In 2009, Joseph Wills asked Helen Pearson on a date.
Then the stalking began. Wills called Pearson over and over again. He sent her threatening letters (sample text: “I want to play a game … I want to see how you would cope if you were attacked … Would you fight back? Scream? Let the game begin.”) He wrote “Die Helen Die” outside her home in Exeter, England, in big white letters. Another time, he slashed her tires. Once, he even left a dead cat on her doorstep.
Pearson was shaken. So she reported the threats to the police. She reached out to them 125 times over five years to report this unrelenting harassment campaign. The abuse got so bad, Pearson said, that she considered suicide. “Every night you go to bed and you don’t know what is going to happen and you constantly live in fear,” she told the BBC. “You see that there’s no way the stalking is ever going to end.”
At the time, Pearson said she thought, “This is going to go on until I am dead.”
That horrifying reality almost came to pass on Oct. 21, 2013. That night, Wills attacked Pearson with a pair of scissors in a nearby graveyard as she walked to the gym. Onlookers said they saw Wills drag Pearson into the cemetery by the hood of her coat. Pearson was stabbed eight times in her back, face and neck. She was saved by a witness, who jumped out of his car and shoved Wills away.
Wills was arrested, tried and found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to life in prison.
In a report released this week, police have apologized for their behavior, admitting personal and organizational failings. A report on the department’s response says that the three officers involved in the investigation face misconduct charges.
Pearson, though, says the just-released report is too little, too late.
“It doesn’t do anything for me. I am still suffering every day because of what happened to me,” she said.
In the U.K., 20 percent of women and 10 percent of men say they’ve been stalked at least once in their lifetime. Researchers have also shown that stalking very often escalates to murder or attempted murder. One 1999 study found that three-quarters of all femicide victims were stalked by their killer first. And more than half of those killed had reported their stalkers’ behavior to the police.
Alexis Bowater, a former chief executive of Network for Surviving Stalking, says she’s not sure much has changed since 2013. Police still don’t take this seriously enough, she told the BBC.
“They call it murder in slow motion,” she said. “Taking stalking seriously is murder prevention.”