“IT IS amazing to think how someone that you loved can do that to you.”

Those are the words of a Hampshire woman who was subjected to ‘controlling and coercive behaviour’ by an ex-partner who stalked her via phone, online and in person.

Hers is one of a rising number of stalking cases reported across Hampshire in recent years.

Figures shared with the Advertiser show that between 2013 and 2018 the number of stalking reports in the county has increased fivefold.

There were 370 reported cases in the county last year.

In 2013, there were just 69, according to Hampshire Constabulary figures.

The victim who spoke to the Advertiser was stalked by her former partner over an extended period of time.

The ordeal led to her relocating, which meant moving away from her family, and had a huge impact on her mentally.

She said: “I thought I was going mad. I got to the point where I thought, ‘am I imagining him following me?’

“There were days where I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t get up. Literally I would lay in bed crying.

“I have never been a worrier. Now I do. I question everything, I think about everything.”

Police say that increased awareness of stalking could explain the rise in reported cases.

Detective Inspector James Stewart, tactical force lead for stalking at Hampshire Constabulary, said: “There are a number of reasons, possibly an increase in awareness around stalking cases.

“The public are more aware and the cases of this offence type improve awareness around this offence type, it is also about identifying stalking behaviours particularly training staff and officers.

“I think there has been an increase in confidence in the public and there are high profile cases in the media.”

However, a big issue with these cases is the difficulty of proving accusations.

While the number of individuals charged or summonsed has increased since 2013, the rise has been much slower than that of the number of cases reported.

Police charged or summonsed 81 individuals in 2018, up from 36 in 2013.

DI Stewart says “charging decisions are based on evidence” and the stalking victim added that at times she found “it was so hard to prove” the “bizarre” claims she made.

She added: “Following someone is direct contact but it’s a really grey area.”

DI Stewart also says as social media is more dominant in people’s lives and more cases involve both the online and real world.

“Stalking is online and offline. It is unusual to have a solely offline investigation, most of them are a combination of the two. It is a way of communicating with people without physically having to be with them.”

The stalking victim says that her case began with “texts and emails and phone calls” but before long her stalker was making contact in person. He would watch her carry out day-to-day tasks.

“It’s bizarre,” she added.

“How a person can go from being so loving and caring – but that’s the thing when you look back. The loving and the caring was actually control.

“It’s veiled under this nicety. It’s because he wants to know where I am and what I am doing and what time I will be home.

“I felt stupid when I suddenly realised what had happened.

“I was embarrassed, I felt ashamed, I felt stupid.”

She added: “If I look back on it I can see the signs.

“Now I know what I know about controlling and coercive behaviour I can see if for that.”

Her advice to others who think they may be subject to stalking or controlling and coercive behaviour is to trust their instincts.

“Just to be brave and if you think something is wrong don’t question it. For the thought to have even entered your head there’s got to be something slightly wrong.

“I should have ended the relationship earlier. I probably shouldn’t have even started it.”

Support services are available to victims of stalking, such as Aurora New Dawn, which is based in Portsmouth. The charity gives safety, support, advocacy and empowerment to survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence and stalking.

“If I hadn’t had that support I dread to think where I would be now,” the victim added.

Other services are attempting to tackle stalking at the root of its cause.

Local NHS Trust Southern Health launched its Recolo service six months ago. The multi-agency service, which includes a psychiatrist, psychologist and occupational therapist, aims to work with stalking perpetrators to make positive behavioural changes.

Dr Kirsty Butcher, joint clinical lead for Hampshire’s new mental health service, said: “In just the first six months, the Recolo service in Hampshire has already received more than 80 referrals, predominantly from the police but also from the probation service and other healthcare colleagues.

“We’re able to offer a range of assessments, treatments, consultations, signposting and monitoring to these individuals in order to attempt to change their patterns of behaviour, which will improve both their lives and importantly those of the people they’ve become fixated with.”