Cyberstalking victim urges social media firms to tackle problem
A man who was the target of a prolonged campaign of cyberstalking by his ex-girlfriend culminating in the faking of her own kidnap has called on social media companies to do more to prevent their platforms being weaponised.
In his first interview since Jessica Nordquist was jailed for a campaign that involved making false rape claims, sending scores of messages and creating various Instagram accounts to harass him, Mark Weeks said he was still receiving letters he believed were coming from prison.
Weeks, who has withdrawn from social media, also called for more resources to be put into rehabilitating offenders. His comments came as specialist police investigators said they expected the number of recorded stalking offences to significantly increase.
Described by police as a compulsive liar and deeply manipulative, Nordquist began her stalking campaign when her three-month relationship with Weeks ended. They had met while working at an advertising firm in London. Along with bombarding him with threatening emails, she bought a fake pregnancy belly to try to win him back and accused him of rape.
Her behaviour culminated in an attempt to fake her kidnapping when an email was sent to her family, friends and colleagues containing pictures of her naked, bound and gagged. Police found a kidnap note at her London home before she was tracked down to the Scottish Highlands.
The US national, who claimed in court she had been abducted by an MI5 agent, faces deportation at the end of a four-and-a-half-year sentence.
Weeks said he was struck by the number of accounts she had been able to set up without any apparent barrier to stop her from doing so. “I imagine that there could be more efforts to ensure that someone would have to prove they are a real person. There are times with social media platforms where they will ask you to send a photo of your driving licence or other forms of identification. Maybe that could be built on.”
He praised the police, but said he believed efforts could be made to improve the speed at which investigators accessed data.
“With my case there was a lot of unwanted communications, but there was a lead time of several weeks before it was possible to get a trace. In an ideal world the law would change so police would have direct access to the information they need while safeguarding rights,” he said.
Weeks also said he knew immediately who had sent him the first anonymous message. “It came at a time when she had lied about being pregnant and had also lied about attempting to kill herself. She had come to my house uninvited and forced her way in and was already showing lots of signs of this behaviour, so when I started getting these emails from a stalker it was pretty clear that it was her.”
Police said they hoped Nordquist’s sentence would encourage male victims who are traditionally reluctant to report domestic abuse to come forward. A Metropolitan police investigator from a new multi-agency specialist unit said he expected recorded rates of stalking to increase as police got better at recognising victims’ stories. Examples of poor practice included a force outside London telling one victim she should have been flattered.
“Stalking is a hidden offence. If you look at crime survey data then the prevalence in society is on a par with domestic abuse, but the recording rates are nowhere near,” said DI Lee Barnard, of the Stalking Threat Assessment Centre (Stac), launched in partnership with health authorities and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.
“There is either a barrier to reporting or, where it is reported we are not picking up on the fact that what that person is telling us amounts to stalking and we are recording it as a less serious offence such as harassment.”
He referred to recorded crime figures for London, which showed the number of stalking offences had increased from 181 in 2013 to 1,400 last year. There were 12,933 harassment offences.
Barnard also said he and his colleagues wanted to see a more robust approach from the Crown Prosecution Service, which he hoped would start to “test case” more stalking incidents rather than prosecuting offenders on other counts.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust said it was crucial to recognise that the impact of online stalking was felt just as heavily as offline stalking.
“For example, we have had lengthy debates with police officers about whether or not a ‘like’ on an Instagram account constitutes a breach of a restraining order,” she added. “We are of the view that it very much counts as a breach. The impact of that can be huge,” a spokesperson said.
Instagram said it was committed to ensuring its platform was a safe place and that it had invested heavily in developing tools and technologies.
Having once been unable to imagine life without his social media, Weeks is not missing his accounts. “Once my situation was resolved and the danger seemed to have gone away then I still didn’t feel the need to get them back. But here I am months later and I feel fine.”