What Emily experienced when a previous relationship broke down was a living nightmare.

Her ex-boyfriend harassed her relentlessly by phone and email after she told him she didn’t want to get back together.

It was a terrifying experience.

She told Sky News: “I was scared to go out. I kept turning off all my devices because I couldn’t bear to hear the phone ring or the messages ping.

“I didn’t know what the next message or email was going to say.

“I was getting multiple emails from different addresses that he’d set up. I felt like everything was closing in on me.”

Emily was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

But it wasn’t just the stalking that took its toll – so did her dealings with the police.

She says officers didn’t initially deal with her case effectively. In fact, she thinks they may have potentially put her in danger.

She explained: “One of the first pieces of advice I was given by the first officer that took a statement was ‘just block him and ignore him,’ which sounds like a normal thing to do but actually when you’re dealing with stalkers it can escalate [their] behaviour.

“If you do block someone then they could find other ways to contact you and it could suddenly turn much more intense and dangerous by someone coming to physically find you.”

Cotterill VT grab

Image: Specialist advocates are critical to delivering justice for more victims, says the Suzy Lamplugh Trust

Emily eventually turned to the National Stalking Helpline for help.

“The helpline said it was really important to keep open a line of communication, not to respond but to keep track of the escalating behaviour which was later used as evidence in court and was very helpful,” she said.

Emily’s ex-boyfriend was eventually convicted, although he never served time in prison.

She has a restraining order against him.

How vital advice boosts conviction rates

Emily gives much of the credit for that conviction to the advocate the National Stalking Helpline and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust put her in touch with.

The charity says independent stalking advocates help victims to understand their rights, log evidence and apply for stalking protection orders. They also provide support throughout an extremely difficult and distressing process.

“This was an invaluable asset. Someone who helped me both on a personal level and an emotional level – I had their mobile phone number and I could call them or email at any time,” said Emily.

She added: “They were the go-between for me and the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, and then the whole judicial system.

“Without the advocate, I really don’t feel that I would have been as strong as I was in terms of the evidence I provided and the way that I dealt with the whole situation.”

Image: Sky’s Becky Cotterill talks to stalking victim ‘Emily’

But advocates are far from a given for the majority of victims, who are mostly women.

There were an estimated 1.8 million victims of stalking last year and less than 1% had access to a support advocate, according to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.

The vast majority of cases go unreported, but of those that are reported, on average, only one in a thousand stalkers are convicted.

Compare that to when an advocate is involved and the conviction rate massively increases to one in four stalkers.

Read more:

Forensic psychologist tells of ‘terrifying’ stalking ordeal

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Stalker terrorised 121 victims after making ‘rape list’

Calls for protection in new law

Campaigners are calling for stalking advocates to be included in the Victim and Prisoners Bill which is currently going through parliament.

“It would be a critical step towards ensuring that every victim of stalking is supported so that no victim falls through the cracks,” said Sarah-Louise Edwards, head of operations for the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.

“We’re still seeing a lack of convictions. We’re also seeing a lack of knowledge and implementation of stalking protection orders around the UK varying in different police areas,” she added.

The charity says specialist advocates are critical to delivering justice for more victims.

Sarah Champion MP

Image: Sarah Champion MP wants better access to independent stalking advocates

While the Victim and Prisoners Bill refers to independent advocates for people who experience sexual or domestic violence, it doesn’t mention similar services for victims of stalking in its current form.

“The specialism of a stalking advocate really does help us get the convictions but also helps us educate the police and the justice system. You’re looking at changing the system, that’s what they can do with their specialist skills,” says the MP Sarah Champion, who is campaigning for better access to independent stalking advocates.

Delivering advocates for all victims would take time and be costly, but charities say the government needs to recognise the role it has to play so more victims stand a chance of getting this much-needed support.

A government spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice said: “We have quadrupled funding for victim support and made major changes to police practice and the law so that victims get the help, safety and justice they deserve.

“Stalking can be extremely distressing for victims which is why we have introduced Stalking Protection Orders and doubled the maximum sentence from five to 10 years.”

Emily’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

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