My husband is a big fan of the true crime documentaries on television and a lot of the series features shows on stalking. Luckily i’ve never had to deal with this kind of situation and can only imagine what the victims go through but the worst of it is that very little can be done unless you are in fact assaulted by your stalker and by then as i’ve seen on these shows it can sometimes result in the victims death. Here are a few cases i’ve found:
Claire Waxman has spent much of the last seven years living in terror. During that period, her stalker has followed her relentlessly, broken into her car, bombarded her with letters and gifts, made silent phone calls – even arrived at her daughter’s nursery posing as a prospective parent. She says Elliot Fogel has caused her so much stress that she had a miscarriage, developed an eating disorder, and moved house five times in a bid to escape.
When police raided Fogel’s home, a search of his computer revealed that he had Googled her name 40,000 times in one year and downloaded her wedding photographs. Yet last week a judge sentenced Fogel to just 16 weeks in jail for twice breaking a restraining order. Reports say he could be out in six weeks.
Ann Moulds understands this terror. She fled from her home of 30 years, abandoned her business and even changed her name, after an unsigned Valentine’s card marked the start of one of Scotland’s worst stalking cases. The sexually explicit card was followed by photographs of an unidentified man in women’s underwear, posted to her Ayrshire home in 2004. “By the third photograph I knew I had a stalker,” she says.
Moulds went to the police, but says they did little to stem the silent phone calls and explicit, anonymous letters. “The deviancy of the cards shocked me. I was living on my own and was terrified.” Two years later she finally discovered who was behind it – a man called Alex Reid.
“Ayrshire is not a big town and I knew him to say hello to. A year before the stalking started, I had bumped into him. He knew my daughter had gone to university, and told me if I ever needed anything to give him a call.”
After the chance meeting Reid occasionally phoned her, and feigned outrage when he heard about the photographs. Later he offered to sleep on her couch to protect her. It wasn’t until he sent her a sexually graphic text message that she realised he was the culprit.
Moulds went to the police, but although Reid was questioned and DNA-tested, he was released. A few months later, after more silent phone calls, police finally raided his home and discovered photographs and letters addressed to her. With no anti-stalking legislation in Scotland, it is dealt with as a breach of the peace, and sentencing powers are limited. When Reid was sentenced to just 260 hours of community service and three years on the sex offenders’ register, Moulds was devastated.
“My nerves were shattered, my hair was falling out, I had lost weight. I was advised that if I stayed [in Ayrshire], I would need to keep CCTV up at my house, stay on the alarm to the police, and keep vigilant. But stalkers don’t give up so I had to leave to get safety – all because he did not go to jail. He is walking the same streets, but my life was destroyed.”
Now, thanks to her campaigning, an amendment is going through the Scottish parliament which could change the law to align it with the tougher sentences that can be passed in England and Wales. Yet campaigners say that although the law is stronger south of the border, stalking is still sometimes dismissed by the criminal justice system. Under harassment laws, a stalker can be sentenced to up to six months in prison, or, if they put their victim in fear of violence, up to five years. Breaching a restraining order can also incur a penalty of up to five years in prison – but, as in Fogel’s case, this is seldom given. Richards says that professionals, too, often let down victims. “In patches things are good,” she says, “but it’s a postcode lottery.”
“I did a study of 5,000 victims,” says Sheridan, “and one in five had been sexually assaulted by a stalker. The violence rate is 20-30%.” This is more common when the stalker and victim have had a previous relationship, such as in the case of Clare Bernal, who was just 22 when she was shot dead in the Harvey Nichols store where she worked. Her ex-boyfriend, Michael Pech, a security guard at the same store, had been due in court a week later for stalking her and had been released on bail when he murdered her and turned the gun on himself. Her mother, Patricia, says Pech had already threatened to kill Clare, but the Crown Prosecution Service had advised her to drop the charges. “One night, as he was following her, she turned around and told him she would report him. He said, ‘If you report me I will kill you’. Then he smiled and stroked her face. We didn’t know what to do. She was so scared.”
Patricia Bernal set up the charity Protection Against Stalking, and says that a lack of physical violence should not mean stalking is treated lightly: “Stalkers need to be treated as dangerous and high risk. At the moment you need a black eye to be considered in danger.” She is appalled by the sentence handed down to Fogel. “Mind games and mental trauma can be serious. Claire Waxman’s life was turned upside down by this.”
stalking is a serious issue and i think the law should be changed to come down harder on the stalkers that remain at a distance because it’s only a matter of time before they step it up to getting physical!