What My Stalker Taught Me
A Crime that Leaves its Mark
I have decided to publish this lens on a very serious topic that deserves thought and awareness. It's estimated that 3.4 million people become the victims of stalking every year. Despite such an amazingly large number, I never gave the crime of stalking much thought until I became a part of that estimate. Stalking is illegal and all fifty states have laws against it however it is not a crime that is talked openly about, brought to the forefront of discussion and legislation, or presented by the media very often. Stalking does not just happen to celebrities. It happens to men, women, young, old, from all walks of life. The most unfortunate part is that even when the stalking ceases, it often affects victims for the rest of their lives.
What is stalking, exactly?
According to the U.S. Department of Justice stalking is defined as "a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear."
Stalking is a psychological crime used to impart fear and control over the lives of its victims.
(Image via www.victimsofcrime.org)
Have you, or someone you know experienced stalking?
How My Stalking Began
It was over a year ago when my boyfriend of several years and I decided to get our first apartment together. I was twenty-two and thrilled to be living away from home for the first time and gaining the independence any one my age craves. We decided on the only apartment complex that existed in the tiny rural New England town we worked in. It wasn't the nicest but it was ours and we fell into our happy little routine.
Several months later I experienced my first strange occurrence. I had left my apartment in the morning and walked through the parking lot to my car. That's when I noticed the driver side door was ajar. Knowing I had obviously not left it that way, I got in and to my surprise it had been rummaged through. All the papers in my glove box were strewn about, my center console was broken, and everything from inside was left on the seats. My immediate thought was that someone had tried to steal something of value. I cursed myself for not locking my door and forgot about it.
Exactly one month later, I came out to my car and found a note stuck to my windshield. It was addressed to Blondie. It explained that my car sounded funny to him when I started it and that I should have it looked at. Also that he really liked the decals on my car. It was signed, an admirer. I felt uneasy about it but being the person I am, decided that it was a friendly neighbor just trying to be helpful. Something compelled me to save the note so I put it away.
As another month passed I received my second letter. Dear Blondie. He wondered why I hadn't gotten my car looked at even though he had told me I should. He dated both notes but this one was signed with a name, real or fake I had no idea, but it was Gary.
I started to get nervous as the weeks progressed. For some strange reason I had the feeling that in exactly a month I would be receiving some correspondence from him. My gut instincts were right. Exactly 30 days passed and there it was, a brown paper bag sat on the windshield of my car. My fear grew. It was all I could do to pick it up. What if he were watching? What if he was enjoying me receiving his notes, and now a gift? I tossed it in my car and raced to work, too scared to open it alone.
The Many Forms of Stalking
Stalking can be accomplished in many ways. Over a period of several months my stalker tormented me with letters and gifts. Stalking typically begins as what seems like innocent infatuation but often escalates over time. In some cases it can lead to crimes that are violent in nature.
This is a form of stalking which uses technology as a means for scare tactics, repeated harassment, or humiliation. The goal is to isolate the victim from friends or family or to impart rigid control on the victim's day to day life. Technology can be used to track or gain personal information on the victim, or to steal financially with the sole intent to psychologically harm the victim.
- Anonymous Correspondence
The majority of stalking crimes are committed through anonymity with distance placed between the perpetrator and victim. This DOES NOT mean committed by a stranger. 3 out of 4 victims know their stalkers. The sole purpose is to commit the crime so that is untraceable and to observe the effects on victims from a distance. This can be done through anonymous letters, gifts, and phone calls.
- Physical Means
An escalated stalking approach is that of physical means. This can include following the victim, trailing the victim in a vehicle, showing up at places the victim frequents, voyeurism, or lying in wait.
- Damaging Property
Many victims of stalking report behaviors that include damage to property. During the time I was stalked I frequented stalking forums for support and read of one woman who's home was frequently broken into and her household items were rearranged. This form of stalking can include damage to a person's vehicle, home, and horribly to a person's pets.
Please take some time to visit these sites. They are full of information and resources on stalking.
I learned How to Stalk my Stalker
When I got to work I couldn't even hold back the tears. The whole way there I had been imagining all of the horrible items that could possibly be in that bag. When I finally opened it in the safety of work with coworkers around I found it was a large ceramic figurine of the animal that my car decals were. His note said he knew how much I would like his gift. He signed it, Yours truly, Gary. This was when I finally decided to take action. I called my boyfriend to come get me and we drove straight to the police station.
