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How to deal with a potential stalker
April 18, 2006 6:54 AM   Subscribe

How to deal with a potential stalker?

Long background, sorry. 8 months ago, a friend married a man she'd known and been with for 2 years. For unavoidable reasons, she was apart from her husband (in another country) for the first 6 months of their marriage - not seperated, just couldn't be in the same place.
She recently came to the US to be with him, only to find out a few things:
- He was planning to leave the country for an extended (2 month) business trip within the first 3 weeks of her return.
- He'd been having an affair while she was waiting to come join him
There wasn't much time to discuss the affair or what led to it before he left, and they agreed to discuss on his return.
She's now alone in an unfamiliar city, and the 'other woman' (let's call her woman B) has begun calling and leaving messages warning my friend that her marriage was over, she was hanging on to a man that didn't love her, he wanted to be with woman B and have babies with woman B, etc.
She is calling almost every half hour, and the calls and messages are freaking my friend out. Whether the marriage is in trouble or not, I feel that messages such as this are harrassment, and are not helping my friend's already fragile state of mind.

My question is - is this really harrassment in the sense that my friend could call the cops and make a complaint? Or does she have to wait until woman B does something really frightening like show up on her doorstep. She just wants to wait until her husband gets back and hash out the situation with him then, but these calls are really getting to her.

Anon because neither of them knows I'm asking, but I'm worried.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total)
 
This person is being harassed. She should call the telephone company and/or the police depending on the severity of the calls. It will help to make a log of the calls (times and durations, she doesn't have to talk to the woman) for a day or so to have a record that this is truly harassment. She might also consider getting caller ID if she doesn't already to make it easier for her to actually use the telephone, or get a cheapie cell phone for the duration and stop answering the home phone altogether. The interpersonal issue likewise sounds like a mess, and I'd suggest helping your friend get some assistance dealing with what seems like a really sticky emotional situation at the same time as you help her with her phone problem.
posted by jessamyn at 7:08 AM on April 18, 2006


That's harassment. B is making calls that your friend doesn't want, repeatedly, for the express purpose of bothering your friend.

My best to you and your friend.
posted by I Love Tacos at 7:10 AM on April 18, 2006


You bet (IANAL). Call both the cops & the phone co., and log the calls as jessamyn suggests. This will provide the backup for later police/court action, if it comes to that.

I wouldn't engage the caller in conversation other than to indicate that you are logging the calls and have called the cops and intend to institute legal action unless she desists. If she feels afraid for her safety, she needs to tell the cops that and why.
posted by Pressed Rat at 7:25 AM on April 18, 2006


In the meantime, she might want to unplug the phone and get a cheap pay-by-the-month cell phone to use for sanity's sake.
posted by mikepop at 8:04 AM on April 18, 2006


I suggest taping the calls and playing them for her husband when he gets back.

Also, this is definitely harassment and she can call the cops. But tape some calls first. He should know what his nutty galpal's been up to in his absence.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:09 AM on April 18, 2006


You might want to consult a lawyer before recording since taping without both parties' consent is illegal in some jurisdictions. Here is a resource that claims to tell you but who knows how accurate it is because IANAL.
posted by mmascolino at 8:24 AM on April 18, 2006


Tell her to read The Gift of Fear as soon as possible. It was featured in Oprah, but it's really good. I think she can find it in a library.

She should never talk to B, because it would engage her. Put a answering machine on the phone to document all the calls, and get another landline or cell phone and use that one exclusively. If possible, get another person to listen to the messages and let her know of the ones that are not from B.
posted by clearlydemon at 8:31 AM on April 18, 2006


You might want to consult a lawyer before recording since taping without both parties' consent is illegal in some jurisdictions.

Right, but saving a voice mail or message on an answering machine would be ok right? In which case, my suggestion would be to not speak to this person, and not delete any messages that she leaves. That way you have the messages as backup.
posted by darsh at 8:33 AM on April 18, 2006


Tell her to document as much of the harassment as possible. For possible legal action and what not.
She should definitely confront her husband with the problem. His business trip is no excuse for not taking responsibility. Her being harrassed is becaus of his betrayal.
posted by ollsen at 8:34 AM on April 18, 2006


Spot on, darsh - she can't object to being recorded if she knows its happening. Its only illegal to record people without their knowledge and consent (and only in some states even then). Anyway, I agree she should keep the messages and endeavor not to talk to her - leave the phone and answering service on, but get a cell (she should get one anyway, sadly her current situation is completely unstable). But I think she should also immediately start dealing with the police and phone company. Chances are this person is not dangerous - crazy maybe, or maybe just a really nasty and agressive romantic rival. But it doesn't sound like she's made any real or implied threats - more like attempting to psyche out the wife. But the frequency is alarming, suggesting genuine obsession and pathology, so this person absolutely should be taken seriously. Her actions are clearly illegal.

