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Elle's Home Office & ACPO Stalking Conference Speech

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My speech as read by myself at the Home Office & ACPO Stalking Conference in London on December 9th 2010 about my 5-year online cyberstalking case. …

My speech as read by myself at the Home Office & ACPO Stalking Conference in London on December 9th 2010 about my 5-year online cyberstalking case.

Fighting for justice for stalking victims.

Published in News & Politics
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  • 1. ACPO Conference (09.12.2010)________________________ Cyberstalking: My Five Year Ordeal By Elle RichardsonFirstly, thank you for allowing me to speak today and thank you to the Home Office fordealing with the concerns of stalking.________________________________________________________________If you experience a crime or a form of harassment offline you have theopportunity to walk into a police station or dial 999 to report the eventwith a hope that action can be taken and your safety can be assured. Onlineits a different story; there is no www.999.com, so to speak. Online peoplecan be anonymous; they can hide under any guise with the vast tools oftechnology to conceal their identity making tracking them not such astraightforward task.When my cyberstalker began their hate campaign against me in early 2005 Ithought little more of it than it being one of the many internet trolls whofind harassing others and being offensive the best way to pass time online.Id experienced the hateful nature of anonymous internet pests many timesand witnessed others at the receiving end too. It was commonplace to seea few trolls on a website and usually the best trick was to ignore them andeventually theyd go away. My stalker didnt.
  • 2. ________________________________________________________________One of their first abusive messages, on a music forum read "If you dontrespond Im going to make your life hell and you won’t like it". Thosewords are quite poignant in hindsight. At the time I blocked and reportedthe user to the forum admin and they were banned. They persisted onvarious other sites and new abuse would appear each day.I was an aspiring singer/songwriter and I believe it was this that attractedmy stalker to me as they regularly attacked my skills and made offensiveand threatening remarks about my life.After ongoing abuse in 2006 I went to the police. I was shocked that theofficer I spoke to didnt even know what an IP address was. I felt alone atthat moment and even though I made a full report I was made aware that itwas probably unlikely that theyd be able to track the individual harassingme.Every day I had to block, report and endure more attacks from the personwho was setting up various accounts and guises online to persistentlyhound me. They would seek me out and continue their attack. The effect ofthis started to take a toll on my personal life. I had suffered personalstruggles and already battled confidence problems so this ongoing abusereally started to affect how I felt and dealt with life. I distanced myself fromfriends and found it very hard to trust people as I was constantly wonderingwho the person was harassing me. Was it was secretly someone I knew anddid everyone think these awful things of me? It gave me immenseinsecurity from the paranoia the relentless abuse caused. The internetreally seemed like the ideal playground for this persons behaviour.I was trying to promote my music so it wasnt feasible to remove mywebsites and profiles and I couldnt change the name on these profiles asthe name represented my musical identity, but why should I have to giveup something I love because someone cannot control their behaviouronline, when it comes to respecting others?
  • 3. ________________________________________________________________My confidence in my music dwindled and I found it harder to socialize as Ifound the abuse had affected my confidence so much that I was starting todislike myself and lose faith in whom I could trust. It instilled a sense ofsocial-phobia within me which I still battle with to this day.I didn’t talk about it much as people didnt understand. The few I did speakto would often say “don’t use that website” or “turn the pc off”. Was theresolution really resorting back to a pre-internet era where I cannot use itwithout fear of being harassed at every given moment? Besides why was I,the victim of this crime, the one having to stop everything they love and doin life and not the offender?2007-2008 I made several reports to the police but I’d be made aware thatit would be unlikely they’d be able to trace this person. During one visit thepolice even witnessed the messages coming through. Friends witnessed it,my family did too. They also witnessed the detrimental effects it had onme.In 2008 I started to get occasional death threats and messages making mefear for my safety. I didn’t have a clue who or where this person was. For allI knew it could have been someone round the corner from me or evensomeone I knew with an ulterior motive. Turning the computer off did notswitch off my fear. I didn’t sleep much, became emotionally drained and Istarted to lose a lot of weight from the stress.With the support of a new boyfriend I began to log the messages from late2008 because, after all this time I realised this person had no intention ofstopping and they even proudly proclaimed this in their messages. Everyday I would make logs of the emails and messages. It took over my life but Iknew if I ever wanted this to stop I had to gather evidence and persist withthe case. I never once responded to my stalker yet their abuse was inabundance every day, often up to 20 or 30 messages of hate and threats ona daily basis.
