Stalking will affect one in five women at some point in their lives – but police on the Fylde coast fear too many cases are not being reported.
Victims in Blackpool have had to endure months of abuse at the hands of their tormentors, being followed and bombarded with vile texts or letters, before working up the courage to tell police.
But a former Blackpool chief inspector, who now leads the team of detectives who specialise in these cases, said the wide range of ways stalkers intimidate their victims mean the crime can be hard to spot.
Det Supt Sue Cawley, head of the force’s public protection unit, told The Gazette just how devastating the effects of stalking can be.
She said: “We had a case in July last year where a 33-year-old woman was being harassed for seven months by her ex-partner.
“He was following her and her children constantly – wherever they went, he was there.
“He had been loitering outside her house, banging on windows and doors as many as six times a night, leaving the kids frightened.
“There was a barrage of phone calls and texts.”
Her teenage daughter was so afraid she ended up moving out to live with a relative.
In March, Blackpool magistrates handed a life-long restraining order to her abuser and banned him from the resort’s Mereside estate.
In another case, police were so concerned for the safety of a woman being stalked by her abusive ex-husband that they provided her with a panic alarm.
Det Supt Cawley said: “She separated from him six years ago after a violent relationship, but eventually he found out where she lived.
“He was putting letters through the door, going to the kids’ schools.
“While officers were at her house taking a statement, he came back round.”
The offender, who had breached a restraining order granted when the couple split up, was jailed for 75 days back in December.
Despite estimates that suggest a fifth of all women, and one in 10 men, will be stalked in their life, just a handful of incidents are reported to police.
So far this year, Lancashire Police have dealt with 23 stalking cases, 14 of which have gone to court.
Speaking as National Stalking Awareness Week draws to a close, Det Supt Cawley said: “We get under-reporting of these cases. If they treat each incident in isolation, they may seem minor incidents in their own right.
“I think a lot of people confuse stalking with people walking behind them.
“If you have got someone pursuing you, if their behaviour is persistent and unwanted and you are feeling fearful as a result, if you are having to change your daily routine because of that person, it definitely needs to be reported to police.”
She also said it is important police officers are able to spot the warning signs of stalking, rather than simply dealing with individual incidents.
In some cases, victims have had their cars scratched as part of a campaign of abuse, but offenders are charged with criminal damage and the deeper issues can be overlooked.
She added: “I am trying to train officers to do that, and not just look at the damage to the car, but look at it as a whole.”
If you have been affected by stalking, or for more information, visit www.paladinservice.co.uk or call the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300.