*Trigger Warning: references to extreme violence and sexual harassment throughout*
In June 2021, 23-year-old Gracie Spinks was murdered in Duckmanton, Derbyshire by an ex-manager. The perpetrator, Michael Sellers, a 35-year old man, had been stalking Gracie for a number of months.
Gracie had spent the morning of the 18th June tending to her horse, only a few miles from her home. Sellers stabbed her to death and shortly after killed himself in a nearby field.
In the months running up to Gracie’s death, she reported Michael to the local police. Like many reports of stalking, her concerns went unnoticed by those who are meant to serve as protectors of the community.
Another stalking victim, 32-year- old Chris, has shared her traumatic experience of stalking, which seems to be a never-ending nightmare for her. In a BBC interview, Chris explained how she had been stalked for more than six years by a man she briefly met at a work meeting. Since their first encounter, her stalker has tried to contact her more than 2,000 times, though fails to be charged by the police, despite reporting her stalker fifty times.
Rather than treating Chris’ concerns with attention and urgency, the police have brushed off her reports and left her to deal with her stalker alone. In fact, Chris has been told by the police that “she should be flattered by the attention” and that it is her fault the stalking has occurred in the first place.
A study conducted between 2008 and 2018 showed that a third of women in the UK have reported being followed. 1.3% were victims of violent crime and 1,245 were murdered by a man, typically someone they previously knew.
During the covid pandemic, reports of stalking have dramatically increased and some areas of the UK have witnessed a 200% rise in stalking. Women have become vulnerable targets in their homes.
Could Gracie’s death have been prevented?
A full investigation has been launched into the actions of the police in regard to the handling of Gracie’s reports and misconduct notices have been handed. Gracie’s mother has vocalised her disgust with the conduct of the police and has been an active participant in the petition ‘Gracie’s law’.
Gracie’s law is a petition kickstarted by Jackie Barnett-Wheatcroft, a victim of stalking herself. It aims to have specific a monetary budget created within the police force for handling stalking. Currently, the petition has surpassed 100,000 signatures and so could potentially be discussed in parliament in the near future.
Despite a rising number of deaths like that of Gracie’s, the government seems to believe its approach to tackling stalking is robust, stating:
“To help ensure victims and survivors are supported, the Home Office part-funds the National Stalking Helpline… and has recently tripled its funding”
“We have also made a commitment…to work with police in order to make sure they are making proper use of Stalking Protection Orders”
Despite this, there is much evidence to suggest that police negligence towards crimes such as stalking is an issue that runs much deeper than simply greater funding.
Gracie is woman in a long list of many that have been let down by the police and have ultimately paid with their lives. Others, like Chris, are left to suffer in silence. Stalking is a widespread issue in the UK and until this is acknowledged, it is to be expected that many more women will lose their lives or live in fear.
Deeply entrenched sexist attitudes within the police force and society need to be eliminated to eradicate victim-blaming and ensure women’s safety is taken seriously. It seems this is a monumental task to try and tackle, but hopefully, Gracie’s Law will be the first stepping stone of many.