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Last Updated: Friday, 26 January 2007, 03:56 GMT
Living in fear of the stalkers
By Lucy Rodgers
BBC News

Clare Bernal
Clare Bernal was murdered by her ex-boyfriend
According to the latest British Crime Survey, one in 10 women in Britain now say they have been stalked in the past year.

The figures also suggest almost a quarter of women have been stalked in their lifetime.

This comes as no surprise to Dr Lorraine Sheridan, a forensic psychologist from the University of Leicester.

She has been studying the phenomenon for years and led an international survey of stalking in 2005.

'Nothing new'

"This is no new phenomenon," she says. "I have already demonstrated stalking occurred in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

"However, in the 1980s and 1990s, I do think there was an increase. This coincided with women becoming more successful socially and professionally, which is attractive to stalkers.

"They also had more methods - such as mobile phones and computers - to research their victims."

It is the ex-partners that are the most likely to be violent
Dr Lorraine Sheridan

Although stalking is not strictly defined in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, it states that harassment can be described as "a series of acts which are intended to or in fact cause harassment to another person".

Dr Sheridan's survey of 1,300 stalking victims suggests that the top three methods used by stalkers were unsolicited telephone calls, spying and threatening to commit suicide.

Other victims said stalkers had broken into their homes, had sexually abused them or that their children or pets had been harmed or threatened.

Targets

The most likely victims of stalkers, according to Dr Sheridan, are attractive female professionals in their mid-30s.

But, she says, what is clear from her research, is that most of the victims have had some kind of contact with the stalker, however small.

Half had a prior intimate relationship, while a further third were acquaintances - either through work, school, friends or neighbours.

"50% are ex-partners, others are delusional, and others are deeply sadistic and treat the people they are stalking as quarry or prey," she says.

"But it is the ex-partners that are the most likely to be violent."

The seriousness of stalking by former partners was highlighted in 2005 by the murder of a Harvey Nichols shop assistant, Clare Bernal, by her ex-boyfriend while he was on bail after admitting harassing her. He went on to kill himself.

And one year earlier show jumper Tania Moore was killed by ex-fiancée Mark Dyche who stalked and threatened her during a year-long campaign of harassment.

Everywhere I would go, he would be there already
Tracey Morgan, stalking victim

While only a minority of cases end in fatality, either through murder or suicide, studies have found high rates of post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression among victims who seek help.

"We see post-traumatic stress disorder in the majority of cases," Dr Sheridan says.

"Stalking can go on for years, typically for 18 months to two years. But in one case it went on for 43 years.

"The victims are left far more likely to commit suicide than other members of society, and their social lives are often ruined.

"They also have to deal with enormous financial costs. The effects are really severe."

Campaign

Tracey Morgan, 33, from Berkshire, was moved to set up the campaign group Network for Surviving Stalking (NSS) after being subjected to a campaign of harassment spanning almost 10 years.

On the organisation's website, she describes how she was stalked by a work colleague whom she had tried to help when he was going through hard times.

"Everywhere I would go, he would be there already," she writes.

"I would scream at the walls telling him to go away, wondering how on earth he knew so much and why I was losing it."

Tracey's relationship with her husband eventually broke down as a result of the stalking and she went on to set up NSS to help others in a similar position.

Her personal case and subsequent campaign for legislation helped create the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

'Serious issue'

A spokesman for NSS welcomed the new British Crime Survey figures, but added that they did not reveal anything the organisation did not know already.

"Considering the number of calls we receive, this is no surprise," he says.

"It is far more common than is widely recognised."

He said that organisation felt that stalking was not taken seriously enough by those in authority and that it was important that the law was implemented properly.

He added: "Certainly, the police don't always treat this issue with the seriousness they should."




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