Homa Khaleeli had a great piece in the Guardian yesterday: Stalkers are criminals – not ‘incompetent suitors’, in which she discussed the case of Claire Waxman, who has just seen her stalker, Elliot Fogel, get off with a 16 week prison term despite subjecting her to seven years of terror.

Click this link to see an interview with Claire Waxman, although be warned, some of the written coverage on that piece is misleading and downright annoying – I’m not sure for instance how turning up at someone’s workplace, jogging behind their car, and turning up at one of their children’s nurseries, qualifies someone to be labelled a web stalker: I’d have thought stalker by itself would have done, but then I’m not a headline writer, so…

What I am though is someone who has been stalked, so as you can probably imagine this is a subject I feel quite strongly about. In fact if I’m being honest there aren’t many things that piss me off more than reading uninformed comments from people who have no insight into the very real harm, emotional and psychological, that stalking can do to a person: suffice to say I won’t be tolerating any of that bollocks on this thread.

There seems to be quite a commonly held assumption, evidenced by the paltry sentence dished out in the Waxman case, that unless stalking culminates in some kind of physical attack then it’s not really all that serious; that terrorising someone in this way for weeks, months, sometimes years, is somehow less damaging or traumatic than assaulting them would be. It’s similar to the arguments people wheel out in domestic abuse cases, where again emotional abuse is deemed as less harmful than physical abuse, mainly because the scars that this kind of abuse leaves in its wake are oftentimes invisible, unlike say a black eye  or a broken limb. However, as this extract from Rape Crisis Scotland’s Stalking booklet makes clear, stalking can be every bit as damaging to a person as other forms of violence:

“It’s important to recognise that stalking has a similar impact on women to other forms of male violence. This includes:

  • Anxiety, nervousness and panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Resorting to medication for the psychological effects of the stalking
  • Inability to sleep
  • Fear/terror
  • Eating disorders
  • Agoraphobia
  • Nightmares
  • Self harming behaviour
  • Suicide ideation, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Inability to trust
  • Deterioration in physical health due to physical or sexual assaults
  • Post traumatic stress disorder”

Like the majority of stalking victims, I ended up moving home to get away from my perpetrator. Actually, make that perpetrators, ‘cos it’s happened to me twice, both times with ex boyfriends (what are the odds of that eh?). The first time I moved out of student accommodation into a shared flat with friends, but was then forced to move again when one of said friends decided to invite the creepy bastard back to ours for drinks. I remember the feeling of utter dismay when, after I’d done everything I could to make sure he didn’t know my new address, I turned around and realised my ex was tagging along with us on the way back from a night out, and the complete isolation I felt when I asked one of my flat mates what the fuck was going on and he replied: “Oh don’t worry about it, he’s harmless enough. Anyway, he’s a nice bloke, I don’t understand why you’ve got such a problem with him.”

Yes indeedy, he was such a nice bloke that on one memorable night he’d spent hours walking round and round and round the outside of the accommodation block where I’d been living at the time yelling “Bitch!” every time he passed under my window. He was such a nice bloke that when I went back to visit my ex flatmates after moving the second time, I discovered that not only had he ingratiated himself with them to the extent that he’d become their new best friend, he’d actually moved into the flat in my place and was now living in my old room. But apparently there was nothing weird or creepy about that behaviour, oh no.

Well take it from me, there’s nothing like having your stalker open your old front door to you and invite you in to look at what he’s done to your old/now his new room, to fuck with your head completely.

The second time, different bloke a few years later, was on a different scale completely though, and I’m not going to go into too much detail here. Not only did he hang around my house incessantly, he also waited outside my workplace, sat next to me or behind me on the bus ride home, walked behind me right up to my front door, and on a couple of occasions even forced his way in when I did finally get home. But that one did culminate in physical violence, as well as in threats to kill.

I’m not sure if I can explain how it feels to live in constant anticipation of an assault; of how it feels to wake up each day wondering if this is the day when the thing you most dread is actually going to happen; or of how it feels when that day does come and you find yourself giving in to it, just wanting it to be over, thinking: “Okay, so this is it. Just do whatever it is you’re going to do and let this thing end for once and for all.”

But that’s the problem with stalkers, it never does end. They may stop stalking you, but you never lose that feeling of constantly being watched, the same as you never lose the habit of scanning faces in the crowds around you, whether that’s on busy streets or on tube platforms. And what you also never lose is that sense of dread, the dread that one day you’ll turn around, and there he’ll be. Again.

Anyway, for various reasons I never reported my perpetrator to the police. For one thing the stalking and harassment laws didn’t exist back then, although I know I could have had him done for the threats to kill and the assaults. At the time though my only concern was self-preservation, and that involved packing a bag as soon as he left my house and moving out that very night. It didn’t involve contacting the police and it certainly didn’t involve going through a protracted court case.

But the laws have changed now, and despite the crap sentence given to Claire Waxman’s stalker, the fact remains that there’s far more acknowledgement of the damage that stalking does to women’s lives than there was back in the day, and there’s also far more protection for women than there was when I was going through it.

So I’d urge any woman reading this: if you ever find yourself in a similar situation to mine, or if you ever suspect that you may have a stalker, for god’s sake tell someone, whether that’s the police or one of the many organisations out there that can help.

Don’t ever let it get to the point where you find yourself thinking “Just do whatever it is you’re going to do and let this be over.”

Because trust me, that’s not a good place to be.

For help/further information see:

Network For Surviving Stalking

Protection against Stalking

Rape Crisis England and Wales

Rape Crisis Scotland

Women’s Aid

Rights of Women