Allen stalking ordeal: ‘romance’ under attack

Haunted: Lily Allen says ‘alarm bells were ringing’ over her stalker’s behaviour. © PA

Singer Lily Allen has spoken publicly about being stalked, one of up to 700,000 women who suffer at stalkers’ hands every year. Does the way society treats love make the crime more likely?

Last October Lily Allen was awoken by the sound of banging on her wall.

‘I sat up, and the doorhandle was twisting round,’ she recalls. ‘This guy came steaming in and I didn’t know who he was. I recoiled and he ripped the duvet off, yelling.’

The man had an object stuffed inside his jacket which Allen believes was a knife. After her friend had removed him, she says, ‘there was this second outside my kids’ room when I was terrified to go in, in case of what I might find.’

The singer had endured a seven-year ordeal. In 2009, a tweeter using the handle @lilyallenRIP claimed he had written one of her songs. Letters, abusive rants, accusations and suicide threats followed.

‘He would drop off letters at my record company, my management offices, my sister’s shop, my flat,’ says Allen. She adds the response of the police made her feel ‘very alone’ and the experience has ‘affected how I live my life’.

Fewer than 10% of stalkers are strangers who follow celebrities; most are known to their victims. In England and Wales, up to 700,000 women are stalked each year; one in five women and one in 10 men experience stalking in their adult lives.

Around 43% of female, and 24% of male, stalking victims have been romantically involved with their stalkers. ‘Taken in isolation, sending flowers or waiting outside someone’s workplace to profess undying love can appear innocuous,’ says Laura Richards, of advocacy service Paladin. ‘But the relentless, repetitive pattern makes it creepy.’

Yesterday the Women’s Equality party launched a campaign calling for a stalkers’ register, a new charge of serial offending and specialist help for perpetrators and victims. But some believe the problem is deeper, and common attitudes to love make stalking seem normal.

In February, actor Andrew Lincoln said his character in the romantic comedy Love Actually was ‘in borderline stalker territory’. Others have likened to stalking the way Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice repeatedly ignores Elizabeth Bennet’s rejections of his marriage proposals.

Seeds of the problem

Society must shoulder some of the blame, say radical feminists. Films and TV shows suggest ‘no’ means ‘try again’. Women are seen as possessions: in traditional marriage ceremonies the bride’s father even ‘gives away’ the woman to the groom. No wonder some, mainly men, believe they are entitled to control others, especially women.

Do not give perpetrators excuses, respond others. Love and monogamy provide stability, security and happiness, and most adults can differentiate between genuine romantic gestures and sinister exertions of control. Stalkers know the difference between right and wrong, and cannot blame society for their crimes.

You Decide

  1. Do your favourite books, film and TV shows change the way you behave?
  2. Does society encourage stalking?

Activities

  1. List five things which you learnt from this article in your own words, and five relevant questions you would now like to know the answer to.
  2. Think of a character in a romantic book, film or TV series. Does the character have a healthy view of romantic relationships? Give a one-minute presentation to your class explaining your thoughts.

Some People Say...

“Love is a destructive emotion.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not being stalked, and I’m not planning to stalk anyone else. Does this matter to me?
This is about more than just stalking — it is about how we treat others, and whether society has a role in the way people behave. Psychologists say most stalkers rationalise their behaviour: for example, by saying ‘I only sent a few texts’. Some campaigners say others make that kind of thinking seem normal. And even if you do not agree with them, this way of thinking may have an impact on the culture you encounter, for example in films and TV shows.
I’m worried about someone around me. What can I do?
The first thing to do is to speak to people you know. If you think someone around you needs professional advice, look at the Paladin website under Become An Expert -- they have a number you can call.

Word Watch

Police
Allen says the police told her the intruder had probably stumbled into the wrong flat; destroyed documents; and saw the theft of her handbag as more significant than the threat to her safety.
How I live
Allen says: ‘It impacts on your relationships. I’m practically a hermit. Every noise makes me start. I’ve had to leave the flat.’
Celebrities
Stalkers have broken into the homes of Halle Berry and Sandra Bullock and killed others, including American actress Rebecca Schaeffer, who was just 21, and former Beatle John Lennon.
Most
One study in the USA found stalkers were known to their victims in 80% of cases.
700,000
These statistics are all from the Crime Survey for England and Wales.
Pattern
Campaigners say victims will suffer, on average, 100 incidents before they go to the police.
Romantic comedy
In February, researchers at the University of Michigan said romantic comedies made women more likely to accept ‘stalker myths’.
Love Actually
Lincoln’s character pursues his best friend’s wife. But some have questioned Lincoln’s analysis, saying the character’s behaviour was aloof.

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