How interesting that Patti at Not Dead Yet Style mentioned her run-in with a blog stalker the other day. I’ve been pondering this topic for some time, and two other recent events made me decide to write about stalking and related offenses.
First, let me give you some background on my own experiences.
• From the first through eigth grades, I was periodically the target of bullies, both male and female, who took delight in my unwillingness to fight back or speak up for myself.
• During my college years, I acquired two stalkers, former boyfriends who refused to let go. This allowed me and my family to develop a close relationship with the police department, but I would have happily forgone the experience.
• In my 20s I was sexually harassed at work. This was a truly disgusting and demeaning experience, magnified by my then-husband's assumption that I was encouraging it.
Like anyone who has had weird experiences, I often wonder why. I think part of it was the way I presented myself. It still surprises me that with strong female role models all around me, I spent so much of my life being meek and non-confrontational. I was never able to reconcile the two prime directives for female behavior in my generation, politeness and assertiveness. These contradictory modes, combined with extreme introversion, gave me the outward appearance of weakness, in my opinion.
Please, do not think that I subscribe to the “blame the victim” mentality. I abhor even the suggestion of that, and violently oppose anyone who believes that women can in any way cause crimes against themselves. However, I think (and you will tell me if I’m wrong) that women who are physically intimidating or have an aggressive demeanor are less likely to have weirdos parked outside their homes every night or receive threatening letters and calls.
I certainly don’t have anywhere near the problems I had when I was younger, but the occasional nuisance does arise. A few years ago a man approached me at the gym, asked me what I was doing later, and said that he was just in town for that night but he had his truck parked outside. Although I couldn't help laughing at his creepy stupidity, I said no, very clearly, and quickly pointed him out to the front desk to let them know he was bothering the customers. Last week a man followed me all over Jo-Anns Fabrics for almost an hour. After the fourth or fifth time that I looked up to see him hovering and leering at me, I told him to go away, and he did. Note that both of those instances occurred during the day; if it was nighttime, my responses would have been quite different.
Why do I lump all these experiences together? Because bullying, stalking, and harassment all have a similar emotional impact on me, the victim. I start to doubt my own intelligence and/or instincts. I am fearful of overreacting or being thought of as paranoid. And even though I have not been physically harmed, I feel disturbed by the unwanted interaction, and it colors the rest of my day.
What about stalking in the cyber world? There are both similarities and differences with the real world scenarios.
I think the biggest difference is that cyberstalkers feel protected by their anonymity, and this makes them bolder, meaner, more threatening, or cruder in their harassment. Like obscene phone callers, online stalkers are likely to say infinitely more horrible things than they would if they were talking to you face to face. I had a message from a facebook weirdo recently, and although there was a name and photo, it’s unlikely that either belonged to a real person. I did not respond, but dumped him into the spam bin.
The separation provided by cyberspace goes both ways. We can choose to ignore the stalkers, toss them in the spam file, delete them, and go about our business. If they are foolish enough to accost us on a platform with a reporting facility, we can sic the security police on them.
The main similarity between old-school stalking and the online version is that no matter what, we have been negatively affected. Whether it is just a brief inconvenience, or something so ugly that it makes us feel sick, our lives have been touched by something bad and it takes a little time to recover and move on. It’s good to share the experience, as Patti did, so we do not feel alone.
Because of my past experiences, I do not use my real name in my blog. I also do not post pictures of myself here. I like to be able to chat freely about things that interest me without wondering if so-and-so is suddenly going to show up in my comments. I guess I just feel more comfortable having a degree of separation between the real me and the online me.
If someone’s intent on finding me, they can certainly do it, but that’s true of everyone these days. I learned from a quick Google search that anyone can get my personal information including credit report and criminal record (that must be exciting!) for $49.95 or less.
I would like to ask you, dear readers, who I believe are mostly female, what is your opinion on dealing with stalkers? How would you have responded to some of the scenarios I’ve described here? And what experiences have you had with unwanted attention either in person or online?