Of course stalkers are criminals
Posted on January 30, 2010
Homa Khaleeli had a great piece in the Guardian yesterday: Stalkers are criminals – not ‘incompetent suitors’, in which she discussed the case of Claire Waxman, who has just seen her stalker, Elliot Fogel, get off with a 16 week prison term despite subjecting her to seven years of terror.
Click this link to see an interview with Claire Waxman, although be warned, some of the written coverage on that piece is misleading and downright annoying – I’m not sure for instance how turning up at someone’s workplace, jogging behind their car, and turning up at one of their children’s nurseries, qualifies someone to be labelled a web stalker: I’d have thought stalker by itself would have done, but then I’m not a headline writer, so…
What I am though is someone who has been stalked, so as you can probably imagine this is a subject I feel quite strongly about. In fact if I’m being honest there aren’t many things that piss me off more than reading uninformed comments from people who have no insight into the very real harm, emotional and psychological, that stalking can do to a person: suffice to say I won’t be tolerating any of that bollocks on this thread.
There seems to be quite a commonly held assumption, evidenced by the paltry sentence dished out in the Waxman case, that unless stalking culminates in some kind of physical attack then it’s not really all that serious; that terrorising someone in this way for weeks, months, sometimes years, is somehow less damaging or traumatic than assaulting them would be. It’s similar to the arguments people wheel out in domestic abuse cases, where again emotional abuse is deemed as less harmful than physical abuse, mainly because the scars that this kind of abuse leaves in its wake are oftentimes invisible, unlike say a black eye or a broken limb. However, as this extract from Rape Crisis Scotland’s Stalking booklet makes clear, stalking can be every bit as damaging to a person as other forms of violence:
“It’s important to recognise that stalking has a similar impact on women to other forms of male violence. This includes:
- Anxiety, nervousness and panic attacks
- Resorting to medication for the psychological effects of the stalking
- Inability to sleep
- Eating disorders
- Self harming behaviour
- Suicide ideation, suicide attempts or suicide
- Inability to trust
- Deterioration in physical health due to physical or sexual assaults
- Post traumatic stress disorder”
Like the majority of stalking victims, I ended up moving home to get away from my perpetrator. Actually, make that perpetrators, ‘cos it’s happened to me twice, both times with ex boyfriends (what are the odds of that eh?). The first time I moved out of student accommodation into a shared flat with friends, but was then forced to move again when one of said friends decided to invite the creepy bastard back to ours for drinks. I remember the feeling of utter dismay when, after I’d done everything I could to make sure he didn’t know my new address, I turned around and realised my ex was tagging along with us on the way back from a night out, and the complete isolation I felt when I asked one of my flat mates what the fuck was going on and he replied: “Oh don’t worry about it, he’s harmless enough. Anyway, he’s a nice bloke, I don’t understand why you’ve got such a problem with him.”
Yes indeedy, he was such a nice bloke that on one memorable night he’d spent hours walking round and round and round the outside of the accommodation block where I’d been living at the time yelling “Bitch!” every time he passed under my window. He was such a nice bloke that when I went back to visit my ex flatmates after moving the second time, I discovered that not only had he ingratiated himself with them to the extent that he’d become their new best friend, he’d actually moved into the flat in my place and was now living in my old room. But apparently there was nothing weird or creepy about that behaviour, oh no.
Well take it from me, there’s nothing like having your stalker open your old front door to you and invite you in to look at what he’s done to your old/now his new room, to fuck with your head completely.
The second time, different bloke a few years later, was on a different scale completely though, and I’m not going to go into too much detail here. Not only did he hang around my house incessantly, he also waited outside my workplace, sat next to me or behind me on the bus ride home, walked behind me right up to my front door, and on a couple of occasions even forced his way in when I did finally get home. But that one did culminate in physical violence, as well as in threats to kill.
