time on their hands can be more dangerous. Lockdown has further enabled stalkers as many have been furloughed or lost their jobs. The Criminal Justice System has slowed down and left victims/survivors feeling trapped and unsupported whilst going through the criminal justice system.

Additionally, with stalkers enabled with masks when they are loitering or following this becomes even more frightening for the victim and even harder for police to prove the case.

In a juxta position to being followed outside or seeing the stalker loitering nearby is the increase in the use of spyware. Some of the more tech savvy stalkers have found that using the cyber world to their advantage during lockdown has the same impact. The stalker’s fixation has been fueled and there has been a huge increase in certain types of cyber stalking: revenge porn, social media bombardment, hacking of accounts, using the children through their gaming platforms.

It is widely known that the ex-partner stalker will ALWAYS use the children to their advantage and to feed their obsession. This could be by way of listening into what’s going on in the house via a gaming platform and using the family courts is very common for fixated ex-partners. They run rings around CAFCASS, social care and Judges – often citing parental alienation - and with the impact and trauma of the survivor being weaponized by the stalker we see perpetrators sometimes getting residency of children and always getting contact when they are dangerous, manipulative and guilty of domestic abuse whilst in the relationship.

But going back to revenge porn this crime of image-based abuse has risen by 22% during the pandemic (Revenge Porn Helpline stats). Once intimate images are shared it is extremely hard to un-do the damage and stalkers will often use this tactic or blackmail their victims with the threat of sharing intimate photos. The impact of this is devastating and leaves many with suicidal thoughts. As a case worker, when you are dealing with image-based abuse it’s essential to ensure you’ve conducted a stalking risk assessment as revenge porn and stalking are often interlinked. Always look at the bigger picture and join the dots. Stalking is like a jigsaw and you need to see all the pieces together and not look at them in silo.

Calls to the National Stalking Helpline rose by 11% during the pandemic and they also reported a change in methodology with increased use of cyber stalking. The National Stalking Helpline have advised that every case this year has had an element of cyber stalking within it.

The psychological impact on stalking survivors is huge as stalking survivors report the following mental health impacts: inability to sleep, depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, panic attacks, constant terror, PTSD and inability to concentrate and many more symptoms. It is extremely difficult for stalking victims to hold down their jobs due to the inability to concentrate and the exhaustion that the fear has on their body – alongside reporting, making statements etc.

As an employer it’s key to support an employee who is being stalked – giving them time to report to police, validating their experience and listening, allowing them to access counselling or medical appointments. Do not let the stalkers steal the last thing that the victim/survivor has – their financial independence and a workplace to go to.

So tomorrow we will look at advice for stalking victims/survivors whilst dealing with stalking during lockdown & post lockdown.

For stalking support please call The National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300. Revenge Porn helpline: 0345 6000 459.