My friend has a persistent stalker who is not getting the message.
July 14, 2009 12:11 PM   Subscribe

My friend has a persistent stalker who is not getting the message. Help us get rid of him.

My friend has an ex who will not stop calling, emailing, or texting her. On May 22, she told him not to contact her ever again, and that he would get no reponse to any attempted contact.

Since then, he has called 13 times, leaving at least 7 voice messages. He has emailed her 40 times. He has tried to relay messages to her through other friends. She has read The Gift of Fear. She has not responded in any way to his calls, texts, or emails. She even is using her phone company's "parental controls" to block all texts or calls coming from his phone. He is not getting the message, apparently.

How long can we expect this to go on? Another two months? A year? I don't think that this guy is dangerous - he's a huge loser, but he has never been violent. She just wants to be able to open her email and check her voicemail without having to deal with this pathetic little shell of a man.

I will answer any questions you might have in the thread or via email.
posted by Optimus Chyme to Human Relations (43 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This is exactly the sort of thing police are for.
posted by ODiV at 12:13 PM on July 14, 2009 [23 favorites]

Depends on how crazy he is. We had an ex-employee pull that and other stunts (calling at odd hours and hanging up was her favorite tactic) that went on for well over a year. Eventually she found someone else to focus on and harass. I'd guess it'll be the same way with him. Hopefully it'll eventually taper off.

Still, she should keep some sort of record of all these activities so she'll have a strong case for a restraining order if she needs to go to the authorities.
posted by Atom12 at 12:16 PM on July 14, 2009

Call the cops. Get a restraining order. Report him if/when he violates said restraining order. This guy needs to have consequences to his actions. Your friend should never personally respond to this guy.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:18 PM on July 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

She just wants to be able to open her email and check her voicemail without having to deal with this pathetic little shell of a man.

On the tech side, she can setup a filter in her email client to automatically delete emails from his address, if he's using the same one every time. Make sure he doesn't find out she's doing that though, otherwise he might start using throwaway accounts.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:21 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

You really can't trust that he won't become violent. But even if he doesn't- she's already done all the right steps and he hasn't quit. Look into getting a restraining order.
posted by Eicats at 12:24 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is exactly the purpose of a restraining order. They are not just for dangerous crazies, but to prevent contact with legal force where logic or emotional appeal have failed.

In addition, this flags the guy as a little loopy. It's not enough to get him in trouble if he doesn't violate the order, but if he does this to someone else later, he'll have it on his record. Suddenly a pattern emerges. I'm not going to go so far as to say she has an obligation to do anything, that would be blaming the victim. However, it helps those who later might pique his obsessive interest as much as it helps him.

He also needs mental help and therapy if he can't understand it, but that advice belongs in the "my ex took out a restraining order against me!" AskMe that might pop up in a week.
posted by explosion at 12:25 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

This was me. It took lawyering up and sending a cease-and-desist to my ex to get him to stop contacting me. I suspect he still skulks around where I live but I haven't been able to prove it, and I know he trails me online but there's not much I can do about that besides change my entire online person (this username is one I've never used anywhere else, so as far as I know he hasn't trailed me here).

Looking back, I wish I'd gotten a restraining order much sooner (and NOT by going to the police, they enforce restraining orders but don't grant them). But I still have nightmares about him breaking into my apartment, and I am still not sure that a restraining order wouldn't have resulted in him freaking out.

This will go on with your friend as long as the ex wants to keep it up, which could be weeks...months...years. There's no way to tell how long someone will not get the message. Your friend needs to either get in touch with a lawyer and have him/her write a cease and desist letter, or go straight to filing a restraining order (a domestic violence hotline in her area should be able to direct her to paperwork and instructions for how to do this). She should continue to not answer ANYTHING but document EVERYTHING. Save all messages, including voicemails.

Tell her not to wait and hope he will get the message. He might not. There are resources available to her; as terrible as it feels, she should use them. She might also seek out some therapy to help her deal with her feelings about this; it's helped me a lot.

