Hundreds of stalked women flee Britain

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HUNDREDS OF women have fled Britain after becoming the victims of stalkers. They are seeking new lives abroad rather than go on living in constant fear of being killed.

Psychologists at Leicester University have discovered that stalking is far more common than previously thought, affecting an estimated 12,000 women in the UK. Using computer analysis, the researchers built on a survey of nearly 100 stalking victims aged between 18 and 76. They found that 20 had either moved to another county or overseas in an attempt to escape a stalker. The figure equates to more than 200 women leaving the UK every year.

The survey, carried out in co-operation with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, found that the majority of stalkers (85.1 per cent) were male. Four of the women said they had been harassed by more than one stalker. At least a quarter had received threatening, begging or abusive mail. For 48.2 per cent of the women, the stalker was an ex-partner, and 37.7 per cent said the stalker was a former acquaintance. In only 12.6 per cent of cases was the stalker unknown.

One of the women questioned said she had been stalked for 43 years, while three others said they had been harassed for up to 37 years. The women were also asked to choose one emotion from a list to describe their experiences. "Fear" was chosen by 17.2 per cent, "terrorised" by 16.1 per cent. Others chose "intimidation", "im- prisoned" and "loss of self-esteem". Some said the stalking had escalated to extreme violence; one said she fled Britain after her father was murdered by the man stalking her.

Last year, the Government introduced the Protection from Harassment Act. Now the Home Office has commissioned a guide for police which advises on anti-stalking strategies.

The tough measures, however, have not persuaded many of those who have fled that it would now be safe to return. Sarah Knowles, 27, a junior hospital doctor, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, has lived in France since 1994 . She "escaped" after her boyfriend kept her prisoner in her own home and then finally threatened to kill her. "I ended up being terrified for my life and for my family," she said. "I even gave up work for a while and was on anti-depressants and contemplated suicide."

The couple met when he broke his ribs and was brought into the London hospital where she worked. At first he had seemed the perfect boyfriend. However, he began following her to work and threatening her male patients. Eventually, she moved 150 miles away when he threatened to kill her. But he tracked her down, broke into her house and tied her up when she came home from work.

After two days, Sarah escaped by telling him she loved him and slipping out of the house while he went to buy a celebratory take-away.

Lorraine Sheridan, one of the researchers, says Sarah's case highlights the devastating impact this crime can have. "Often these women are having to leave behind their pets and their loved ones to live in a country where they don't even speak the language," she said. "This is such a terrible crime because, even if the stalking does stop, the victim is paranoid that it's never really going to end."