Laura Richards: "Be an advocate for the victims"
I wanted to begin this article with a sentence summarizing Laura Richards’s degrees, titles, and accomplishments, but quickly discovered I couldn’t do that without crafting the longest run-on sentence in history. So let’s just say this: Laura Richards has been busy.
“A friend told me I need more puppies and unicorns in my life,” she says in a lovely British accent that many of you will recognize from Real Crime Profile podcast. “That there’s too much sadness and violence and horror.”
Indeed, she has seen some of the worst that humanity has to offer in her work as a criminal behavio(u)ral analyst and advocate for domestic violence and stalking victims. One case, in particular, haunts her and influenced the direction of her work over the years.
In 2005, a beauty consultant named Clare Bernal was gunned down by her stalker inside a London Harvey Nichols department store. Due to his obsessive and harassing behavior, her killer had been twice arrested and dismissed from his job, where he met and worked with Bernal.
Clare had reported him to the police before her death but law enforcement officials didn’t understand the danger she faced. It’s one of the most maddening aspects of her case - and many, many others.
“I’ve been in rooms full of law enforcement officers and have asked “Why wouldn’t you take a report of domestic violence or stalking seriously?” Inevitably, it’s because domestic abuse and stalking are not seen as serious crime. Yet two women are murdered a week in the UK by an ex partner and three women a day in the US are murdered by stalkers.”
Victims must be taken seriously and believed, Richards says. It’s a trend she hopes is beginning to change in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the recent outcry against sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood. But it’s not a Hollywood problem, she says. “We need both non-abusive men and women coming forward to put a stop to this behavior.”
Because it affects all of us, not just men. We speak briefly about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The shooter had been reported to the police dozens of times for domestic abuse. Had these reports been taken seriously, seventeen children would still be alive. For Richards, it’s an eerie reminder of another miscarriage of justice.
“I had to look at Clare Bernal’s mother in the whites of the eyes and tell her, “We should have done more to protect your daughter,” Richards says.
The heaviness in her voice nearly drags the phone out of my hand. It must be cold comfort, but that event inspired massive legislation reform and the UK’s first national stalking advocacy service, Paladin, which has assisted more than 2,000 stalking victims so far. Richards spearheaded the domestic violence law reform campaign in the UK which led to the offense of coercive control - a first in the world - and she hopes the US will follow suit. She is also leading a nationwide charge to create a registry for serial domestic abusers and stalkers similar to the national sex offender registry. It’s critical, she says, to preventing deaths like Clare Bernal’s in the future. The focus must be on the perpetrators, she says - they are the ones who must be tracked and monitored.
Again, she’s been busy.
Given that she’s not that much older than I am, I begin to question what I’ve been doing with my life while she’s been out changing the world. I’m just a confidential informant lurking around dark corners and listening for gossip around CCHQ. But Richards reminds me that there’s a way for me - and other true crime enthusiasts - can make a difference, too.
“Get involved,” she urges. “You’re already an enthusiast. Be an advocate, too. Volunteer at a local domestic violence shelter or another victim advocacy organization.”
But perhaps the best thing we can do as enthusiasts and advocates is to educate ourselves, she says. And focus on the victims.
“Educate yourselves on the warning signs of domestic violence or abuse, take stalking behavior seriously, don’t judge or blame the victims - these are the most dangerous of cases - and you might be the vital lifeline as a mother, father, sister, best friend or son.”
And, it turns out, one way we can educate ourselves is to attend her session(s) at CrimeCon 2018.
“At CrimeCon, I’ll be talking about how to prevent murders in slow motion (as I call them) and how to spot the warning signs, as well as introducing a new show and a new case that Jim Clemente and I have been re-examining” she says. “I’m looking forward to meeting CrimeCon guests and speaking with fans and viewers to help raise awareness and ensure the victim’s voice does not get lost.”
Spoken like a true victim advocate and champion.
Also, her new puppy arrives March 9.