Western Morning News (Saturday)

We must look after each other in lockdown

- Read Charmian’s column every week in the Western Morning News

IHAVE sympathy for all caged animals, whether it’s a budgie, a rabbit or cooped up chickens. And I’m not comfortabl­e with zoos. I’m conflicted as to whether we have to perpetuate species by breeding in captivity and wonder whether we should accept evolution. We’re managing to live without woolly mammoths and pterodacty­ls after all.

Being locked away isn’t natural, for man or animals. We’re sociable creatures, meant to roam, to socialise, to pro-create. Unless you’ve grown up a trappiest monk in a silent order this latest necessary turn of events is taxing for all of us.

During these strange times, social media is for many of us, the only link to human beings, to romance even. Lockdown makes us more vulnerable, and there are some people, too many of them, who will feed off the situation.

Sitting at home in front of a screen, it’s all too easy to strike up chats with people on Instagram, on dating sites. We all know that there are shocking paedophile­s who groom youngsters. But are we so aware of those who groom mature, savvy women – and men – luring them into their fantasy world and beyond? Because they’re out there.

A family friend’s daughter met a perfectly delightful barrister on an online dating agency. He ticked all the boxes. His Linked-In profile was impeccable. They dated, and eventually moved in together in Scotland. Lindsay accepted that he travelled for his job, listened to his stories of work when he came home. But she never met any of his friends. He’d grown up abroad and lost touch with them, he claimed. His family were all dead. Eventually Lindsay’s family became suspicious.

In a tale too long and shocking to write here, the delightful barrister was nothing of the sort. His entire story was fabricatio­n. He was a serial Instagram chaser, talking to hundreds of women regularly, spinning them all different tales of his careers, which ranged from surgeon to pilot and more. He was in debt, engaged to someone else on the other side of Glasgow, and lived with her when he was “abroad” on business trips. He was plausible, seemed kind, and had control over women who were far from gullible or naïve. It seems hard to believe that Lyndsay and her family could be taken in by him, but they were.

Chillingly, just one step from Lyndsay’s experience was a British backpacker, Grace Millane, murdered in New Zealand by Jesse Kempson, a man who also was a Walter Mitty, luring women with his tales of interestin­g careers. Eventually his fantasy turned to insanity and he took the life of a bright, intelligen­t girl he met on Tinder who believed his lies and died because of it.

The truth is, nobody knows who’s posting informatio­n. Men as well as women are suckered into the world of crooks, whether it be chancers looking for a rich partner or people preying on those who want company, a bit of romance in their lives.

There’s no way of reporting these frauds – it would be fraught with revenge accusation­s, denials and more. So many of the liars have personalit­y disorders that may mean they have no idea that they are lying, that they believe their own stories, and the more they get away with them, the more kicks they get.

Dating and social media sites should come with a warning, with guidelines on how to check out whether people are who they say they are, because there’s no protection, no prosecutio­n against fantasists who wreck people’s lives.

While many people are unknowingl­y being trapped by social media predators who can do huge psychologi­cal damage, other men and women are being trapped by violent partners. Lockdown has created a surge in domestic cases. The latest crime survey shows that 2.4 million adults aged 16-74 experience­d domestic abuse. Every week two women are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales.

It won’t happen to anyone you know, you may be saying. You might be surprised. It might even be happening to you. It’s not as obvious as a black eye. Domestic violence is about physical, sexual, psychologi­cal, verbal, emotional and financial abuse. If you alter your behaviour because you’re frightened of how your partner will react, you’re being abused. Domestic violence or abuse is used by someone to control or obtain power over their partner and it is WRONG.

Who do you turn to? There are a number of organisati­ons. The Woman’s Aid organisati­on (womensaid. org.uk) offers support to women and children and advice on how to broach the subject if you think abuse may be going on to others – and of course it helps victims too. The National Domestic Abuse Helpline is for men, women and children who are suffering domestic abuse. They have a freephone 24 hour helpline – 0808 2000 247. Their website is www. nationalda­helpline.org.uk with a live chat Monday - Friday, 3pm to 10pm.

So lockdown finds many in a human zoo, unable to escape. We all need to be aware, look for the signs, enable those victims to escape and know freedom, and also make sure it never, ever happens to us.

His entire story was fabricatio­n. He was a serial Instagram chaser, talking to hundreds of women regularly

 ?? Laura Dodsworth ?? >
Laura Dodsworth >

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