Northern Ireland news

Allison Morris: I feel stigmatised by being the victim of a domestic crime

Northern Ireland currently has no stalking legislation

WE live in the only part of these islands with no stalking legislation, and the impact on victims and the message sent to perpetrators is immeasurably damaging.

I know this, not just because of my role as a journalist, but because I have spent almost four years of my life trying to navigate this dysfunctional system.

Making the first call to police to ask for help in stopping the violent and obsessive behaviour of an out-of-control former partner was not an easy one.

I empathise with all those who have struggled with this toughest of dilemmas.

As a security correspondent I deal with the PSNI regularly - at times critically - and I did not want them, or anyone for that matter, to view me as weak. I did not want to be seen as a victim.

In the end, it was not my welfare but that of my child that brought the situation to a head.

My daughter was having a baby, it had been a complicated pregnancy, and she had gone to the hospital to find out what the next step would be. I asked her to ring me as soon as she had news.

Read More: Stalking 'must be addressed in standalone legislation' - Clare Bailey

At that stage, back in September 2016, I was well used to daily abuse, text messages, emails, Facebook messages, ranting, threatening phone calls.

This man was violent, obsessive and controlling, I’d removed that control and he was reacting badly.

He arrived outside my office, ranting and screaming, foaming at the mouth with rage, demanding I speak to him.

I tried to calm him down, to reason with an unreasonable person. I explained I was waiting on my daughter ringing with important news and didn’t need this stress.

He had a sandwich in his hand, cheese and pickle, and he squashed it into my hair and clothes as cars slowed down to watch.

He ran off shouting that he was going to repeatedly ring my phone so my daughter couldn’t get through.

He rang almost 90 times in the next few hours so my phone was constantly engaged.

I went to the bathroom in work, tried to brush the pieces of food from my hair and rang the police. I thought that would finally be the beginning of the end.

How wrong I was. All it did was enrage him more, and he got smarter about what kind of abuse he could and couldn’t get away with.

It took from then until November 2017 to have him convicted of harassment for the first time. There were stages when I was reporting three or four incidents a week.

Since then I’ve spoken to other victims of stalking and read numerous studies and realise there is a recognisable pattern of behaviour.

It’s almost like there is a stalking school these people attend to swap tips.

There are the threats to ruin your life, the phone calls, the constant messages, the character assassination, the false accusations, the fabricated and fantastical stories, the sexually explicit comments, the conspiracy theories and the need for constant attention regardless of how negative the circumstances.

He contacted my employers, my work colleagues, my union, my friends, my family, politicians. He phoned social services and made false reports about my grandchildren, causing my family enormous distress.

Each morning I would put a face on and walk out into the world to do what can be a very public job, while inside I was terrified of what would happen next. I didn’t want to ask for help because I’m big tough Allison Morris and I don’t need sympathy.

During this time I met the best and the worst of the PSNI - the officers who are brilliant at their jobs, who save lives by their actions, and those I wouldn’t leave in charge of supermarket security.

Non Molestation Orders are only available by an application to the family court. It can be an expensive, traumatising experience, easily exploited by a stalker with too much time on their hands.

My abuser used this system to financially and emotionally harass me until April 2018 when a judge noted the proceedings had become part of the harassment.

This I’ve found is a common feature in stalking and harassment cases, and one that the recent public consultation on stalking has not accurately reflected.

Protection orders are not available to everyone and not always properly enforced, and victims are not kept up to date with progress. A single point of contact with police could help identify patterns of behaviour more expediently.

Fast-tracked justice would mean there would be consequences for actions, rather than victims left waiting over a year for a day in court, and bail must be properly enforced.

I often work in the courts and watch as domestic abusers are bailed and rebailed time and time again despite numerous breaches.

Officers and the judiciary must be properly trained in new technology, now a big part of stalking cases.

If I struggled at times to navigate this system, what must it be like for more vulnerable victims who don’t have that support network?

I still feel stigmatised by being the victim of domestic crime and that should not be the case.

On Thursday February 6, a court ruled that my abuser must serve his 14-month sentence. He will spend seven of those behind bars.

This was after appealing his second conviction, and he still refuses to accept any responsibility despite having been now found guilty by three separate judges.

I’m far from convinced my ordeal is over, but I am hopeful that legislative change will soon make stalking a criminal offence, with tailored protection orders and sentences that reflect the seriousness of the crime.

Until then, I despair for those victims living in fear of the what next, every moment of every day.

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