What started out as an innocent exchange of messages over a social media site soon led to something a lot more sinister for one Yorkshire woman who has bravely spoken of her terrifying two-year stalking ordeal.
The woman, who has given her name as Holly in order to protect her identity, has spoken for the first time after The Yorkshire Post revealed a new digital era has been blamed for a stark increase in stalking and harassment offences across the country.
Holly, 29, was a hugely successful social media influencer with a big online following.
“It started out with him messaging me a couple of times to tell me he was a fan of my work and that he admired my photography skills,” Holly said.
“It was flattering at first and I thought nothing more of it, until his messages became more persistent and then threatening.
Holly, who lives in West Yorkshire, ignored the messages after a while before making the decision to “block” the man from seeing her posts.
“This didn’t stop him,” she said.
“He started setting up fake profiles and bombarded me with even more messages which just continued to escalate.
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“He sent me explicit rape threats detailing what he wanted to do to me, before threatening to kill me.
“Things came to ahead when he sent me a picture of himself, although he had blurred out his face, at a coffee shop I had been to just 30 minutes before.”
Holly admits that things got so bad she contemplating taking her own life.
“It was my family who got me through it all, I couldn’t have done it without their support,” she said.
“I was so scared living in my flat alone that I ended up moving back in with my mum and dad. That was nearly a year ago, but I am still there now as this has had a lasting impact on me.”
Holly reported everything to the police. The man was issued with a first instance harassment warning and admitting to sending her messages. Despite the warning he kept on contacting her and was later arrested and charged with stalking involving fear of violence.
He received a suspended prison sentence and a restraining order with a condition not to contact Holly.
“I was pleased the police had taken me seriously, but I felt the sentence he got did not reflect the pain and terror he had put me through,” she said.
“I am still suffering now but he is probably walking around out there without a care in the world.”
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Latest statistics show there were 66,133 stalking and harassment crimes recorded by police across the four Yorkshire forces in the 12 months ending June 2019.
This is a 51 per cent increase on the previous 12 months.
Worrying figures have also revealed a victim will encounter an average of 100 incidents before reporting the matter to the police.
Nik Peasgood, CEO of Leeds Women’s Aid believes there is a lack of understanding from criminal justice agencies, including the police and Crown Prosecution Service, along with the public, since stalking legislation was introduced.
She said: “Each year due to training and interventions from expert domestic violence agencies the police are improving in their responses to understanding stalking, but there is still a long way to go.
“We would expect there to be an increase in offences being crimed as ‘stalking ‘to keep increasing year on year as understanding improves within the police. For many years the police would put the offence down to malicious communications, or public order offences, or not record it as a crime.
“The public remain unsure about what constitutes stalking however there have been numerous high profile campaigns, including on social media, that have highlighted stalking and we think that there has been an increase in awareness of the public about what stalking is.”
Ms Peasgood also believes more needs to be done in order to successfully progress cases through the courts.
She said: Although the number of cases reported to the police are increasing the numbers of cases charged and prosecuted are not. Much more needs to be done in order to successfully progress reported cases to court.