Taking Post-Separation Abuse Seriously: The Need to Combat Stalking


The Trauma of Stalking

Stalking can be a devastating form of abuse that leaves deep emotional and psychological scars. Victims describe the terror of being constantly monitored, controlled, and harassed by an abusive former partner. It makes them feel unsafe at all times, even in the presumed safety of their own homes. Stalking erodes victims’ fundamental sense of autonomy, liberty and dignity. It is a profound violation of personal boundaries that no one should have to endure.

Too often though, stalking behaviors are minimized, dismissed or excused by society and institutions meant to protect victims. Some continue to mistakenly believe that stalking shows care or affection, rather than recognizing it as harmful. But obsessive surveillance and control is the very opposite of love. It induces fear, anxiety, and trauma in victims. When victims’ dire concerns are not taken seriously, it further empowers and emboldens abusers.

Risk Factors for Escalating Abuse

Stalking and harassment by former intimate partners is a particularly troubling problem that occurs at alarming rates. Studies show nearly 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men in the UK report being stalked by an ex-partner (Office for National Statistics, 2022). Other research finds 46% of female domestic homicide victims were stalked beforehand. Stalking is often a risk factor for escalating violence.

The message must be clear: stalking is unacceptable and the justice system will enact consequences, not enable abuse. Share on X

Situations of separation can heighten risk, as can ongoing legal proceedings like divorce and child custody disputes. Abusers may stalk victims to exert control when the relationship ends. They may monitor and harass victims in misguided efforts to reconcile. Stalking may also be motivated by revenge or retaliation against their victim leaving.

Falling Short: The Need for Greater Protection

More must be done within family courts and law enforcement to protect victims of post-separation stalking and abuse. Victims frequently report that restraining and protective orders fall short, and are difficult to enforce. Police sometimes lack training to respond appropriately and effectively when victims report breaches and escalating behaviors.

Support services like the National Stalking Helpline and Paladin provide crisis support, but are under-resourced due to limited funding. Affordable legal help can be difficult for victims to access. Shelters and other services have suffered budget cuts in recent years.

As a result, victims often feel helpless within systems that fail to prevent stalking and abuse. The onus falls heavily on victims to protect themselves, rather than the justice system deterring perpetrators. This lack of external protection further compounds victims’ trauma. And it allows stalking behaviors to continue and escalate, putting victims at even greater risk of violence.

Impact on Victims: Fear and Control

The impact of stalking on victims’ emotional well-being and quality of life can be severe. Victims describe living in constant fear, never feeling safe. Many develop anxiety, insomnia, PTSD symptoms. Some are forced to relocate and give up jobs due to the harassment. Stalking disrupts every aspect of victims’ lives.

More must be done within family courts and law enforcement to protect victims of post-separation stalking and abuse. Share on X

Abusers’ surveillance and control tactics also deprive victims of personal autonomy. Victims restrict their activities to avoid stalkers. Some isolate themselves entirely for safety. This compounds the trauma of the abuse, as victims lose freedom and independence. They become confined physically in shelters or homes, and mentally in anxiety and hypervigilance due to the harassment.

Barriers to Protection in Family Courts

Victims of domestic abuse who navigate the family court system face particular barriers. Abusers often file retaliatory lawsuits to continue control post-separation. When victims raise concerns about stalking, they may face accusations of parental alienation if they try to limit the abuser’s access to children. Their reports of abuse are often dismissed or minimized by the courts.

Judges may have inadequate training on domestic abuse and stalking behaviors. Dangerous misconceptions persist around stalking as ‘love,’ rather than obsessive control. Victims struggle to get restraining orders, which may fail to deter determined stalkers. Some victims are forced into unwanted mediation with abusers, which provides opportunity for intimidation.

Prioritizing Safety and Intervention

To combat post-separation stalking, the justice system must make victims’ safety the utmost priority. Police require comprehensive training to identify stalking behaviors and enforce restraining orders. Perpetrator intervention programs should be expanded, to change abusive behaviors. Crisis counseling, shelters, and affordable legal help for victims must be better funded.

Judges need domestic violence training to recognize manipulation tactics, and understand stalking’s danger. The ‘child’s right to both parents’ should not overrule protecting them from an abusive parent. Mediation should be avoided in abuse cases. Finally, onus must shift from victims avoiding stalkers, to courts and law enforcement deterring abuse.

Listening to Victims

Much more must be done to combat the traumatic epidemic of stalking, which escalates dangerously post-separation. Society must reject misconceptions that minimize obsessive harassment. Institutions have a duty to keep victims safe – it should not fall solely on victims to protect themselves. By hearing and believing victims, providing robust intervention, and requiring perpetrators to change, we can cultivate an environment where abuse is not tolerated. With greater awareness and resources, victims can be supported to heal and rebuild autonomy. The message must be clear: stalking is unacceptable and the justice system will enact consequences, not enable abuse.

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