It was then I learned the legalities of what was happening to me. Nothing could be done but diligence on my part. I only had a first name. I had no idea who my stalker was, what he looked like, if he lived in my apartment building, or what his intentions were. I was told not to be alone. I was told to protect myself. I was told to figure out who he was myself.
The month that followed was a flurry of emotions. I grew fearful, depressed, alone and guilty. My boyfriend worked evenings as I did but his shifts were much longer, leaving me to arrive home alone at night. I started carrying the only weapon I had, a giant screwdriver. I refused to be outside my apartment without one of my parents on the phone with me. I feared for my sanity as my new mission became to unmask the man who was watching me from a distance. I got a video camera and set it to face my car from my apartment window and let it record for hours. I kept a journal of all the vehicles that came and went hoping to figure out the mystery. All the while I wondered if I was making a big deal out of nothing.
Myth VS Fact
- Stalking is not that big of a deal
- 30% of stalking victims seek psychological counseling or therapy to deal with the effects of stalking
- Stalking on average lasts 1.8 years
- Stalking behavior typically escalates
- Many stalking victims suffer the stress of financial burden due to repeated relocating, changing jobs, or damaged property
- I live in a rural, safe town. It wont happen here.
- I lived away from all major cities, in a small rural New England town and I became the victim of a stalker. It can happen anywhere.
- All stalkers are strangers
- 3 out of 4 stalking victims know their stalker. Only 10% of stalking victims are stalked by strangers.
- Only women can be the victims of stalking
-1 in every 45 men have been stalked at some point in their lives.
- If you confront a stalker or tell them to leave you alone, the stalking behavior will stop
- Stalkers should be considered unpredictable. You should never confront your stalker. It is important to get authorities involved. Sometimes any form of contact, even the demand to stop, can be misconstrued by the stalker. A stalker can merely enjoy the fact you are speaking to them.
- Stalking is not a common crime
- Statistics show that women are three times as likely to become the victim of stalking than of rape.
My Stalker was Finally Caught
The turning point in my stalking case was the day I met my stalker. I had walked out to the dumpster one morning to throw away the trash when suddenly a man quickly jumped out of his car and raced towards me. I cannot explain the terror I felt to anyone. My trusty weapon was inside as well as my cell phone. I had let my guard down. He struck up a conversation very nonchalantly. He mentioned he'd seen me taking the dog out and asked me about her. Then started asking me questions such as what do I do for work, what was my name, and where I worked. All the answers I gave him were false. I did not know what to do. I was frozen in fear. Finally I told him I had to leave for work. As I walked away the man said something that will haunt me forever. "Oh, well then. By the way... I'm Gary." There was a hint of annoyance in his voice.
When I got to the edge of the building where he could no longer see me I ran. I felt my heart beating in my chest and I ran up the three flights of stairs, got inside, and locked and dead bolted the door. My cell phone service was ironically off and I couldn't call the police. I peeked out my window and saw him sitting in his car. I took down the plate number, make and model and waited. He sat there for a long time, I assume waiting for me to leave again.
When I told the police they could finally take action. It was a crazy moment as they prepared to arrest him. Cruisers sat down the street in both directions and on the last time he visited and left, the sirens wailed and I secretly celebrated inside, hoping that this was finally over.
When police ran his plate, they discovered who Gary was. A fifty-five year old male with a lengthy and violent criminal record. I thank my lucky stars I took action and didn't brush off the harassment as no big deal or a mere annoyance. I don't know what would have happened to me if I had.
It's been a year since my ordeal. I have since moved. I still can't go home without having someone on the phone with me. I've since colored my hair because I don't ever want to be "Blondie" again. I try to feel okay about going outside my home alone, even in broad day light. The fear of him returning slowly leaves me a little bit everyday but I don't know that it ever will completely. I'm learning to cope more and more everyday.
The Most Important Thing
If you or someone you know believes they are the victim of stalking behavior, get help. Report all incidents. Save all correspondence. Be vigilant. Don't become the victim, become a survivor.
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