Nicola Roberts, the singer-songwriter, actress and entrepreneur best known for being in the pop group Girls Aloud, has spoken out about her experience of having trauma therapy as the survivor of a stalker.
Speaking to the Guardian, Nicola described trauma therapy as “the best gift I ever gave myself”, after her five-year ordeal of being stalked by an ex-boyfriend.
Stalking is defined by charity Women’s Aid as ‘a pattern of persistent and unwanted attention that makes you feel pestered, scared, anxious or harassed’. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust expands on this: ‘if you are receiving persistent unwanted contact that is causing you distress but the person has never threatened you, this is still stalking and is not acceptable.’
Examples of stalking behaviour include sending gifts, unwanted communication, following someone or spying on them, damaging property, making threats of violence, or committing assault.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust continues: ‘Stalking often has a huge emotional impact on those it affects. It can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. It can be a psychological as well as a physical crime.’
A new court order, called the Stalking Protection Order (SPO), will apply from Monday 20 January 2020, allowing police in England and Wales to prevent suspected stalkers from contacting their victims for two years. It can also be imposed as an interim order whilst a decision is being made about a potential perpetrator. The SPO can include making the suspect take a rehabilitation course or complete a mental health assessment. It is a criminal offence to breach the SPO.
Nicola was stalked from 2012-2017, and during this time she received 3,000 messages on social media from her former boyfriend, including threats to burn and stab her. As part of his campaign of harassment, he created 35 fake social media accounts to bombard her on Twitter and Instagram. He also sent her flowers, and began threatening one of her friends. Their relationship, which lasted 18 months, ended in 2008.
A lifetime restraining order was imposed in 2017, banning her ex-boyfriend from contacting her and her family and banning him from being within 250 metres of them. However, her stalker ignored the restraining order just months later by following Nicola on Instagram. The Criminal Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute, despite the restraining order being broken.
Newsreader and presenter Emily Maitlis is another high-profile victim of stalking, having been pursued for 25 years by a man she met at Cambridge University. Emily’s stalker was jailed in 2018 for breaching a restraining order against her, imposed in 2009; he then breached the order again in 2019 by sending two letters to her mother.
In an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, Emily spoke out about the long-standing harassment and intimidation she has suffered, comparing the effects to that of a “chronic illness”, and stating that she doesn’t believe the criminal justice system will prevent her stalker taking action.
Recent statistics of stalking in England and Wales show that:
- Almost one in five women and almost one in 10 men aged 16 and above have been victims of stalking.
- Up to 700,000 women are stalked each year.
- Though stalking is not exclusively carried out by men against women, 80% of stalking victims are female, and 70% of perpetrators are male.
In a pilot study by Sussex Stalking Support and the National Centre for Cyberstalking Research at the University of Bedfordshire for National Stalking Awareness Week 2019, it was revealed that 8 out of 10 stalking victims had symptoms of PTSD.
Trauma therapy can help stalking victims unpack their feelings in a safe environment. Legal proceedings against stalkers are long, complex and frustrating, with complainants often left on edge and vulnerable. Talking to a therapist means the victim has a non-judgemental space where they can restore their confidence and learn to process what has happened.
Nicola Roberts says of trauma therapy that “it’s just changed me in the most amazing way, for ever”, which really sums up what this psychological approach can do. Therapy cannot erase what’s happened, but it can help victims manage the emotional turmoil and painful memories.
If you are the victim of stalking and you need advice, please contact the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300. If you feel you are in immediate danger, please call 999.
Written by guest contributor Polly Allen for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).