I’m not sure if I can explain how it feels to live in constant anticipation of an assault; of how it feels to wake up each day wondering if this is the day when the thing you most dread is actually going to happen; or of how it feels when that day does come and you find yourself giving in to it, just wanting it to be over, thinking: “Okay, so this is it. Just do whatever it is you’re going to do and let this thing end for once and for all.”
But that’s the problem with stalkers, it never does end. They may stop stalking you, but you never lose that feeling of constantly being watched, the same as you never lose the habit of scanning faces in the crowds around you, whether that’s on busy streets or on tube platforms. And what you also never lose is that sense of dread, the dread that one day you’ll turn around, and there he’ll be. Again.
Anyway, for various reasons I never reported my perpetrator to the police. For one thing the stalking and harassment laws didn’t exist back then, although I know I could have had him done for the threats to kill and the assaults. At the time though my only concern was self-preservation, and that involved packing a bag as soon as he left my house and moving out that very night. It didn’t involve contacting the police and it certainly didn’t involve going through a protracted court case.
But the laws have changed now, and despite the crap sentence given to Claire Waxman’s stalker, the fact remains that there’s far more acknowledgement of the damage that stalking does to women’s lives than there was back in the day, and there’s also far more protection for women than there was when I was going through it.
So I’d urge any woman reading this: if you ever find yourself in a similar situation to mine, or if you ever suspect that you may have a stalker, for god’s sake tell someone, whether that’s the police or one of the many organisations out there that can help.
Don’t ever let it get to the point where you find yourself thinking “Just do whatever it is you’re going to do and let this be over.”
Because trust me, that’s not a good place to be.
For help/further information see:
Network For Surviving Stalking
It was an excellent piece, but the headline did make me think ‘doh’. But then that IS how a lot of stalkers are perceived, just someone who has got the wrong end of the stick and is lovelorn.
I’m so sorry that happened to you, Cath. I’m ‘lucky’ (and isn’t it sad when we have to consider ourselves lucky like this!) that I’ve never been stalked, and the idea frankly terrifies me. This was a great post, and I hope any women reading it who are in the same situation manage to get the help they need.
“So I’d urge any woman reading this: if you ever find yourself in a similar situation to mine, or if you ever suspect that you may have a stalker, for god’s sake tell someone, whether that’s the police or one of the many organisations out there that can help.”
Totally agree with that Cath. I’ll never forget a woman I was mates with at college many years ago who was stalked by her ex , he murdered her (broke into her flat and waited for her). He is now doing life in some prison. I still think of her and what she would have been doing now, she wanted to be a child psychologist.
I was stalked by the ex-boyfriend of a friend some years ago mainly because I encouraged her to go to the cops as he was stalking her with threats of violence. The cops were awful originally, they kept fobbing us off and didn’t see stalking as a ‘real’ crime. My fear turned into anger, anger at this misogynist and anger at the cops inaction. After one angry confrontation at the cop shop (one real stupid desk sergeant) they took it seriously and investigated.
And shockingly, the new cop in charge apologised for the shitty responses we received originally. The cops improved and kept us informed at every stage and arrested the man pretty quickly. The stalking stopped tho’ never went to court.
Lurker here, reporting to duty…
I don’t want to derail or trivialise this important (and hair-raising) discussion, but I wonder how many women in the radfem blogosphere have been cyberstalked? I don’t mean just random assholes who leave nasty comments – though those are unpleasant enough in themselves. But I mean creepy long-term obsessives or people who resort to intimidation tactics far beyond nasty name-calling. I know it does happen – I think most of you must have heard of the bizarre saga of the blogger Rachel North’s cyberstalker? – but I wonder how common it actually is… and how often it’s swept under the carpet, dismissed as something utterly trivial. Somehow I suspect that, as with ‘real’ stalking’, women are more likely to be victims of cyberstalking as well.
