When Joanna* agreed to date a man who was also coming out of a broken marriage, she never expected to end up feeling like a prisoner in her own home rejecting almost 600 calls a day from an obsessive stalker.
He said I could report him as many times as I liked but he would eventually find me alone
And when the police finally took action – after months of reports and complaints – she was shocked to realise that the only consequence for his actions would be a fine payable to the courts.
Her relationship with John* began in 2010. She told him she was not prepared for anything serious but would be happy to engage in a platonic friendship.
Two months later, she realised he wanted more so she started to take a step back and cut him off slowly.
However, she soon began to realise he was not letting go and he had begun keeping an eye on her movements.
“He created fake profiles on Facebook to speak to me and see whether I was meeting anyone else. He also started to send me SMSs to tell me he saw me having coffee at this place or that,” says Joanna, a hairdresser aged 42.
Eventually she changed her mobile number and made sure to keep it a secret except from family and close friends.
“But he soon found a way to get it. I suspect he knew someone at the telephone company,” she says.
As the weeks went by, his behaviour continued to degenerate. John would sit in his car outside her home, wait for her to leave and then follow her as she went about her day-to-day business.
When she reported him to the police, he called her threateningly, immediately after the police interrogation.
“He said I could report him as many times as I liked but he would eventually find me alone.”
One evening he showed up behind her while she was carrying out some chores in her garage.
“I freaked out and began screaming for him to leave me alone. I managed to run into the house and lock him out but I felt like a prisoner in my own home,” she says.
In the meantime, he continued to antagonise her. At one point he left cooking oil all over her door. Another time, he left rotten cheese on the porch. She also believes he was responsible for scratching her car.
This behaviour only stopped when she installed CCTV cameras around her house.
“My children were traumatised,” she says, recalling how she and they had grown afraid of leaving the house.
“Sometimes they missed school because they were afraid of leaving me alone. Other times we would rush into the car with my father on the phone to make sure nothing happened to us.” When the incidents outside her house stopped, he began to do similar things at her workplace.
For more than a year, he tormented her. He once saw her at a party and threw a drink over her – a case that ended up in court.
When the police raided his home following one of her many complaints, they found eight different sim cards an indication that he was using different numbers to “mask” his calls.
Joanna decided to take the matter to court but despite this, the trauma continued.
The court case about the drink thrown at her was heard in front of a different magistrate as it had happened in a different locality so the court was unaware of the “campaign of harassment” that had preceded and followed it.
After 18 months – involving 18 separate court appearances all attended by Joanna (but only three of which the accused attended) John received a €2,400 fine and was ordered to stay away from Joanna for three years. However, Joanna was left with no compensation for the 18 separate occasions when she had to close her business in order to attend court and pay €600 in legal fees.
“I don’t feel more protected in any way,” she says. “If this were to happen to me all over again, I would probably try to avoid court and if I am thinking this way, many other victims of stalking would be doing likewise – meaning that we have nowhere to turn to.”
In addition to the lack of financial compensation, Joanna is left with the far more serious issue of having to pick up the pieces of what remains at home. She believes the emotional and psychological abuse that her family suffered seems was overlooked by the court.
Joanna still lives in perpetual paranoia. She is afraid to go out in the evenings to meet friends for a drink anymore as she feels vulnerable.
“When I go to a restaurant, I always try to sit with my back to a wall because I don’t want any nasty surprises. I’m a different person.”
Joanna would like the police to treat cases like hers more seriously, taking more prompt and effective action instead of waiting for things to get more serious.
She says Malta has recently seen women seriously injured or even murdered by obsessive former lovers.
Other European countries, like the UK, have introduced new legislation to deal with the dangers that harassment and stalking present. Specific laws could allow for various stalking incidents to be treated as one case, as well as empowering police to arrest and detain offenders for longer periods of time.
Joanna says: “At times I felt that the police wanted to help me but that the legislation was not there to enable them to do so. I persevered as I was determined that this individual should be made to realise the hurt and trauma he caused me and my family – but how many other women would think the same?”
*Names have been changed.
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