Dear Zoe,

At the National Stalking Helpline, we expect to speak to around 4,500 victims this year, and know that we’ll be unable to help thousands more who can’t get through to our busy phonelines. I had those victims in mind when I read your article, and so, I’ve decided to write to you to give you some more information on stalking, and what is and isn’t creepy.

You wrote this week about Bristol’s jilted pianist and grand gestures of love being lost in the age of Tinder and PlentyOfFish. According to you, Luke Howard was ‘merely exploiting the male prerogative to woo’ with ‘a creative, tenacious approach to getting his own way.’ I can assure you, the women we speak to who have to deal with grand gestures are not going to agree with you. 

Imagine receiving anonymous texts, calls and presents, or glancing someone outside your door regularly. It might be okay initially, even flattering, but if this behaviour continued for days, months and years, even though you asked the sender to stop, it would become more sinister. No matter how ‘nice’ messages or actions are, not knowing how to make them stop, has the potential to make anyone feel powerless and threatened.

So, let’s think about your ideas on stalking. The hallmarks of stalking are NOT only ‘about invading private space’. In fact, stalking is about fixation, obsession and a need for control. Declaring you’re going to play the piano non-stop isn’t romantic, it’s obsession realised. Similarly, the people we speak to have been stalked are bombarded with 47 email essays in one day, alongside the 319 text messages and phone calls they receive, and the slanderous social media messages they can’t avoid. They might be followed to work and, yes, in some cases, have their private space invaded when their house is broken into. But stalking transcends personal and private spaces: for victims this crime is inescapable.

Relationships end all the time, it can be sad but ‘rebelling’ against the end is just not ok. Perpetrators often stalk their ex-partners. At least half of the people we speak to on the National Stalking Helpline call us because their ex is unable to accept the of their relationship. We have heard of men having their ex’s name or face tattooed onto themselves, or of threats to commit suicide due to unrequited love. You may think that Luke Howard was giving his ex one last chance to decide to love him or not, but her actions already send a clear message, and should be respected: she has ended the relationship.

This idea that women can be worn down into loving someone, or that it is romantic to not take no for an answer is frankly a dangerous. We have to remember that this grand gesture of love was unwanted, and that’s just the kind of thing that the ‘stalkers, and controlling patriarchs’ could do to demonstrate their power to their victim. You may think it’s old-school romance, but it goes without saying that ‘Rapunzel’ didn’t.

So, in this case, I think there’s only one thing we can agree on: that Bristol’s fanatic pianist was reviled, thankfully, says more about us than him. Perhaps society’s attitudes towards consent and abuse are finally reflecting the feelings of victims.

Yours,

A National Stalking Helpline Advisor