Cheshire Police are running a stalking awareness campaign throughout this month which will coincide with National Stalking Awareness Day on Thursday 18 April.
The purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness about the crime of stalking, to drive home the message that no one should have to tolerate harassment, and to advise victims about the support that is available to them.
The theme for National Stalking Awareness Day this year is ‘Know the Law, Use the Law′.
A victim of stalking has agreed to support our campaign as she hopes to use her experience to help others. Julie, 25, who lives in Cheshire, was stalked and harassed by a former partner after she left him following an abusive relationship.
Julie first met her former partner while at university but it wasn′t until a few years later that they got together. Her first impressions of him were that he was "charismatic, confident, and probably a bit of a bad boy." She said that despite the fact he came across as a bit arrogant, there were no warning signs about his future behaviour. "It was exciting because he was really attractive and I never thought that someone like him would be interested in me" she said.
"When we first got together he was a perfect gentleman. He swept me off my feet. At the time, I do remember thinking he was moving a bit fast. He′d come out with extravagant gifts. We were really in love and he seemed to be getting more and more attached - unnaturally quickly. Then it didn′t stop at being in love, it progressed past that to becoming obsessed. He would call me all the time.
"He became jealous because a lot of my friends were male and I was involved in sporting activities. Eventually, he became completely possessive to the point where it escalated from just jealousy to controlling everything I did.
"The violence started a month or two into our relationship when I was training for a marathon. I′d gone for a three hour run and he didn′t believe me that I′d been running for three hours and became violent.
"We were together for about a year and a half and the violence became quite bad. He′d threaten to use guns on me. I was never beaten horrifically but it was the controlling behaviour and emotional abuse that was the most damaging."
When asked if there was any behaviour which could be described as stalking during the relationship, she stated: "He would call me constantly, even if he knew I was at work or in lectures. I′d get 10 phone calls a day and if I didn′t answer, I′d get abusive messages accusing me of cheating."
Following an argument, she left him and returned to live at her parent′s house. It was then that the harassment worsened. She said: "When he realised that I wasn′t going to come back, the abuse actually escalated further, but obviously without the physical impact. I′d get constant text messages and phone calls, and the threats became worse. At one point I had more than 30 calls in a day.
"He did everything he could to try and get me to go back to him. He told me that if I didn′t, he was going to put a gun down my brother′s throat, that he was going to come and find me when I least expected it and that he was going to put naked pictures of me on the internet." Julie was trying to get into medical school at the time and he made further threats to tell every medical school in the country that she was known for taking drugs.
It was when the harassment escalated to this point that she came forward to police. Julie said: "It may seem strange to some people that I left it until then but it got to the point where I felt that if I didn′t do something, my family was going to get hurt. My family saved my life, if I didn′t have a family that I loved that much, I just wouldn′t have come forward."
After she reported the abuse to the police, her former partner was arrested and dealt with by the courts, and the stalking and harassment stopped. Still significantly affected by the events a year on, she is now trying to move forward with her life and feels that she is making steady progress. "I have to be positive and I want to use this experience to help other people. I would hate if I had gone through this and not stopped it from happening to someone else" she said.
When asked what advice she would give to other victims, Julie states that: "Even if you′re really scared, it′s important to report it to police. They can put you in a shelter and the person won′t know where you are. You′ll regret it if you don′t go as soon as you can, because you could end up in the same situation that I was in. The police put you in contact with support services as well which can be helpful. The support workers I had were fantastic and the support groups themselves are really good."
Julie also stressed the importance of gathering evidence about the harassment, stating: "The more evidence you can gather, the better. I recorded one of the abusive calls using another phone, with my own phone on loudspeaker. Anyone who is clever about their harassment won′t put it in texts and emails because they know it could be used as evidence."
Julie′s final message to victims is to report the abuse at the earliest stage possible. She stated: "Don′t sit there and think that you′re being silly, don′t make excuses or think ‘they′re just phone calls′ because it can get out of hand and it does have an impact on your life. It′s best to make the police aware so that at least the person who′s doing it can be cautioned and hopefully nip it in the bid."
For more information and advice about stalking and harassment, visit http://www.cheshire.police.uk/ or Upbeat at www.upbeat.uk.com/17plus. To report stalking or harassment, contact Cheshire Police on 101 in a non-emergency or 999 if you are frightened by someone′s behaviour or feel in danger.
More information about National Stalking Awareness Day is available at www.stalkinghelpline.org/about-the-helpline/nsad13. Support and advice for victims is available via the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300.
Cheshire Police will be tweeting out messages of support on Stalking Awareness Day, which you can follow at @cheshirepolice and @upbeatcheshire.