I was stalked for 10 years – it’s a crime of terror not ‘besotted’ love
Some good news this week, or so I thought.
Corporal Philip Dragon, a soldier with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, had been demoted, given a 60-day detention suspended for two years, along with a restraining order, banning him from contacting not one, but two women.
This was after reports he showed up at one of their houses with a marriage proposal while surrounded by candles, as well as bombarding her with messages on social media – all despite her ending their two-month relationship and telling him she never wanted to see him again.
It was heartening to see what is, to me, obsessive, stalking behaviour being taken seriously. But as I read further into the story, my heart started to sink.
Whilst Dragon’s punishments indicated that stalking behaviour was being tackled properly, the language used – not just by the Defence, but by Judge Advocate General Alan Largein the military court as well – uncovered an alarming lack of understanding of just how serious this harassmentis, and how this behaviour has the potential to escalate into terrifying consequences.
JAG Large seemingly dismissed Dragon’s behaviour as him being ‘besotted’ while his Defence team argued he was just a ‘rejected boyfriend’ showing his ‘undying love’ for his ex.
The judge added that Dragon meant ‘no evil or malice but he just could not stop himself’ and that it was ‘rather sad behaviour for a man of his age’.
This is incredibly problematic. It does nothing to address the seriousness of harassment, and the harmful – and sometimes fatal – side effects it has on victims.
In 1992, I was the victim of a colleague who worked in the same department as me at a naval base where I was a civilian administrator.
He started following and watching me, sending unsigned cards, making silent telephone calls. One night, I went to take my contraceptive pill and saw that the last three in the packet were missing; they later appeared at work. I later discovered that he had somehow obtained a copy of my house keys.
There was never any mail waiting for me at home, and answerphone messages had been played. It subsequently came to light that the man stalking me had placed listening devices in my sofa, bed and office so he was monitoring me 24/7.
At first I minimised my situation, feeling paranoid and stupid because, after all, what injuries were there to show for what this man was doing?
I started keeping a diary to try to prove to myself and others that I was not going mad. Hypervigilance kicked in and I was constantly aware of who and what was around me, just in case. My family and I would change our routines and I kept all the curtains shut in the house so he couldn’t see in or know which room I was in.
It took three months of relentless daily harassment before the Navy finally called the police in. I was very lucky in that the two detectives on my case believed me and took me seriously; many are not.
He was arrested for minor crimes such as criminal damage (for pouring oil over my car), burglary and misuse of the Telecommunications Act, amongst others. He was eventually kicked out of the Royal Navy, and his list of visits to court started growing, along with a list of convictions. He served prison sentences, yet nothing stopped him making silent calls and sending letters from the inside, one with the envelope covered in crosses, coffins and a countdown of his ‘days to go’ before release.
This obsessive behaviour would continue for almost 10 years. Every day, I lived in terror, not knowing if I would be attacked or killed at any moment. The stalking disempowered me – I had no control over my life.
At this time, the word ‘stalking’ only related to animals in the UK. The first stalking laws had been implemented in California two years previously due to the murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer and it was deemed to be, generally, just a ‘celebrity problem’.
It wasn’t until July 2001 that my stalker was given a life sentence with a minimum seven years for the attempted murder of another woman. Though I felt relieved that he had been given a long sentence, I was still afraid because prison hadn’t stopped his stalking behaviour previously. I was also angry, to say the least, that what I had predicted had come true. I said from the start I felt in fear that it would escalate into physical violence and murder, but few believed me.
By this point he had over 20 convictions relating to his stalking of me, and there was also a test case of Grievous Bodily Harm (Psychiatric Injury), which led to the introduction of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, following a campaign that I spearheaded.
My experience of dealing with agencies within the criminal justice system over the past 28 years led to me setting up a charity, now closed, called the Network for Surviving Stalking. Despite the Protection from Harassment Act coming in and the subsequent stalking laws brought in to bring clarity in 2012, positive outcomes for victims are still dependent on the level of understanding individuals in the legal system and affiliated agencies have around stalking. That underpins how seriously it will be taken.
For me, changing laws has been far easier than changing attitudes. When I was being stalked, I heard the ignorance, indifference and downright dangerous responses that I’m still hearing today.
In Dragon’s case, the terms used by the Defence and the judge are likely to reinforce his belief that he is just a ‘hopeless romantic’ trying to rekindle a love affair. The fact that his behaviour affected two women within six months were more red flags.
Stalking has nothing to do with romance or unrequited love; it is about power and control. The defence stated that ‘there are messages that did not contain threats or nasty words’ but messages do not need to contain these for a victim to feel terror.
This kind of thinking isn’t helped by jokes on greetings cards about stalking, or what people think of as ‘light hearted’ comments about being stalked, such as ‘aren’t you flattered? and’ ‘you should feel lucky for getting the attention.’
Stalking has nothing to do with positive attention – what may look like loving behaviour from the outside is terrifying to the person on the receiving end. Women as well as men can be perpetrators, just as both can be victims.
I know the Royal Navy has improved processes and risk assessments greatly in the years since my case. However, both military and civilian courts have a long way to go in addressing the seriousness of this crime, preventing further damage and ultimately saving lives.
Research from the University of Gloucestershire showed the link between stalking and ex-partner homicide: a look at 358 murder incidents showed stalking evident in 94% of cases.
Though there is still much work to do in the legal system, we need individuals who understand the risks, who can identify the danger victims might be facing and enact those laws. Ultimately, it is vital that every case is not minimised, not treated as a benign case of unwanted attention; this is about terror, mental intrusion and the destruction of lives, sometimes literally.
Being stalked impacted every element of life, and I still feel the effects today. I have to take precautions against everyday things that others don’t think about; revealing personal details, location, home life, all of which could put me in danger.
I want to know that those making judgements on perpetrators, and victims, know what they are making judgements about.
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