But we've been taught (especially women) to be "nice" to people. We're blamed (often by ourselves!) for being raped, hit, abused, or stalked, because we must have done something wrong, we must have created the situation, somehow. Handled it wrong - or be "misinterpreting" the person who is terrorizing us.
Guest post by Karen Girard.
Need to know
The first time I was stalked, I didn't really have words to describe what was happening. Neither did anyone else.
I was 21 and finishing college when the calls started. The man asked if it was me, then he hung up. If my roommates answered, he hung up. Crank calls were dork humor, so we screened our calls.
I graduated, started a new job, and moved to a great apartment nearby. Because I had moved within the same area, the local Bell Telephone automatically switched the number – and my stalker – to my new apartment.
Now that I was alone, he terrorized me. The calls came at random times as he figured out my new habits. He'd call at 6 a.m., asking why I wasn't up for work. He kept me off balance, but I kept things to myself.
When I finally told my boyfriend, he asked me why I thought he could do anything. He thought the crank caller was just a sad creep, not a real danger. I tried to believe this, too.
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The stalker threatened to rape me. My boyfriend still didn't think anything could be done, but my father insisted I call the police and the phone company.
Two serious policemen came. One took my statement, while the other inspected my apartment. They told me they couldn’t catch the guy, but I’d be safer if I locked the windows. (Like I hadn’t thought of that already.)
The phone company charged me to de-list my number. When I was out, I wondered if I'd see a flash of recognition in some man's eyes. I hit the pause button inside – I settled into a security ritual of deadbolts and told myself that if did what I was told, I'd be ok.
With friends like these...
One day, my neighbor, whose windows faced mine, offered to cook me to dinner. I accepted, and the dinner was fun.
Then he confessed he loved me and would die if I didn't love him. I gently told him I had a boyfriend. He didn't believe me, so I said my boyfriend worked odd hours, so likely he'd just missed him. I went home, not realizing I'd inspired him to start watching me.
When he saw my lights on, he'd call. (My number was still listed in old phone books.) Even with curtains closed, he knew I was home unless I turned out all the lights. So I stalked my stalkers – I kept the lights off, checked his windows, then turned on my lights if he didn't seem to be home. I checked the answering machine for new rape threats. When he was home, I sat in the dark and filled in grad school applications.
What I didn’t do was call the police. If they weren't going to do anything about a potential rapist, they sure weren’t going to do anything about a guy who “just wanted a date,” though both scared me. I tiptoed through my life.
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Hiding in my own apartment worked, until it didn't. The grad student realized I knew he was watching, so he waited until a sleepy Sunday, and knocked softly on my door. Unsure I'd heard anything, I opened it. It was stupid, but I was on guard against calls, not knocks.
He grabbed my arm and pulled me to his apartment. I tried to resist, but I wasn't strong enough. He threw himself at me and, weeping, told me how much he loved me again. I carefully backed toward the door, then I ran to my apartment and locked myself in.
I just got used to feeling unsafe, and I lived that way until I left for grad school.
The more things stay the same
Twenty years later, a man walking through my neighborhood complimented me on my garden. The next week, he started shouting outside my house to persuade me to be his girlfriend.
My older, wiser self talked to the neighbors and called the police, who told me they couldn't arrest him for anything, because it would be my word against his. My neighbors, friends, and an unpredictable work schedule kept me safe.
What no one tells you
Relationships, even ones between near-strangers, are built on trust. What no one tells you is that the habits of normal life are the stalker’s greatest power. They make you look like the crazy one by using the unspoken rules against you.
Rape threats are dangerous, but a neighbor asking me out? My friends had successfully turned men down by saying they have boyfriends, but when I did, the man stalked me. I felt like the crazy one, because I thought I must have misread what happened, or my neighbor would have accepted “no” for an answer. What I didn’t know was that saying “no” should have been enough, no explanation needed.
My stalkers taught me I couldn’t truly trust my boyfriend or myself. He didn’t take me seriously, and I wasn’t prepared for that. He was normally quick with answers, yet he shrugged off a life-threatening problem. I loved him, but I struggled with disappointment that he wasn't there for me. It seemed unfair to him to feel disappointed when I wasn’t doing any better stopping my stalkers.
I couldn’t trust our legal and business institutions, either. They’re built around what's normal, too. The police needed more proof than my word. It's hard to legislate boundaries built on words and perceptions, and that puts the burden of proof – of sanity – on the stalkee, not the stalker. "All I did was talk" is the stalker’s first defense, followed by “she’s a little crazy.”
Our companies sell normal. Relationships are built on sharing information, feelings, and experiences. The phone book – and Facebook – bank on what’s normal for people to know about one another. When a stalker violates the norm, they lose money, so they’re reluctant to protect your information – and you.
|Maybe this is not the greatest idea.|
Now I accept that some people will never accept “no.” I police my safety carefully and am conservative about giving out information. I'm listed in the phone book – under my initials. I use Facebook to see what my friends are up to, and I'll post the occasional status, but I'll never, ever post where I am right now. That’s strictly need to know.
Karen raises an excellent point above about not accepting "no." Our culture tells stories, many times over, about obsessive men (and women) who persist in the face of "no," and eventually (Hollywood version), they convince the person they are pursuing to love them back, from The Graduate to Forrest Gump to He's Just Not That Into You. Stalkers don't see themselves as creepy weirdos; they see themselves as romantic heroes or heroines. They know they are destined to be "with" the object of their obsession, one way or another.
The book The Gift of Fear offers excellent suggestions for dealing with stalking by a stranger or acquaintance, and how to say "no" in ways that are unambiguous.
If you ever feel like are being stalked, do not tell yourself you are being paranoid and try to talk yourself out of your gut feeling. Tell your trusted friends, educate, and protect yourself. While many stalkers will never go further than horrific phone calls or unwelcome declarations of love, others will try to hurt you if they cannot "have" you. Be safe.
National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) TTY- 1-800-787-3224
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (includes downloadable guides for helping women in abusive relationships)
RAINN - Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network 1.800.656.HOPE
National Alliance on Mental Illness, aka NAMI
National Clearinghouse on Family Violence - you will need to opt for English or French
Women's Aid - 0808 2000 247
Australia & New Zealand:
Domestic Violence Information Manual - phone numbers vary by territory
For Male Victims:
Why Men Stay in Abusive Relationships
Have you ever been stalked?.
Did you feel like it must have been your fault?
What made it stop?