Once Stalked, Never Safe
Not a Poor Choice
Everyone loved my ex. My church loved him. My priest loved him. Our premarital counselor loved him. My family loved him. And of course, I loved him. His family loved me. He had a steady job and a college degree, and got along well with just about everyone.
During our years of dating and our engagement, he was wonderful. Yes, we had some differences, but what couple doesn't? The problems started when we returned from our honeymoon. Up until then, there had been absolutely no warning signs. But the assumption of married life brought out all his unresolved issues with his family, and his warped ideas of marriage.
My ex became controlling. I wasn't allowed to use presents from my family because I was "too dependent" on them (but he could accept presents from them). I wasn't allowed to take my medication because my illnesses were a "failure of will" (from a man who popped allergy medication like Pringles). He tried to prevent me from seeing friends or going out, even when he was invited along, because he was convinced I would cheat on him. He started remodeling the house so that I wouldn't be able to have friends over.
I went back to school, and was allowed, on the condition that I maintain a perfect 4.0 average (I did, and he complained bitterly to everyone, "I wish she would just make a B"). But finally, after several years of trying to make things work, one day I had had enough. I suggested counseling, and my ex said he would rather die than go to a counselor. So I talked to a woman in my class who was moving in with her boyfriend, and her apartment would be paid for but empty, so when my husband was away on a business trip, I packed what I could in my car, and moved in to her apartment.
Suddenly, my ex was contrite. He wanted to do everything possible, he said, to save our marriage. He even agreed to counseling, and went, until the counselor said that he would have to see her individually, as well as our joint sessions. I had to miss a week because of a required school function, and that week he quit counseling and left a note for me at our counselor's office.
The Stalking Begins
With the issue of trying to save our marriage abandoned, I moved forward to finish my graduate degree. Three years later, and a few months from graduation, I was served with a notice that he had filed for divorce. Fine, I thought, and hired a lawyer to go through the process for me. Once the paperwork had begun, he got more and more erratic.
Yes, I had moved, far away, and he wanted to know where I was. He tried to get his lawyer to send me documents directly for me to sign (instead of sending them through my lawyer). When that didn't work, he tried to track me down by falsely stating that I had broken into his house. My lawyer told him that I couldn't have done it, and he claimed that my lawyer was lying, and wanted to see proof that I was far away, but that would have told him where I was, and my lawyer fought him and won. But eventually our divorce was final, and I was free, or so I thought.
I had changed addresses multiple times. Then came the internet, and I was in a picture that was posted online without my knowledge. I was thousands of miles and several years away from him, our divorce was long over, and I hadn't heard anything. Seven years after our divorce was final, I received a series of emails from someone who clearly knew me but didn't identify themselves directly. I was a bit suspicious, and when I figured out it was my ex trying to figure out where I was, I blocked the email. More emails from new addresses came, and I blocked them all. It turned out that he recognized me from the back because he recognized the shirt I was wearing in the photo.
My ex drove past my parents' house several times, trying to locate me. Then I had to move back into the area, but I was cautious about exposing my identity. However, I had registered to vote, and because my ex knew my birthday, he was able to track me down by seeing if I was registered to vote, and that gave him my address. Another eight years had passed in the meantime, and I received more emails, this time with promises to return property of mine that he had kept illegally. He finally got me to agree to meet him in person once, in a public place, and he promised that would be the end of it. At that point we had been separated for more than eighteen years, and divorced for over fifteen years. It was clear at our meeting that he was not through with me.
I had hoped that seeing me in person would finally lay some of his issues to rest, but that didn't happen. A few years later, my neighbors needed help, and my ex cheerfully stepped in, so that he could have an excuse to "stop by." Once he got into my apartment (he had helpfully volunteered to bring over some of my neighbors' stuff that they wanted to give me), I had to leave in order to get him to leave. The next time he found that I needed something (heaven only knows how at this point), he cheerfully volunteered again, simply to be able to get in touch with me. Fortunately, I was able to avoid him.
Now for the Scary Part
Then came the shooting at Sutherland Springs. I immediately scrubbed all my social media profiles, did some repositioning of business assets, and employed various other means to protect myself. I begged people not to post pictures of me, even if I had been in a public place and it was legal for them to do so.
I don't kid myself that this is over. It will never be over until one of us is dead. I've tried to explain to people that stalking apparently never ends. People ask me what I think he might do—the answer is, I have no idea. I'm too busy protecting myself to worry about what action he might decide on. And I'm guessing he doesn't really know what he's capable of, either. But given the domestic violence statistics in our country, there's not a single reason to believe that showing up at a meeting I regularly attend with a gun isn't somewhere on the list of possibilities.
My worry is not for myself. After almost thirty years of being stalked, I have done what I can. My worry is for everyone else I know. If my ex decides to shoot me in a public place, what we know about those kinds of murders is that it doesn't stop with the one person who is the shooter's focus. If your best solution is murder in a public place, that's your endgame, and it's just a matter of how many people you can take out before someone takes you out.
Have you ever been stalked?
"You Should Be More Careful"
I get this advice all the time. What the person giving me this advice actually means is that I am inconveniencing them, or challenging their assumptions. I am a law-abiding citizen and it is my right to leave my house and go to public places. Otherwise, there would be little difference between being house-bound and being under house arrest, when I have done nothing wrong.
In addition, why should I be deprived of the pleasures of seeing my friends' children's pictures on social media? Why shouldn't I be able to post my own pictures of places to which I have been? Should I not allowed to own and advertise my own small business?
Thousands of women are stalked every day in the United States, and my story is in no way unique. However, everyday activities that appear harmless to most people do endanger the life of someone who is being stalked. So here are some suggestions:
- Don't take pictures of people in public places without letting them opt in, rather than opt out. Simply yell, "Hey, everyone come over here to have your picture taken," and don't harass people who don't participate. Certainly don't post a picture online without someone's permission, and above all, don't take a picture of someone who clearly doesn't want theirs taken.
- Don't text, call, or mail material directly to someone who is in an abusive relationship or being stalked. This goes for even the most innocent commercial mail; I was bullied over having a (nonexistent) affair because the dealership sent me a personally-signed letter asking me to trade in my car. Abusers need only a slight excuse to justify their abuse to themselves; a political text message, a block walker, a telemarketing call, or a solicitor could be enough to set off a horrifying incident. And if you don't know they're safe, don't do it.
- Require more than just knowledge of name, Social Security Number, birthdate, or other information easily accessible to a spouse, parent, child, or partner to access "public records' of an individual, or at least have a mechanism to restrict access for vulnerable persons.
- Pressure social media platforms to maintain privacy lists and adhere to them. If you are on a privacy list, that means that photos, invitations to events, etc., are hidden from anyone browsing your profile. "Friends" should be screened by the users before a friend request is sent ("If this person exists on our platform, we will let them know you would like to send them a friend request.") Platforms should be able to block social media follows by a number of means; they have collected all this data on us, so they should be able to identify stalkers.
If you comment, please don't tell me you're sorry I had to go through this. You'd have to be a monster not to be, and if you're reading this, I'm assuming you're not a monster.
Instead, tell me what you're going to do. Or share your story so people will understand just how common stalking is. Post your ideas to protect people who are stalked. Let's work together to make this country a better place for people who have been or are being stalked.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 progressivist