Trigger Warning: This article contains references to stalking, physical violence, sexual assault, and other forms of gender-based violence.
A man has been arrested for stalking Taylor Swift for the third time in five days outside her New York apartment. That’s right, he has been arrested three times. You might be wondering how that can even happen. In a move that will shock basically nobody, this man who has been proven to be dangerous was released from police custody without bail upon his second arrest. Mere minutes later, he was pilfering around Taylor’s dumpster and arrested again. This story is ongoing, and it is guaranteed that if he is rereleased without bail, he will float back to Taylor’s Tribecca apartment and again get arrested. It was revealed in a previous hearing that the man in question had travelled from Seattle to New York and had stalked out Swift’s apartment over 30 times in the last two months. Taylor has had a lengthy history with stalkers, as many famous women have. She references this history in her 2020 documentary Miss Americana, showing clear distress as she does.
It was only earlier this month that Shakira also had a run-in with a stalker named Daniel John Valtier, who travelled from Texas to her private property in Miami. He claimed that Shakira was his wife and that he was acting as stepfather to her children. In a court appearance after his arrest, he continued to claim that Shakira was his wife and refused to acknowledge a court-issued stay-away order. This spurred the judge to double his bail and extend the order to include a ban on indirect communications with Shakira through social media posts. While this result is a good one, his ability to interact with Shakira and her family is essentially prohibited; it has to be noted that the man in question was known to police in Texas.
Taylor and Shakira are two of the world’s most successful and powerful women and have access to the most watertight private security services available. Despite this, they are both still victims of harassment and dangerous stalking. Law enforcement have shown, in both cases, a dangerous lethargy toward protecting these women and their families. It inspires very little confidence for women who are victims of stalking and who do not have the resources and wealth that Taylor and Shakira have access to.
Stalking is an alarmingly common crime, with data suggesting that up to 1 in 5 women in the UK will experience stalking at one point in their lifetime (1 in 10 men will experience it, too). It is believed by some organisations that this statistic is misleading and that it is likely more women than 1 in 5 will experience stalking. While not all of this stalking will result in violent crime or be long-lasting, it is a chilling statistic to think of, knowing that it is yet another number to add to the already dizzying statistics about sexual violence and domestic abuse that circle around the internet. It doesn’t help that around 15% of homicides in the UK are related to cases of stalking.
It is even more distressing to know that only 11% of stalkers received an immediate custodial sentence for Section 2a stalking and just 9% for a Section 4a stalking offence in 2013 (Paladin, National Stalking Advocacy Service, 2015). This means that by and large, stalking is one of the least prosecuted crimes.
In Shakira’s case, the stalker had been making public statements about his perceived relationship with her and sent several gifts to her property before making a move to travel halfway across the US to her address. The signs were there, and his plans were clear, but El Paso police did not seem to investigate his intent despite having a long and well-documented criminal past. While dismissal may have been attached to a clear deterioration of Valtier’s mental state, this still rings massive alarm bells. Valiter, in footage from his court case and from social media posts prior to his arrest, is clearly mentally unstable. While his mental instability clearly warrants medical assistance, it also makes him more unpredictable and dangerous. Still, his campaign to approach Shakira got as far as him standing outside of her home.
As I read over the news about both stories, I couldn’t pretend to be shocked at the mismanagement of both stalkers and the failure to make lasting moves to protect the women in question from the police. While both cases happened in the United States, which has its own complicated and often overtly problematic history with police, I thought about the police here in the UK. We are only a few years on from the murder of Sarah Everard by a Metropolitan Police Officer. It was only a short while after that it was revealed members of the Metropolitan Police had shared images of two deceased women on WhatsApp and made objectifying comments about their bodies.
It was revealed that over 1,100 police officers in England and Wales are currently under investigation for sexual or domestic abuse in 2023. Almost 1 in 7 of these officers have been allowed to continue work as usual, meaning that they will be in contact with women reporting stalkers and other cases of gender-based violent crime. It is clear that there is a massive structural problem within police forces both here and in the US with how they engage in violence against women, including the violent act of stalking women and violating their privacy.
When I was younger, I had a first-hand experience of stalking; a former sexual partner of mine had taken it badly when I decided to part ways with him, and after a few days of apparent distance, he started to conveniently show up to places I would be. I became aware of his presence near my home, and the discomfort grew the longer I was aware of being watched. As he continued to follow me, showing up at my place of education and appearing at social events I attended, I felt the life I lived become more and more dangerous. Normal things like going to a supermarket, something I actively enjoy, became an act in mental gymnastics. I didn’t report him to police, something I have since learned is glaringly common. It is now known that, on average, stalking victims tend not to report their stalkers to the police until the 100th incident. With the aforementioned stories in mind, it isn’t much of a shock that turning to the police is a true last resort for many victims of stalking.
Stalking often compounds with other forms of violence and harassment. It is glaringly common for stalking to occur after someone has left an abusive partner; 45% of stalkers are ex-partners of their victims. When I left an abusive relationship just over two years ago, one of my initial fears was that my ex-partner would begin stalking me. While I have no evidence to say that he did, he did harass me digitally and took great effort to create new avenues to contact me after I clearly stated I did not want him to. Again, I didn’t report him to the police. Ultimately, the reasons why I didn’t speak to the police culminated in the fact that I, like many women and femme-presenting individuals, have no confidence that the police will take my concerns seriously or even extend basic respect to me. When there is a legion of officers who themselves are under investigation for gender-based violence, it sends a powerful message. It tells us that they aren’t our solution; they are a part of the problem. When they aren’t actively hurting women, they’re lethargic and complicit in allowing our aggressors to continue to stalk us.
When we extend this conversation through an intersectional lens, so much rises to the surface. It is no secret that law enforcement has a massive race issue. In the Casey Review of the Metropolitan Police in 2023, it was found that the force had a ‘boys club’ mentality and that it perpetuated an internal culture of misogyny, homophobia, and racism. Women, the LGBTQ+ community, and people of colour are already disproportionately victims of violence and discrimination; this includes stalking. When the police, who are supposed to protect us, are actively against us, who is left to keep women safe from stalkers? Who is there to protect women in sex work from clients who stalk them? Who is there to protect young girls who are being stalked?
I won’t be the first, nor the last, to criticise the police and how they respond to violence against women. 2 women a week are murdered by a domestic partner in the UK on average. Roughly 85,000 women are raped on average every year in the UK. 1 in 5 women will experience stalking at some point in their life. Gender-based violence, the manifestation of patriarchal rape culture, is prevalent and unyielding. We need to have a system of protection in place that is not complicit in our abuse. If Taylor Swift and Shakira, two of the most economically powerful individual women in the world, are dealing with this, where does that leave the rest of us? I, for one, am furious.