My own cyberstalker actually was (or is) a young woman who was an internet pal of mine until she decided we were soulmates and started treating me as her exclusive property. The whole thing was like a caricature of an abusive spouse: threats of suicide if I were to ‘leave’ her, her trying to isolate me from my network of other internet friends by harassing them and trying to cause discord between me and them, etc. and got increasingly scary after that, escalating to a series of ridiculous email temper tantrums from her that would have been laughable but for some veiled threats of violence towards me and my other friends. I admit if she’d been a man, I’d have been far more frightened… but she also lives far enough away and is perpetually broke, so I’ve never had to be afraid of her turning up on my doorstep (so far). But even so I resent that I can’t just forget about her existence: every now and then I check her blog to see if she’s been writing crazy rants about me (which feel, strangely, like a violation), and if she’s showing any signs of becoming unhinged again, I always feel seriously disturbed. I’m bitter that I can’t start a blog anymore, because I know she’d show up there to leave demented comments all over the place. Even my bloody day-dreams of becoming a famous novelist and signing copies of my fabulous debut novel for a queue of adoring readers are soured by the certainty that, even if I were to beat the odds and achieve all this, she’d turn up in that queue and start a scene. And she still keeps emailing me. There is something very angst-inducing about somebody telling you they ‘think about you every single day’ three years after you’ve told them you don’t want to be in touch anymore.
What makes it worse is that a condescending ‘voice of rationality’ in my head keeps telling me to stop taking this so seriously and to just laugh it off. I also can’t tell anyone about it, because I know I’d be told I’m overreacting (except for two friends of mine whom she harassed and who know just how crazy this person is).
Now, if I take this little experience of mine and magnify it a hundred times… I can almost imagine what it feels like to have a violent (or even ‘merely’ potentially violent) stalker. But what I can’t even begin to imagine is how it must feel like to live with that constant fear of violence on your very doorstep. And – even worse, IMO – to learn to live with that fear as if it were normal.
My deepest sympathies are with anyone who’s had to go through that.
PS: Wanted to add that I suspect female cyberstalkers are more relentless in sending harassing emails/messages (see Rachel North’s stalker), and male ones are more likely to cross over to (violent) stalkers ‘in real life’. No evidence to back this up, of course… just a hunch.
Sorry – now that I’m out of lurkdom, I obviously can’t stop leaving one comment after another!
Just wanted to add one more thing: I wouldn’t have called Claire Waxman’s stalker a ‘web stalker’ either, but I do think the internet is dangerous precisely because of this – it gives so many tools to stalkers that seem totally innocuous on their own. Invisible stalking, you might say; or stalking that doesn’t seem like stalking. If you can’t arrest someone for constantly hanging out at your workplace, it’s even less possible to arrest them for Googling your name 40,000 times. And if you think about it, the ‘solution’ most people would suggest for this sort of thing is pretty close to victim-blaming: be more private! Don’t blog; don’t Tweet; don’t upload any pictures on Facebook! In fact, if you’re unlucky to have a stalker, just unplug your computer, pull the blinds down, and don’t do anything at all! Anything else would be egging them on.
My brain hurts from trying to differentiate between cyberstalkers and ‘real’ ones. I suppose it’s only cyber if it doesn’t bleed into the real world at all, but if your stalker knows who you are and there’s even a vague chance of his finding out where you live, then the very possibility of his (or her) turning into a ‘real’ stalker one day is enough to create an atmosphere of terror. And in that atmosphere, a simple Facebook poke can signify ‘I’m here and I’m watching you’. But telling the police that ‘he poked me on Facebook’… well. Good luck with that.
What I mean to say is that I think the internet is seen as such an anarchic place full of crazy anonymous people who don’t (crucially!) really mean what they say, that it allows stalking to flourish, cyber or not. Hey, it’s only the interwebs! Anything goes, and if you can’t take the heat, just stay out of the kitchen and stop baking any identifiable cookies.
The Claire Waxman case has now opened a Government petition – http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/clairescampaign – to get stalking laws changed and the introduction of psychiatric assessments for these stalkers – please can you all sign this petition and lend your support to this noble cause
Dragonfly Television are making a documentary about stalking and are looking to speak to victims of stalking. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.