Content warning: this post contains discussions of violence.
In 2017 in the UK, 23 year old Molly McLaren texted a friend, saying “I feel like I’m always looking over my shoulder”. Minutes later she was stabbed to death in a vicious attack by a man she had dated for less than a year.
After the had relationship ended, the perpetrator began following her and posting derogatory comments and threats on Facebook. She reported his behaviour to the police, telling them she was terrified her would kill her. The police response was to ‘have a talk to him’. Two days later she was dead. Molly McLaren was a bright young woman finding her way in the world. The suffering she endured, and that of her and her family, is unimaginable, tragically common and preventable.
The murder of Molly McLaren is addressed in episode 121 of the podcast Real Crime Profile. The host of the podcast is Laura Richards, an international expert on domestic violence, stalking, sexual violence and risk assessment. And founder of Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service in the UK.
The following is a summary of that episode (because I really couldn’t say it any better than the experts), outlining their findings and observations as advocates for victims of stalking.
- Although stalking is a serious crime defined as two or more incidents, victims on suffer on average 100 incidents before going to the police.
- Police have demonstrated repeatedly that they do not take stalking seriously, doing little or nothing to help victims. The police and other services have little understand of the mechanisms of domestic violence, coercive control and stalking. Lots of victims give up reporting because the response is “what do you want us to do?” or “if he was going to do something he would have done it by now”. In comparison, one wouldn’t report a burglary to the police and expect the response to be “we’ve had a word with him, he won’t do it again”. Disturbingly, serial perpetrators are not monitored by the police, or anyone.
- Although women and children are murdered weekly in the UK and Australia, prosecution and conviction rates for gendered violence are very low. It is often put-upon women to get a dangerous man out of the house, or to investigate their own case in order to prove stalking has occurred. Gendered violence (stalking, domestic violence, rape and in many cases, child abuse) is not treated as a priority by the police or the general public. Though these attitudes are changing, more education is needed.
- Increased obsession means increased risk. Research says of the men who stalk their ex partners and threaten to kill them, one in two will follow through with that threat. So it needs to be taken seriously.
- It is actually safer for some women to stay in a violent relationship because they can manage the perpetrator and their own risk. Once they leave and the perpetrator has nothing left to lose, catastrophic events occur. 76% of domestic violence murders happen upon separation. 34% in the first month after separation. Murder is the ultimate form of control – over life or death.
- Stalking, coercive control and domestic violence have serious psychological impacts on victims. In the UK 3 women a week take their own lives as a result.
- In news media, relationships where domestic violence occurs are often called troubled/ volatile/ tumultuous. Perpetrators are described as spurned lovers or lovesick. This language minimises the behaviour, and creates sympathy for the perpetrator, whilst demonising the victim. Domestic violence and stalking need to be recognised and named for what they are.
- Aside from saving women’s lives, it makes economic sense to invest in proper training for police and service providers when you consider the cost of repeated call outs to emergency services, investigating crimes (including murder) and court costs. Victims are not productive/ present at work, there is a huge cost burden on already struggling health and mental health services, as well as massive social costs to victims, their families and communities.
If you are being stalked
- In Australia stalking is defined as: repeated, unwanted contact that causes fear, anxiety or stress. It’s a criminal offence in every state and territory.
- Record the behaviour and its effects on you (ie. you had to take a different route to the shops, missed work, feelings of depression and anxiety etc). There doesn’t need to be a direct threat, many stalking behaviours are an implied threat.
- The Paladin stalking acronym REPORT:
R – report the behaviour as stalking to police/ people around you
E – evidence collect photos, screenshots etc.
P – practical advice and advocacy services are out there
O – overview keep a diary
R – risk the DASH questionnaire can help assess risk
T – trust your instinct if you feel unsafe. You are the expert in your own situation
- Name it as stalking because police might not join the dots.
- Challenge jokes about stalking. Stalking is not romantic, it is terrifying.
- Don’t give up, there are people out there who will validate experience and can help you. Below are some links.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMZdEJmoVGw (podcast full episode)
https://paladinservice.co.uk/ (Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service)
https://www.dashriskchecklist.co.uk/dash/ (DASH risk assesment model)