I have to say, this guy... I know that it's usually a mistake to weigh in unasked on a friend's relationship situation, but what this guy did is far beyond mere infidelity. The fact he started cheating immediately, the surprise "2 month business trip," leaving her alone in a new city with a woman he's gotta know a. is crazy and b. knows his number. He probably did tell her he wanted to marry her and have her babies. If she were my friend I would be trying to convince her to start working seriously on a plan b. right now. My gut tells me this guy is more than just a fuck up - that he's bad, bad news.
posted by nanojath at 8:53 AM on April 18, 2006


I agree with those who say to get a cell phone and to leave the land line to record evidnce of B's insanity. Just two additional details to add: make sure that the answering machine is the kind that uses tapes, so that they can be taken out and stored for further use, and turn the phone ringer off. Also, tell your friend to be a more careful of her surroundings when she's out and about, do a quick scan before she exits her building and stay aware of the people around her.
posted by Sara Anne at 9:03 AM on April 18, 2006


I agree with nanojath. But is the husband aware of this harassment? I know anonymous said that the couple had agreed to discuss the affair upon his return, but this harassment seems like extentuating circumstances. I don't think his involvement would alter any of the advice given in this thread, but it would make this situation even worse if the husband would not or could not do something to stop this.
posted by mullacc at 9:03 AM on April 18, 2006


Of course if she tells the caller that in future the phone calls will be recorded ('for training purposes', perhaps, works for everyone else), she can do what she wants.
posted by unSane at 9:18 AM on April 18, 2006


Whether the marriage is in trouble or not,

um, yes, she's being harrassed, and she should start screening calls and let the crazy lady (who the husband involved himself with - don't forget that he likes her enough to put his marriage in jeopardy) leave messages if she wants, but - from an outsider's point of view (which I realize may not be helpful to you) - it's nuts to imagine this marriage is not in trouble. She has to seriously step back from her fantasies about who the guy is and really stare things in the face and confront him intelligently and strongly when he does return. Perhaps a miracle can save it, but not if she doesn't recognize how deeply in trouble it is first.
posted by mdn at 9:39 AM on April 18, 2006


I dunno... recording the calls? Sure. But what else?

Maybe she should park somewhere different.

Maybe she should buy a firearm and learn how to use it.

Maybe she should call the fuzz *every single time* a call comes in, so there's a huge record of complaints.
posted by ImJustRick at 9:42 AM on April 18, 2006


I had to do this many years ago...
Call the local phone company. Ask to speak with someone in security. Explain the situation. At least in Pacific Bell's case, they have you enter a certain keycode every time you get a call from that person.

And yes, notify the police department. At the very very least, fill out a report.
posted by drstein at 11:03 AM on April 18, 2006


From experience, a friend's not mine, you should:

Cut off all communication with the stalker and avoid responding to them in any way.

You should get a new, unlisted, phone number and keep the old phone number active.

Set up the old number with a digital mail box service from your telecom that has ample storage. If you contact them and tell them what is going on they may help you out with additional storage. YMMV

You may also want to use GotVoice.com. Its a free service that retrieves calls from your home and cellphone voicemails and converts them to .mp3 for you which is then emailed to any address you specify.

Block your address at the DMV, voter registration office, and anywhere else you think someone could possible get it.

Have your mail forward to a private post office box, do this through the post office. Don't accept any packages at your home unless you are expecting it.

Shred all discarded papers and mail that may have personal information on them.

Document everything and report to the police, phone company, postal service, their & your ISP, etc. The relevant companies and the police will want to know about this.

Buy a gun and learn how to use it, get a large dog that barks louder, and take self defense classes. Not the crappy ones that will barely stop an elderly person, go for the real deal that teaches how to take someone down hard.

Get a cell phone and keep it with you AT ALL TIMES. This includes when you're in the bathroom.

