‘Police officers minimized it all the way along,’ says Zoe Dronfield, 41, who after weeks of stalking and harassment, narrowly escaped with her life after a violent attack by her ex-boyfriend in 2014, ‘they’d say “just turn your phone off” and they would sit in my kitchen laughing and joking, flirting with me saying “you need to find yourself a nice boyfriend” wink wink nudge nudge.’
Zoe first reported her ex-boyfriend, Jason Smith, after he began calling her hundreds of times a day, contacting her on every available platform and leaving endless voicemails. ‘It was never taking seriously,’ she says, ‘even after he was incarcerated for GBH section 17, and he was contacting me from his prison cell, they were still like “just don’t answer your phone”’
Smith, a serial offender who was known to the police for his history of stalking and domestic abuse, was incarcerated after weeks of stalking Zoe culminated in him attacking her over the course of eight hours. Stabbing her in the neck, stamping on her head and slashing her wrists, Zoe suffered a brain hemorrhage, broken nose and cracked eye socket alongside her snapped right arm and stab wounds.
‘When I look back now, I’m lucky to be alive’, she tells me, ‘and [the police] actually could've stopped this had they of been proactive and dealt with the risks that were being presented very early on.’
There were numerous warning signs. The endless stalking and harassment was just one element, but Zoe remembers one particular red flag, where his disregard for human life became apparent. ‘He'd left me a voicemail saying “I love you, I'm sorry” then the next one saying “if you don’t open the door I’m coming through it” then another “I’m going now” and pretending to kill himself,’ she continued, ‘I now know that if someone is saying they’re going to kill themselves that is a huge red flag and a pre-requisite for homicide. If they're willing to take their own life then they're not bothered about taking someone else’s either.’
Despite playing the voicemails aloud to the police, they never took them as evidence or reported them. It’s just one of a series of occasions that the police failed to protect Zoe, despite Smith’s conviction for harassment ten years previously, despite there being 13 other known victims of this one man, one of whom is a serving police officer.
‘When she found out about my attack she broke down in tears,’ Zoe tells me, ‘because we didn't have stalking laws [when he stalked her in 2004], he got done for harassment and was incarcerated for three months, and she gave a victim closing statement to the court saying “he’s a dangerous man, he’s going to kill someone one day” and low and behold ten years later I’d met him and the pattern was exactly the same.’
This isn’t the first case of women not being taken seriously when reporting stalking and domestic abuse. In fact, Zoe’s experience has returned to the public’s attention following an investigation by Broadly, which found that 49 women were murdered in the last three years by partners, exes or stalkers, even after reporting them to the police. The FOI led research asked all 45 territorial police forces in the UK how many women had reported an abusive partner, ex-partner or stalker for threatening behaviour and went on to be killed by that individual.
According to the research, that has spawned a campaign by the publication against stalking and domestic abuse, Unfollow Me, nine of the women who were killed were under the jurisdiction of West Yorkshire Police, seven under Avon and Somerset Constabulary, five under North Wales Police and four under Merseyside Police.
Not only that, but only 17 of the 49 cases were referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) for investigation and of those 17, Broadly state that only four cases found officers had failed in their duties, and so were sanctioned and given training.
‘These figures are unacceptable,’ says Laura Richards, founder of anti-stalked charity Paladin, ‘Many of the men identified through these figures will be serial abusers who target multiple victims, over time escalating to murder. These are the most dangerous of cases—they are murders in slow motion—yet women are still not being believed or taken seriously when they report to police.’
But why are women so disbelieved? We’re all aware of the facts, two women a week are murdered by an intimate or ex-partner, 94% of female homicide victims are stalked prior to being killed, so why are women STILL having to fight tooth and nail to prove they’re in real danger and receive an adequate police response?
‘You're always seen to be a neurotic woman’, says Zoe, ‘there is this element of “oh just deal with it love”, this misogynistic attitude to women. It’s a culture that needs to change.’
So how do we change that culture? According to Zoe, it means implementing a stalkers register, much like the sex offenders register, that will change the way police officers on the front line perceive reports. Because, as many speeches as she can give to chief police officers, which she now does to help other victims of domestic abuse, it’s the first response police that need to hear what she has to say.
‘There’s no continuity in the journey that a victim takes and that’s the difficulty,’ she continued, ‘because someone fresh is picking it up every time and then they've got their own perspective on it, whereas if you've got a register, it will drive a different perspective in the first place.’
It’s not just the ability to see how many times a person has been reported so as to be on a register, it’s also the stigma attached to being on one that will not only change the way the police perceive offenders but the outside world too.
‘Everyone takes the sex offenders register seriously, there’s a real stigma attached to that, it should be the same for domestic abusers and serial stalkers, because actually by definition of their offending it's the same- it's a pattern of ongoing offences,’ Zoe said.
The necessity therefore, is ensuring a stalkers register is included in the new Domestic Abuse Bill, which Theresa May promised to oversee personally. ‘The framework already exists for sex offenders,’ Zoe continued, ‘it’s common sense [to include it]. Most people think this is in place already, but unless it’s enshrined in law it doesn’t happen.’
And while Theresa May is seemingly busy with Brexit, Zoe won’t stand for women being left behind. ‘I’m really disappointed that there’s not been traction with this whatsoever,’ she said, ‘I know we're dealing with Brexit but are women’s lives not important? What’s the value of a women’s life? If the government don’t do this, they are basically allowing women to die.’
If you are being stalked, _call Paladin_ on 020 3866 4107.