Monday November 26th 2012 saw new anti-stalking laws brought into force in England and Wales: six months in prison and/or a fine to a maximum of £5,000 for conviction for this offence. I am astonished that it has taken so long to achieve this here; we certainly seem to have lagged behind other countries. Fictional representations of potentially lethal stalking immediately spring to mind. Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love (1997) and the Clint Eastwood film Play Misty for Me (1971) are two examples that made me think about the psychology of stalking; there are, of course, others – the element of the stalker in Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon (1981), for example, was something which struck me when I read it as a proof copy – and, though the murder rate for the victims of stalkers is in reality quite low, all of these fictional stories have a tremendous psychological interest.
Obsession of one kind or another afflicts many people and manifests itself in many ways; stalking is one which is particularly frightening and sinister, as victims are unable to defend themselves from the invasion of their privacy and from the fear and threat of harm. Newspapers here referred this week to the 2005 murder by a stalker of Clare Bernal in the Harvey Nichols Knightsbridge store – the welcome new laws have been a long time coming. I hope that they will prove effective in keeping the behaviour and the crime firmly in fiction.