Lock all doors, windows, and any other possible entrances to your home. Get an alarm for your home and car. Get a locking gas tank cover for your car.

Be alone as little as possible. Stay in the company of close friends and relatives whenever possible. Use these people for moral and emotional support. They will want to help you.

You're better off paranoid than in the hospital/dead.

Some of this may sound harsh but people who stalk are generally capable of anything, especially if provoked.

Again, interacting with them is bad. It could cause them to escalate their behavior to violent levels. A restraining order could do the same but may be necessary depending on how bad they get.
posted by ChazB at 11:33 AM on April 18, 2006


Call the cops. Now.

You need an impartial party. You need some official record of the situation. The cops will write up a record of the situation and with contact the stalker and let them know that the attention is unwanted. They do this all the time and can be pretty good at clearing up the situation.

If the stalker shows up in person, call the cops. Do not talk to the stalker. Do not open the door. Obviously we are all hoping this works out with no fuss but it's a potentially scary situation and it should be taken seriously.

Best Luck!
posted by deanj at 12:53 PM on April 18, 2006


How many votes already for "get a gun"? In response to some phone messages? Not even specific threats, just something which is 'freaking her out"?

That's just insanity. How does any sane person go directly from "phone messages which are freaking someone out" to "get hold of a lethal weapon"?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:54 PM on April 18, 2006


I think people are going a bit over the top here. The woman's not actually being stalked, she's getting harassing phone calls. Have the messages said that the other woman's coming after her, or anything like that? If she's not being threatened, then it's not really stalking (yet).

Yes, she should be careful, and she should probably switch phone lines or something to avoid this woman's calls, and it may be worth a call to the phone company and police department, but lethal weapons and attack dogs (please don't ever buy a dog *just* for protection) are waaaay beyond what's called for here.
posted by occhiblu at 2:19 PM on April 18, 2006


The best policy is non-engagement, especially if this is phone-only harassment. (It would be different if B was pounding on the door.) Non-engagement means that it will get boring for B very quickly when she realizes that all of her huffing and puffing is not getting a rise our of your friend. The best way to accomplish non-engagement is to divert the phone messages so that your friend does not have to hear them. I.e., have the existing phone line go straight to a phone company voice-mail service. When you retrieve the messages, just hit skip immediately when you hear her voice. (Don't erase the messages, they might be useful in the likely divorce proceedings.) Get a new unlisted phone line or a cell phone, as others have suggested, for your other calls. Let B blow herself out leaving lots and lots of messages that aren't responded to.

I think the worst thing you could do is have a screaming match with this person -- that will just feed the flames.

Alternatively, tell the guy to make B stop.
posted by Mid at 3:49 PM on April 18, 2006


FWIW I said get a gun and learn how to use it. This is solid advice for anyone living alone in a large city in the US. Also, it takes very little for harassing phone calls to escalate to assault/murder regardless of if the harasser is male or female. The fact that strong emotions for a third party are involved makes the situation all the more precarious.
posted by ChazB at 4:08 PM on April 18, 2006


How does any sane person go directly from "phone messages which are freaking someone out" to "get hold of a lethal weapon"?

Well, the phone messages may serve to remind one that one should really get around to purchasing that gun that one knows one should have but has been putting off purchasing because, eww, guns.
posted by kindall at 7:33 PM on April 18, 2006


FWIW I said get a gun and learn how to use it. This is solid advice for anyone living alone in a large city in the US.

If you're ever puzzling over, you know, why people from other countries seem to have such a low opinion of Americans sometimes ... just remember this moment, won't you?

Q: I'm having some disturbing phone calls. What should I do?

A: You should prepare to kill the person who is making them.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:48 PM on April 18, 2006 [2 favorites]


If you think "get a gun and learn how to use it" means "prepare to kill someone," then I can safely say Americans aren't the only ones with a problem. (Unless you're an American, in which case we are a mighty conflicted nation.)
posted by kindall at 8:27 PM on April 18, 2006


If you think "get a gun and learn how to use it" means "prepare to kill someone,"

What else could it possibly mean?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:54 PM on April 18, 2006


It could mean to get a gun and learn how to use it, but that's just a complete wild-ass guess.
posted by kindall at 11:08 PM on April 18, 2006


[two comments removed, please take further gun discussion to MetaTalk or email]
posted by jessamyn at 5:05 AM on April 19, 2006


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