When does a friend become a stalker?

When does a friend become a stalker?
 

As a university police officer I often have students and members of staff coming to me for advice and support around some very personal issues.

A large part of my role is to let them know others have gone through similar experiences and have come out the other end.

One recent example that stands was a stalking case involving a student who I’ll call Zoe (not her real name).

She asked for a confidential chat with me around concerns about a fellow student, who I’ll call Zac (again not his real name), with whom she’d had a brief relationship.

She had tried to stay friends with him when it ended as they had mutual friends but soon found he was bombarding her with calls, emails, Facebook messages, presents and notes through her door. Within weeks she felt she couldn’t go out without Zac approaching her at the library, friends’ houses, parties, clubs etc. In one day he attempted to contact her more than 83 times.

She repeatedly asked him to stop but he told her she was overreacting. He became aggressive and stepped up his attempts to contact her.

Zoe reached the point where she felt under siege even in her own home and started sneaking out the back door of her house but this soon lead to her stopping going out almost entirely, not even to attend lectures or go to the shops.

She felt too embarrassed to seek help from her friends and felt as if it was her fault.

When she eventually turned to close friends they gave her some great support and convinced her to speak to me.

Zoe kept apologising for wasting my time, but I assured he she wasn’t and, having dealt with more than a hundred harassment cases in my time, we could sort this out.

Looking through Zoe’s phone we worked out Zac had tried to contact her more than 400 times in the past week. This helped her recognise his behaviour was totally unacceptable.

I wanted to help Zoe take back control of her life and gave her some advice on how to start that journey. That night she spoke to more of her friends about Zac who soon realised what she was going through.

They offered her support and blocked Zac from their social media forums, put their confidentiality settings to maximum and agreed not to post anything about Zoe that he could pick up on.

I spoke to Zac and gave him a formal Harassment Warning but also offered him support and counselling services to help him move on.

He came back to speak to me the next day but unfortunately it was to persuade me that Zoe was the problem not him. When I again confronted him about his obsessive attempts to contact her he stormed out.

Zoe continued to take back control of her life and was starting to feel better. With excellent support from the Student Advice Centre she applied for mitigating circumstances on her course as her quality of work and attendance had been significantly affected.

Sadly Zac continued with his campaign of harassment. Zoe had gone out for the first time in a month to a friend’s house. Within an hour Zac turned up demanding to speak to her and became aggressive when friends intervened.

The police were called and he was arrested and held in a cell before being given a formal caution for harassment. Two months later he was arrested again after confronting Zoe at another friends party.

Zoe took a year out to clear her head and get away from Leeds where Zac was still living. She returned later to complete her degree.

Zac left the university after refusing to accept any help for his behaviour and continued to blame Zoe.

Without doubt this was one of the worst cases of stalking I have dealt with in 11 years. In more than 95 per cent of cases, when I give a Harassment Warning the victim gets no further contact.

Zoe stood up to Zac, took back control and after a hard journey managed to get him out of her life.

I believe students can be vulnerable to such stalking when away from home for the first time. I think many suffer in silence and decide to put up with it or ‘hide’ until they finish their course.

Nobody should put up with this type of behaviour. It isn’t right and there is help out there.

Talk to your friends and family, the University Advice Centre staff, myself or any other police officer. You will be listened to and we will do everything we can to support you.

 

For more information and advice on stalking and harrassment please see our related pages.