This week singer Lily Allen has accused the Metropolitan police of ‘victim-shaming and victim-blaming’, following an interview on her experiences of stalking was published in The Observer. The interview details her seven-year ordeal of stalker Alex Gray, a stranger whose actions culminated in breaking into her home and entering her bedroom whilst her and her children were asleep, and expresses disappointment and criticism of the handling of the case. Allen recounts instances including the police initially refusing to show her a photograph of Gray, lending her a panic alarm before asking for it back, and neglecting to inform her of his court sessions for the case. In a follow-up interview with BBC’s ‘Newsnight’, she reads aloud an email she received from the Metropolitan police following the publication of the interview, asserting that the ‘high nature profile’ of her case might dissuade others from coming forward, and asking for her views on ‘what, if anything, went wrong’ in the investigation. She expresses again that she feels like both she, and Gray – who she understands to have mental health problems – have been let down, questioning ‘how many other people are being let down?’
Concerns by the Metropolitan police that this publicity could be discouraging disregards the sheer importance of opening a public dialogue on the topic. Despite the changes under the Protections of Freedom Act in 2012, which named stalking as an offence in its own right, the National Stalking Helpline reports that around half of those who call the helpline have not reported the crime, whilst many who have do not feel as though they have been taken seriously. Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service cites that data from the Crime Survey of England and Wales shows up to 700,000 women are stalked each year (2009-12), and that 2013/14 CPS figures account that of 61,175 allegations recorded by the police, 1% of stalking cases and 16% of cases of harassment resulted in a charge and prosecution by the CPS. It is frustrating that it takes a celebrity to catch our attention on an issue on something that affects so many women, but the ‘high profile’ nature of the case is certainly not where the problem lies.
Thus Allen’s decision to speak of her experiences should be perceived as a positive – giving a platform to those who have experienced stalking to speak out and seek help is undeniably important, if for nothing else but to validate the importance and severity of the issue. Even if a prosecution may not always be viable, every victim should have the right to feel acknowledged and offered support.
On a similar note, domestic violence charity Refuge cites that every minute police in the UK receive a domestic assistance call, yet only 35% of domestic violence incidents are reported to the police. Whilst Allen’s case is not of domestic abuse, the two problems are not totally unrelated as many women who experience domestic abuse have also experienced being stalked by their former partners. With domestic abuse affecting 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in their lifetime, a vocal community of support is vital.
Little Paper Slipper strives to give women affected by domestic violence a voice, hoping to provide an experience of empowerment for women through artistic workshops, whilst consequently using the artwork to open a dialogue on domestic abuse. Giving women a platform to explore and tell their stories enables them to gain back their power. Whilst Lily Allen may only be one story, it’s just that which is important: every story deserves a voice.
Post by Lizzie Scourfield