Unpacking the Dangerous Myths That Stop Women From Reporting their Stalkers
Three out of five British victims don't report stalking to the police. An anti-stalking expert debunks the damaging misconceptions that prevent women reaching out for help.
Illustration by Calum Heath
Every year, women in the UK are murdered by stalkers and domestic abusers—despite previously reporting them to the police. Unfollow Me is a campaign highlighting the under-reported issue of stalking and domestic abuse in support of anti-stalking charity Paladin's calls to introduce a Stalkers Register in the UK. Follow all of our coverage here.
According to our exclusively commissioned YouGov survey, around one in ten Brits have experienced some form of stalking in their life. But even though the Office of National Statistics (ONS) recently reported a 30 percent increase in crimes of "stalking and harassment" in the UK, our own data shows that three out of five victims do not report their stalker to the police.
Even when people do seek help, they may not receive the protection their need. Our exclusive Freedom of Information (FOI) investigation found that 49 women in the UK were murdered by their stalker, partner, or ex-partner in the last three years—even though they had previously reported them to the police for threatening behavior.
Women like 24-year-old Sky employee Alice Ruggles repeatedly reported their stalker to the authorities, only to be killed by them anyway. It's little wonder that people have misgivings about approaching the police.
Our YouGov data confirms that people can be deeply reluctant to report their stalker to the police—often due to fears of victim-blaming and wasting police time, or the misplaced belief that confrontation is the best way to deal with a stalker. We asked Paladin founder Laura Richards to help us debunk five common responses we received from our survey audience.
Watch: Unfollow Me: The Alice Ruggles Story
“I didn’t think it would be taken seriously by the police.”
Some victims may think that the police are busy with other more 'serious' crimes, particularly given how policing resources have been cut under the Conservative government's austerity program. Stalking is a serious crime. Trust your instinct. Do report stalking to the police and contact Paladin for good practical advice.
"I thought I would be blamed."
Victim blaming is a training issue with police and other services. Victims should not be blamed or shamed for the behavior of the perpetrator stalking them. It is the perpetrator who should be placed at the centre of the investigation, if reported to police, and not the victim.
"It wasn't malicious. It was just internet stalking."
"Some people may believe the behavior is just online. However, the reality is if it is stalking, which is about fixation and obsession, there is a strong probability it may escalate offline, and the stalker may want to get up close and personal at some point."
“Not sure [the police] would take it seriously unless there was a real threat of violence."
Stalking by its very nature implies a threat. It is a pattern of unwanted, fixated, and obsessive behavior which is intrusive and causes fear of violence or serious alarm or distress. Do not think it any less serious if there is no threat of violence or no physical abuse. That doesn't mean that there is no risk. There is always a tipping point with cases, and all stalking should be taken seriously. It is a criminal offence.
“I think it would be more effective if I confronted them face to face.”
Confronting your stalker can be risky and dangerous. Do, however, tell them to cease and desist using a method that feels safe. Ensure you report to the police, get good practical advice from Paladin, keep a diary of all behaviors and the impact it is having on you and trust your instinct at all times.
If you're experiencing stalking and you are based in the UK, you can call Paladin on 020 3866 4107. If you are based in the US, you can call the Stalking Resource Center at the National Center for Victims of Crime on 855-484-2846.