Actor: 'I was stalked by someone who followed me on Twitter'
Beth Rylance was stalked by someone who first contacted her on Twitter.
She spoke to BBC Radio 5 Live about her experience and why she wants serial stalkers to be put on a register.
Nothing prepares you for what it feels like to have a stalker. It’s frightening, but it’s also embarrassing, frustrating, and so much more.
It took me a while to realise I had a stalker: at first, he was just someone who responded to my tweets. Any time I tweeted anything at all, no matter how mundane, he’d respond to it instantly. It got to be pretty annoying, so I muted him on Twitter, and thought no more of it, until a couple of months later, when I got a direct message from him. In it, he’d linked to a blog that he’d written about me. Reading it sent chills down my spine.
'Beth,' he wrote, 'are we talking to each other? I like to think we are, but then again I might just be imagining it'. He told me that he’d be coming to London, where I lived, soon and asked to meet up. 'There’s so much I want to talk about with you, so much,' he wrote.
Stunned, I showed the message to my boyfriend. He insisted I block him, which I did, but when I went to block him, my finger slipped! I accidentally followed him. As we were underground and I had no mobile phone signal, I couldn’t block him until we left the tube. Let that be the end of it, I thought.
I continued to check his tweets. I was curious, but also frightened. All of them were about me: he’d call me his 'woman', or post videos of me, describing me as his 'girlfriend'. He even contacted my best friend via Twitter asking her to get hold of me. She wrote back: 'Please leave her alone.'
Because he’d told me that he was coming to London, I found myself unable to relax. I’d have horrible visions of walking down the street and seeing him. I confided my fears in my boyfriend. "Don’t worry", he soothed me, "it’s not like he’s going to turn up on your doorstep".
Until he did. It was December and I wasn’t feeling well so I was at home in bed. The doorbell had been ringing all morning, but I didn’t get up to open it because I felt so rubbish. I guessed it was probably the postman delivering Christmas shopping. Around the fifth ring I thought, ‘fine, I’ll get the door’. So I slouched downstairs in my worn-out leggings and opened the door. And there he was: my stalker.
When the police arrived, he was sat on my doorstep tweeting about me"
The panic was overwhelming and immediate. I screamed in terror, then slammed the door and ran upstairs and called the police. When the police arrived he was sat on my doorstep, tweeting about me. ‘When you get over your shock, why don’t you come back down and we’ll go for coffee?’ he’d written.
After I explained the situation to police, they told me we had two options: he could sign a piece of paper, saying he would leave me alone, or they could arrest him. I asked them to arrest him, and gave the police officers a statement.
I was terrified I'd come home from work and he'd be there again"
Afterwards, I pleaded with the officers to call me as soon as my stalker was released, as I was terrified I’d come home from work and he’d be there again, sat on my doorstep. I even called the police station, every day for a week, asking whether he’d been let out. Every time, the police officers would say they couldn’t tell me anything, and to call back later. I became too scared to leave the house.
I was finally told in late January that my stalker had been released the day after he was arrested. Despite my pleas, police hadn’t bothered to tell me. I also found out that he was being charged with stalking and harassment, which meant we were going to trial.
During the trial his lawyers claimed that because I’d accidentally followed him that one time, we did have a secret relationship and he wasn't a stalker. Luckily, the judge didn’t believe it. The man was found guilty of stalking and harassment, and given a two-year-long restraining order, preventing him from contacting me.
Even though I wasn’t always happy with how the authorities handled my case, I know I was one of the lucky ones: I got a conviction. Far too many victims of stalking don’t get any justice.
Even though reports of stalking trebled last year, prosecution rates have plunged, according to government figures. In only around 25% of cases reported to police were stalkers charged with a crime.
Many stalkers are serial perpetrators"
Many stalkers are serial perpetrators, meaning they stalk more than one victim in their lifetimes. This was true in my case: a police officer let slip to me that my stalker had done this to someone else.
But currently, no framework exists in the UK to track and register serial stalkers, and prevent them from inflicting their misery and abuse on multiple victims. Under the proposals put forward by anti-stalking charity Paladin, a stalkers register would help police to track and manage these serial offenders. I’m hopeful this will be implemented soon.
Years on, I know I’m one of the lucky ones: I’m still here to share my story. Many stalking victims aren’t. During the discussion on BBC Radio 5 Live, we heard that a Freedom of Information request by Broadly, VICE’s women’s website, had found that 55 UK women were murdered by exes, partners, or stalkers in the last three years, even after reporting to police.
Even though I’m moving on with my life, there’s a part of me that will always be looking over my shoulder. Stalking changes you - and it changed me.