Stalking is a terrifying, sinister crime, yet many of us may not be entirely familiar with what it really is, or indeed the profound psychological torture it inflicts on its victims.
But Vicky Clarke, 49, from Bangor knows only too well the traumatic effect this type of unwanted and deeply intrusive attention can have on someone’s life after she herself was stalked by an ex-partner.
‘‘The impact on my life as a result of dating the wrong man for a brief time has been life-changing,’’ said Vicky, who was stalked following a five-month relationship in 2011.
At the beginning everything was fine. She had met the man in a bar and their relationship was ‘normal’.
‘‘I did not see any signs that I was dating a human hunter with a hidden side,’’ she said.
But when it came to finishing the relationship, the man wouldn’t leave her alone.
“He wouldn’t accept we were over, and kept following me in the car, driving around my area all the time to catch me when I was out, walking past my house, sometimes with dogs, hood up or down, anything to change disguise. ‘‘
Vicky said he was emailing and texting her up to 20 times a day and despite changing her phone number, he always seemed able to track her down.
“He kept trying to get my new numbers by claiming to be a work enquiry, scanning my friends’ social media pages for information, waiting in shops and streets as I drove home from work, banging on my car window when parked at lights, and then trying to flag me to stop on the carriageway as if his car had broken down.’’
She added: “He had cards and letters hand delivered by his allies, to my home, which became my prison without bars.’’
Vicky, who had two young children, eventually felt she had no choice but to move house, which she did on two occasions, but her tormentor once again managed to find her.
The man also started to stalk her current partner and ex-husband and, in a chilling turn of events, even threatened to have Vicky killed.
‘‘He approached me at one stage and said ‘I am going to have you shot’.’’
There are currently no specific stalking laws in Northern Ireland and people who end up in court on charges that would be commonly regarded as stalking behaviour can only be charged under existing harassment or intimidation legislation.
But in a horrible twist, Vicky said her stalker became educated on the law and tried to prosecute her for stalking him.
“He waited until 2015, and then started court proceedings against me. I knew I had to do something as this man was not going to stop until he had ruined my life. It was affecting my peace, my children, and my everyday sense of safety. I constantly lived in fear of what he was going to do next.
“I kept everything, including hand-written evidence and over a hundred emails traceable to him admitting it, justifying it, apologising and screen shots of his slander. His court case backfired on him, and now he can’t come within 50 metres of me.’’
After the court case, Vicky decided to share her experience.
‘‘I remember when I decided to speak out, it felt like I suddenly stood still and finally turned around and faced the Tyrannosaurus Rex that was hunting me. I explored the tactics, characteristics and traits of a stalker, and tried to pre-empt what was coming next.
‘‘I began to think outside the box on how to keep myself protected. Having researched stalking and global statistics I know one in five women are stalked typically by someone with a personality disorder. I asked some family and friends to help me, and last summer we started a street petition for stalking laws to be established in Northern Ireland.’’
She added: ‘‘Realising prosecution figures for harassment (currently used for stalking) are low, I also started a workshop to help those whose lives are halted by stalking and have nowhere to turn, except trapped in their tormentor’s campaign of terror.
‘‘I believe the unbelievable and no matter how crazy another’s story is I know it can happen. Having faced my fear and battled at length to regain peace, I want to help others find the same by empowering them
and educating them on why, how come, and how to find some form of enjoyment of life again.’’
Vicky is an accredited psychotherapist with her own counselling practice, Talking Therapy NI. Her experience of being stalked spurred her on to set up Stalking NI, a support group which provides a point of access and information to help others,
‘‘Now I want to do all I can to reach out and get the message out there to those who are experiencing some of what I did that they too can battle through.’’
Vicky has teamed up with local health and wellbeing charity Inspire, which is hosting two free lunchtime awareness and information sessions entitled Stalking - How to maintain your wellbeing in an ‘unwanted relationship’ at the charity’s new resilience centre on Lombard Street, Belfast this Friday, February 10,
Places at the lunchtime sessions are limited, go to www.inspirewellbeing.org to book your free ticket.
If you would like to know more about the issue of stalking and what to do if you or someone close to you is affected, you can also visit Vicky’s website at www.stalkingni.com