  • 4. I finally closed the door on my music ventures. I was so worn out with howthe abuse surrounding it had taken over my life that every time I went todo other music projects I instantly associated it with very difficultmemories. Essentially I had to say goodbye to something I loved very muchin life.________________________________________________________________My stalker created guises, used my photos and copied anything I hadwritten myself, in a semi-impersonation attempt to instill more paranoia.They set up Facebook profiles using my surname, date of birth andinformation and tried adding me. I blocked and reported them. They werenever removed, even to this day. YouTube’s report function was shockinglypoor as were other sites. Most reports would go into a spam filter andwouldnt be read or dealt with. I literally felt like banging my head againstthe keyboard. My stalker set up an incredible amount of hate andimpersonation profiles. They would post offensive comments about me,trying to defame my name publicly. Each time I would block one they’d setup a new one to send more abuse. It was an endless, vicious circle.People asked how I knew it was always the same person. Well, after yearsof the same messages you almost become accustomed to their phraseologyand style. I gained a huge sense of paranoia and fear from this and startedanalysing people and life in a way that I’d never done before, and it tookover my life.In 2009 I printed many pages of abuse for the police to see. They didn’tseem to think they’d be able to catch the person though so it was abreakthrough in 2009 when, on one forum, the stalker abused me and theadmin was kind enough to give me their IP address to help me. The IPsearch came back as a Lancashire location and identified the computer as apublic one. I gave the IP address to the police. It turned out to be a libraryin Lancashire. However, with the vast amount of users and computers theIP resolved to it would take some considerable work to catch the person.Lancashire County Council were asked to do this and I had to chase them
  • 5. up several times as they still hadn’t done this a few weeks later. I waspassed from Hampshire to Lancashire police on numerous occasions.In October 2009 I finally had the breakthrough to catch my stalker. Theysent me more abuse on the FriendsReunited website. This time the profilehad a name that seemed to be real. Their father was also linked to theirprofile so it seemed this was genuine. According to the profile, this was a29 year old woman and someone I’d never heard of before. Shaking, I triedto take it in. This is probably the person who has made my life hell for somany years. I was angry yet happy to finally have something to go on. Imessaged her father saying his daughter had been harassing me for manyyears online. His response was not of “my daughter wouldn’t do that”;instead he simply said “She’s banned from using computers in our house,go to the police”. That said it all. As soon as I said her name to the policethey knew who she was instantly and she was no stranger to them. Finally, Ihad found my stalker.________________________________________________________________She was arrested in November 2009. She didn’t deny the charges and gaveno reason as to why she did it. I wasn’t the only one to receive her abuse.I’d seen her personally attack others under her profiles before and Idiscovered that she was banned from a BBC message board for postingabuse to other users. How was this woman able to do all of this and not becaught before?The police contacted me soon after and told me that she had learningdifficulties and, to quote the officer “the mental age of a 14 year old” andcould not be prosecuted. Instead they said she was cautioned and bannedfrom using public computers. I was disgusted. This woman had taken overmy life for five years. I said “A 14 year old knows it’s wrong to send deaththreats!”. Why wasn’t she being monitored if she was known for this kindof behaviour? How was someone who had learning difficulties able to go toa library alone every day to sit for hours sending this kind of abuse topeople?
  • 6. I complained but they couldn’t go beyond a caution and the officer assuredme she wouldn’t re-offend. Unfortunately he was wrong. In July 2010 mystalker re-offended by signing up to iTunes under my music name andposting over 1,000 music reviews with abusive and offensive content aimedat other users. Basically, she was back defaming my name. Shaking and intears I sat for four hours that night logging the abuse for the police.My stalker was re-arrested in August 2010 and finally I got a three yearrestraining order against her and she was fined. But how and why did thistake five years of hell to get a resolution? Why are people allowed so muchanonymity online if they are so actively abusing it? I understand it’s notfeasible to police the entire internet but I do believe every website has aduty to moderate it’s content and if something has been flagged up asabusive then it should be removed and if not the police should be able tointervene to enforce removal, especially if someone’s private details areincluded with the abuse. This kind of content can serve to completely ruinpeoples’ lives.Ive had personal details posted on public websites, emails hacked andedited in defamatory ways and even had people parodying my stalker, allbecause some people feel they’ll have no consequences to face as a resultof their actions. Some admins on websites seem to even think it’s funny tokeep the content online because it draws in visitors. How is this resolved?Are the police then able to enforce removal? In addition, the more time ittakes to remove the content the more people see it and the more damageit can effectively have on someone’s life.________________________________________________________________The internet is a huge part of our everyday lives, professionally and sociallyand online harassment is an evolving crime. As technology progresses soshould the law. Had this been an option back in 2005 then maybe Iwouldn’t have suffered for so long and maybe I’d still be doing music nowinstead of trying to rebuild and find my way again.For the first time in years I felt proud of myself that I’d managed to close a
  • 7. very dark chapter in my life. Back when it first started in 2005 never did Ibelieve I’d be able to catch this person but finally I feel I can try to moveforward and I hope that my story helps other people who have suffered thesame.Stalkers know no boundaries. Stalkers have no rules other than tointimidate and strike fear into their victim. Whether it’s countless letters inthe post, offensive text messages, scary phone calls, threatening emails orabuse on public forums; persistent abuse via any format are all forms ofunwanted and harassing communication and should be viewed as such.Online, stalkers can hide, they can attack and have a sense of on-goingsatisfaction that they’ll probably never be caught. This has to change.For five years my cyberstalker took over my life and now, after my ordeal isover, I am here to tell my story and hopefully bring about change.Thank you for listening.