Originally published: 07.04.16
Mandy Dunford has been a victim of serious stalking for almost 10 years and her experience of the Criminal Justice system highlights many of the problems still facing victims of stalking and domestic abuse. The issue was recently featured on BBC Breakfast when both Mandy and I discussed the terrible way in which she and hundreds of other victims are being let down (Click here to watch the interview).
Mandy was treated badly by the police when she reported the stalking with the police failing to take it seriously and one officer even sexually assaulting her when he went to see her. The police failed to take appropriate action and Mandy felt – like many stalking victims – that her only option was to investigate the matter herself and gather her own evidence so she was forced to set up CCTV cameras. We don’t expect victims of other crimes to do this yet it happens constantly to victims of stalking. It is what we pay our police to do. Stalking victims will have experienced on average over 100 incidents before they even make a report to the police so it is vital that this crime is taken seriously particularly when you consider that 1:2 domestic abuse stalkers will carry out the threats they make and that the vast majority of domestic violence homicides involve stalking. It is what Paladin – National Stalking Advocacy Service refer to as “murder in slow motion”.
Mandy’s perpetrator was eventually arrested and charged with a number of offences including several firearms offences and several sexual offences as part of his behaviour had involved standing close to her home, naked, whilst watching her through binoculars and masturbating. Yes, exactly.
Did I mention that the stalking had been going on for 10 years??
Whilst the court did impose a custodial sentence – mainly due to the firearms offences – they failed to protect Mandy with an appropriate protective order. This is another all too common situation for victims of stalking and domestic abuse. In Mandy’s case because of the sexual offences a SOPO was made (Sexual Offences Prevention Order). Unfortunately Mandy was not consulted around the wording of the order and its terms were changed by the judge without reference to her which allowed him to return to live next to her and allowed him to approach very close to her property. This would never have been allowed had he lived next door to a school in my view.
The police accepted that Mandy would be at risk of serious harm due to the lack of protection afforded by the SOPO but said that they were powerless to do anything to help other than give her £5000 to build a “panic room” aka a prison cell in her own home.
Remind me who the victim in this case is again…?
Mandy is being assisted by Paladin who have been advocating on her behalf and the police have recently agreed to refer the case back to court to have the terms of the order altered. Unlike restraining orders it is not possible for a victim to apply to the court to change the terms of a SOPO so Mandy has been powerless in this regard. Let’s hope that this time the judge takes a more victim centred approach to it rather than concentrating on the perpetrator’s wish to return to home where he would be able to continue his reign of terror.
I represent victims on a regular basis to obtain properly worded protective orders in the civil courts to plug the gaps left by the useless orders sometimes handed out in the criminal courts.
Victims deserve properly worded protective orders to ensure that they are not re-victimised by feeling that they have to move away as the perpetrator is allowed to return to live next door to them. This is a common situation as stalkers will go out of their way to find accommodation near to their victim and all too often it is the victim who has to move again and again as the stalker tracks them down. This constant moving is then used by social services and the family courts as a stick to beat the victim with as they are accused of putting the welfare of the child at risk by keeping moving even though the father (who is often the perpetrator) is not criticised or held to account for his actions.
The criminal and family courts need to take the issue of domestic abuse and stalking far more seriously and stop colluding with the perpetrator as it is putting women at risk of serious harm and homicide.
Rachel Horman: Feminist legal blog by family legal aid lawyer of the year Rachel Horman. Mainly domestic abuse /forced marriage and violence against women. Sometimes ranty but always right…..