It’s time to recognise #stalking & #coercive control in the Courts by Claire Waxman

This week is National Stalking Awareness Week 2017 and it’s time to shine a light on stalking victims and their experiences because #stalkingmatters.

I know first-hand the devastating effects of stalking on a person’s life, having been a victim of a prolonged stalking campaign for well over a decade. I know just how desperate and isolated a victim of this crime can feel, when the Police do not recognise the pattern of behaviour of stalkers and ignore victim’s complaints, or the Crown Prosecution Service drop the case due to lack of evidence, poor police investigation or the stalker’s supposed human right to access the courts, which is all too often the very method many stalkers employ to continue their stalking and harassment.

It is this type of stalking that is being regularly missed or minimised and that creates financial and emotional consequences for the victim and a legitimate link for the victim and their stalker. It is what we call ‘Abuse of Process’ and an area Voice4Victims, is highlighting and addressing through legislative and policy reforms.

In 2011, I successfully challenged the CPS’s decision not to prosecute my stalker when he brought vexatious complaints against me, for the third time, through the Civil Courts. Due to the CPS failing to recognise the stalking and uphold the restraining order, I was left vulnerable and exposed to an unnecessary further 18 months of stalking hell which greatly affected my life.

Astonishingly, even with this successful judgement, 6 years later, Voice4Victims is hearing from scores of victims being exposed to the same risk and harm that I was. Lessons are not being learned and we are hearing from too many stalking victims who should be protected by a restraining order yet are being forced to face their abusers in court; be cross examined by them and even forced to pay for this ‘state sanctioned’ abuse.

Over the past year, Voice4Victims has intervened on a number of cases and have had the decision not to prosecute stalkers over vexatious claims reversed through the Victims Right to Review process. However, with mounting evidence from a recent survey (due for release imminently), abusers with restraining orders are successfully circumventing these orders by making spurious and unfounded claims against their victims to Police, regulatory boards, Social Services, and the Courts in a bid to continue unwanted contact with their victims and abuse them further.

When Police and CPS fail to value the importance of the restraining order and recognise this form of stalking and harassment, they give the abuser the belief that the order from the Court is meaningless and will not stop them. It leaves the victim vulnerable and feeling powerless as they realise the restraining order can do little to protect them from ongoing threats and that they cannot access justice or support. The victim is left weak and traumatised, fearful of what will come next and the abuser has all the power through the courts to continue.

We are determined that this form of stalking and ‘abuse of process’ should be recognised and called to account and we are now funded by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT) to challenge the ways in which stalkers use the court processes to stalk and harass their victims. We will be publishing our survey results and Bill proposals over the coming months and will continue to work with Parliamentarians and justice agencies on this form of ‘legalised’ stalking and abuse of process.

Below are direct quotes from those suffering this type of abuse:

“When my stalker was convicted of breaching the restraining order over a year after it was put in place, all he was given was £100 fine.’

‘ For four years, despite a restraining order to prevent contact, my stalker has used family court to feed his obsession and control me. Even with his three convictions and long term serious mental health issues and the fact that three separate cafcass officers and specialist agencies have recommended no contact, family court has put their focus on me, seeing me as the problem because they have listened to my stalker’s voice above mine. Family courts recent decision, against the advice of police and social services, to force further intrusion into my life has resulted in my stalker being told where we moved to escape him. Being stalked through the court is devastating, the law and restraining order, which should be protecting me and my family from a person the police classify as a ‘high risk stalker’ is actually feeding his obsession and I feel trapped and terrified.’

“Even with court orders ,non mols and restraining orders , I’m trapped and confined within my anxiety as the orders mean nothing to him. I am financially wiped over vexatious court proceedings he brings, and even an 18 month ban preventing him from accessing the courts will soon be over. He is everywhere. He is torture in my head, on my computer screen, calling my family and friends. He appears through the letter box with a court stamp. He comes through the village I moved to in order to be free from him and my safe address has been printed on the restraining order! He is all knowing, all seeing and some days you question your strength, your belief in a safe system and if you can keep strong as he weakens you bit by bit. I fear him greatly as the court room is his battleground where he is allowed to throw false allegations and verbally abuse me and crush me mentally and financially. He revels in his power of being able to use this system to hurt me. If I wanted to uphold any court order he keeps breaching, it is me who has to pay thousands and enter the court arena where I’ll be verbally attacked and crushed just to try and get justice and protection from him. Justice and protection should come without such emotional and financial cost.”

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