TW1’s Richard Mills spoke to Dr Maria Mellins about her work with The Alice Ruggles Trust.
What is your academic background? I am a Senior Lecturer and researcher in Criminology, Sociology and Film at St Mary’s University where I teach modules on crime in the media, gender and violence. I am also editing a book with Dr Sarah Moore, on violent crime in contemporary media, including chapters on true crime as ‘trial’ spaces, representations of victims/ survivors in the news, human trafficking, digitally enabled homicide and featuring a chapter from our very own Dr Richard Mills, Senior Lecturer in Literature and Popular Culture at St Mary’s University, Twickenham. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @runkerry
Could you tell TW1 how your interest in Criminology began? I have always been interested in crime and I think this stems from growing up with a Detective Chief Inspector as a Dad. But most recently, I have begun to focus my research on one particular area – that of stalking awareness, an incredibly important crime to tackle. I am currently in the final stages of completing my Independent Stalking Advocacy Caseworker training (ISAC) to help me better understand this complex crime and how best to help those experiencing it.
Why stalking? Stalking poses a significant threat in the UK, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men will experience stalking in their lifetime. Whilst lessons are being learned about the potentially catastrophic impact of stalking, it is still a crime that is vastly under- reported, not identified, and misunderstood.
Many people still associate stalking with something that happens to celebrities, or a crime that is largely committed by strangers, but actually the most high-risk stalking cases occur within intimate relationships. This can take place during the relationship itself and upon relationship separation, which is the most high-risk time for victims. Stalking is a pattern of unwanted, fixated and obsessive behaviour, the impact on victims is severe, it can cause high levels of alarm and distress, affect mental and physical health and in extreme cases, can lead to violence and death. The Alice Ruggles Trust, where I have recently become a trustee, along with Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service, Suzy Lamplugh Trust, and wider charities, are doing their best to address this, but I think we should all try and understand the crime better, as we never know when our advice might be needed.
What is the Alice Ruggles Trust? Alice Ruggles was kind, clever and beautiful. She had an infectious personality and an incredible sense of humour: she saw the fun side of everything. She loved life, loved her friends and loved her job. She had so much to live for. Tragically, Alice was murdered in Gateshead on 12 October 2016, aged just 24.
Her stalker was convicted of Alice’s murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum tariff of 22 years. His controlling behaviour during their brief relationship had developed afterwards into a relentless campaign of stalking.
The Trust exists to raise public awareness of stalking and coercive control, especially among young people. Its mission is to help prevent what happened to Alice happening to others and to bring stalking to an end.
What are you doing to raise awareness of stalking in the local area? In collaboration with the PSHE Association, the Alice Ruggles Trust have already launched teaching resources on relationship safety that are freely available to secondary teachers.
We are now in the early stages of a research project that involves training students as ‘stalking awareness ambassadors.’ Students will host talks and workshops within schools, colleges and universities about healthy relationships, how to manage unwanted attention, and to raise awareness of stalking.
Photographs supplied with thanks, by The Alice Ruggles Trust.