Terrified of her stalker, Sarah's now pushing for law to keep others safe
A Northern Ireland woman whose life has been plagued by a former boyfriend who stalked her has launched a website to help other victims as part of a campaign to reform legislation.
The woman, whose true identity is being withheld for her own safety, deals daily with the fear that her stalker, who once told her he loved her, will carry out his threat to kill her.
Going under the name of Sarah Conor, as well as setting up www.stalkingni.com, she has launched a petition calling on Justice Minister David Ford to overhaul existing legislation and to establish a stalker register, like that currently being campaigned for in England and Wales.
Sarah, a mother of teenagers who is in her 40s, said her life had been plagued by constant "hyper-vigilance".
While she told how she felt let down by "inadequate" legislation, with the support of a number of agencies she is taking her battle to help women in her situation all the way to Stormont.
Sarah said stalking was "a very common, financially draining and life-changing terror".
"And the biggest part of all, it's the children of victims who are also exposed to this and are forgotten about," she added.
There are currently no stalking laws in Northern Ireland, and people who end up in court on charges that would be commonly regarded as stalking behaviour can only be charged under existing harassment or intimidation legislation.
PSNI statistics reveal that between 2014 and 2015 there were 3,050 recorded incidents of harassment and 548 of intimidation.
And according to a recent crime survey for England and Wales, one in five women and one in 10 men is a victim of stalking, with the most at risk being those between the ages of 18 and 24 years.
The average victim is stalked 100 times before they even report it to police, but only one per cent of those reports result in criminal charges.
There has been a long-running campaign in the rest of the UK to overhaul the law.
In 2012 the Government introduced two offences - stalking, and stalking involving a fear of violence.
It followed a hard-fought campaign that came too late for victims such as Lorna Smith from Croydon, who was murdered by her stalker in 2011.
Lorna had split up with Clifford Mills, but he befriended her on Facebook using a fake name, lured her to his flat and then killed her in a savage knife attack. An Old Bailey jury put him away for life for her murder.
In Scotland, meanwhile, stalking was made an offence in 2010.
Laura Richards, founder of the charity Paladin, said stalkers robbed victims of their lives.
"Stalking should be recognised as a serious crime in Northern Ireland, as it is in England and Wales," she added.
"This would signal a much-needed cultural change and (in) training for the police, lawyers and the judiciary to identify stalking far earlier, to better protect victims and to ensure stalkers receive appropriate sentences and treatment that they need. For too long stalking has remained a hidden crime, and too often victims are let down by the criminal justice system.
"As a result they are further victimised, and some cases have escalated to rape and murder.
"This needs to change. It's time for the legislative framework to catch up and recognise and name stalking as a crime in its own right. This is about murder prevention."
The website can be found at www.stalkingni.com and the petition can be signed at change.org under www.change.org/p/stalking-terror-is-ok-in- northern-ireland-please-help-women-children-living-in-fear?