I thought my ex-boyfriend was my soulmate – then he became my stalker

Author Cally Taylor

Author Cally Taylor (Image: )

I can still remember sitting in the pitch black in my living room, the curtains drawn, too scared to move. As the doorbell rang non-stop with a piercing wail, I could see my phone light up with a flood of text messages. “I know you’re in there,” they said. “I heard you moving around inside.”

Fifteen years ago, I was stalked by a controlling and coercive ex-boyfriend. The experience was so terrifying that I went into hiding, both online and in real life, by moving out of my flat.

But even then, as too many other victims of stalkers will know, I wasn’t safe. Not even after I had uprooted my life and moved from London to Brighton.

Because, after he discovered where I was, my ex followed me. Now he was standing outside in the rain, his finger pressed to the bell, his sinister words on my phone, letting me know that I could never escape him.

Sadly, there are many others who have been subjected to similarly terrifying ordeals. In recent years, stalking has steadily been on the rise. Official statistics show that, in the UK in 2023, there were 678,746 stalking and harassment offences.

Much of this is down to an increase in cyberstalking, in which perpetrators use the internet and electronic devices to track and harass their victims online.

The National Stalking Helpline last year reported a 20 per cent rise in complaints about this offence since the start of the pandemic. It says, in conjunction with the personal safety charity The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, that cyberstalking “should be treated as seriously as stalking”.

And I wholeheartedly agree, based on my experience alone.

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At first there were phone calls – dozens of them, my phone ringing all day and all night. I’d turn it off only to discover multiple voicemails and text messages when I turned it back on.

Some were loving, some were accusatory, so many told me I’d never find love again.

It was an assault, a bombardment of words. My ex started ringing my landline, which I unplugged. Letters followed, and cards, with photos of the two of us in “happier times” pasted inside. I received flowers and presents, all consigned to the bin. That’s when he started turning up outside my flat in Brighton.

My sister and her then partner offered me refuge in their flat. He knew where I lived but not where they lived. I moved into their spare room and asked my boss to change my schedule, but I was still terrified each time I commuted to work.

At no point did I think about going to the police. Back in 2009 they only became involved if victims of stalking were being openly threatened and my ex preferred to torture me mentally.

As weeks ticked by into months, each day brought with it new fear. What tactic would he try next? Each time I blocked his emails, he would create a new email account.

He used the contact form on my website and sent me so many messages that I had to take it down. When loneliness drove me to join two online dating services, he tracked down my profiles and messaged me. He copied my profile, making his a male carbon copy of mine. He found my secret Twitter account and turned up at a gig I was attending. He found blog posts I’d commented on and tried to hack into my email and Facebook accounts.

My ex was an IT professional, and savvy, but there was one thing he didn’t know about. I had a hidden web-counter device on my website that provided me with statistics: how many people visited my website each day; how many times they’d visited; the details of their internet provider address.

Because I’d logged onto my website from my ex’s flat, I knew his IP address. His work IP address showed up with the company’s name. Some days I’d log into the web-counter and see that he was looking at my website at that precise moment. It was unnerving, but also strangely reassuring. If he was checking out my website from London, then I was safe to leave my Brighton flat. It was the only control I had.

And control is something I wanted to give back to victims of stalking when I wrote my psychological thriller Every Move You Make.

The story is about five female friends who are united by their experience of stalking. After one member is killed and the rest receive a threatening message, the women decide to reverse the tables by becoming stalkers themselves. I chose to arm them with a different kind of technology by giving them trackers to place on each other’s stalkers. I gave them hope. But just like real life, even the best laid plans can go wrong.

Prior to my experience, I would never have believed I would become a victim of stalking. There is still much confusion and misunderstanding around it. Recently I re-read a diary entry dating back to six months into that relationship.

It read: “I can’t stand this stepping on eggshells until he finds something else to start an argument about. He tells me that I’ll never find anyone that loves me as much as he does. That may well be true, but I’ll also never find anyone so judgemental, someone who has so many constraints to their love.”

Most people will wonder why on earth I stayed as long as I did. But what’s not immediately obvious is the spell that emotionally abusive men can weave. Before things deteriorated, I thought I had met my soulmate. And it took me another three-and-a-half years after writing that diary entry before I had left for good.

At the start, my ex called me “angel”, “darling” and “kitten”.

He told me he’d never met anyone like me; that he’d been waiting all his life to meet me; that I was amazing, beautiful, intelligent and unique. Being around him made the world feel magical, like I was living in a Hollywood film. I didn’t want to be apart from him because I felt like I’d found what I’d spent my whole life searching for, and I knew he felt the same. Over time he began to criticise me. He’d raise an eyebrow at how much I’d drunk the previous weekend. He’d ask how many men I’d slept with and judge me on the answer.

He’d tell me my friends weren’t as beautiful, intelligent or interesting as me and ask why I hung out with them.

I didn’t take those criticisms sitting down. I fought back. I argued, I ended the relationship. But controlling men don’t like it when their girlfriends take control, so he’d call me or come round.

There was always an excuse for his behaviour – he was suffering from depression; his ex-girlfriend had destroyed his confidence; he’d pushed me away because he didn’t think he deserved me.

He’d remind me of the good times together and, because I was desperate to return to the magical early days of our relationship, I’d give him another chance.

But then, just as I’d start to relax, under the illusion that we were back to being happy, he’d start up with the questions again. He’d accuse me of lying.

He said I had slept with my exes, my colleagues or a random man at a bus stop who had smiled at me. Then I’d resolve to leave him. Again. He would change tack, pushing at my weak spots to win me back. He’d tell me that no other man would find me as desirable as he did; that he was planning on buying an engagement ring and proposing; that we could have children.

Everything he told me was a lie but, by that point, I didn’t know what was real anymore. On the day I was due to move in with him, something inside me snapped. He’d just sent me an abusive text message on the day I was giving up everything to be with him. My crime? In my hurry to get to work, I hadn’t kissed him goodbye. I decided right then to end the relationship and I resolved never to answer another of his phone calls, texts or emails. He’d never, ever talk me into going back to him. That’s when the stalking began.

I was what I suppose you could call lucky. My ex stopped stalking me when my father threatened to report him to the police. But there are many stalkers who can’t and won’t stop, regardless of cautions, restraining orders, or even prison.

In a university study, stalking was present in 94 per cent of the 358 cases of criminal homicides. Surveillance activity, including covert watching, was recorded 63 per cent of the time.

Stalking and harassment legislation has become more stringent since I was a victim of stalking but, still, less than two per cent of reports to police end in conviction. That’s unacceptable. Something has to be done. Until then, victims will continue to be harassed, hounded and powerless.

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