PM me if you want more specifics.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 12:25 PM on July 14, 2009 [14 favorites]

To clarify--I did not get a restraining order, but I wish I had, and I wish I'd dealt with the entire situation sooner rather than hoping he would get the message. It went on for nearly a year, and I'm sure would not have stopped without the C&D.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 12:27 PM on July 14, 2009

while i'm a big believer in funnelling exes emails straight to the trash, in this case she might want to filter them all to a folder, maybe one that you or another friend reads, to make sure threats aren't coming through. keep a record of everything (maybe keep the call and texts record through the phone bill?). call the cops now so that if it escalates there is already contact about it. get the officer's name and keep that information as well.

without knowing anything about him or her there is no way we can determine how long this will go on or how dangerous he is.

are there any sympathetic friends or family she can contact? maybe a "hey, your friend/relative is creeping me the fuck out - maybe you can convince him to knock it off". choose someone he respects that he has no drama with.

good luck.
posted by nadawi at 12:28 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

How long can we expect this to go on? Another two months? A year? I don't think that this guy is dangerous - he's a huge loser, but he has never been violent.

In this case it should be enough for her to have the police speak to him. But get the restraining order anyway.
posted by orange swan at 12:33 PM on July 14, 2009

Another recommendation for getting the police involved. The sooner the harassment is documented, the better. Friends intervening on her behalf might end up in trouble for threatening or harassing him if that's how he perceives it, which is another good reason to let the cops do the intimidating, if it becomes necessary.
posted by gimli at 12:35 PM on July 14, 2009

Seconding the emails being forwarded to a separate folder, just in case, and then not ever looking in that folder.

But do have someone else look at it now and then to make sure there are no threats in there. If they're just sad-sack "hey,'s me, just wondering how you're, um, doing and stuff...." messages, then it's just an annoyance. But the second any kind of a threat gets issued, you may be able to involve police. I got a scary obscene phone call once -- if it had just been someone talking about dicks, that would have been one thing, but the fact that he prefaced his spiel with "I know where you live and I am going to break into your house and mutilate you if you don't do what I say" made the police jump into action, because that was a threat.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:40 PM on July 14, 2009

Restraining order

Why gun? Because when the restraining order is installed is usually when the violence occurs. Most of the time there is no violence, but when there is it often happens just after the restraining order is put in place. Other options include pepper spray, a big dog, alarm system, etc.
posted by caddis at 12:43 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Something sort of like this happened to me after I ended a relationship with a man I had been dating for a few weeks. Here's what I did to stop it. I hope your friend finds it helpful.

After I wrote him an email message telling him unequivocally that his attention was unwelcome and never to contact me again, and after that have no effect, I printed out both my message to him and his messages to me and took them to my local precinct. I explained the situation and showed the officer the messages (if I had recorded voicemails, I would have brought those to).

The officer explained that his behavior met the standard for harassment, a misdemeanor in California. Further escalation would be grounds for granting a restraining order, which would be served to him at his place of work by uniformed officers. I filed the harassment complaint, and wrote him an email telling him that I had gone to the police, and that if he contacted me again cops would show up at work to hand him a restraining order.

That was enough to make him stop. And if it hadn't, it would have created an official paper trail to get me the protection offered by a restraining order.

Don't hesitate to go to the police. You shouldn't have to put up with this. It's illegal and unacceptable, and the cops are here to protect you from this guy.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 12:45 PM on July 14, 2009 [7 favorites]

This has never happened to me, but following on from suggestions above, one idea might be to filter the emails into another (dedicated) account which she can give access to, whether it's to the police, a lawyer, whatever (so they don't have to see her other, normal, email). Maybe I'm just paranoid, though :) Good luck.
posted by mahke at 12:46 PM on July 14, 2009

Agree with the restraining order. There is likely a non-profit in your jurisdiction to help with this.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:46 PM on July 14, 2009

But the second any kind of a threat gets issued, you may be able to involve police.

You don't need to be threatened to justify involving the cops. Harassment is illegal in most if not every state.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 12:46 PM on July 14, 2009

I don't think that this guy is dangerous - he's a huge loser, but he has never been violent.

Famous last words.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:58 PM on July 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

Since [May 22], he has called 13 times, leaving at least 7 voice messages. He has emailed her 40 times.

Not to downplay your friend's ordeal, but a friend of mine was recently stalked (by a judge she had been clerking with, no less), where that was about a day's work. I am not kidding - when we went to have a coffee for an hour or so, the phone would usually ring at least twice.

A restraining order would have ruined his career and his personal reputation, possibly his life, a step that my friend did not want to take -- she actually did like him in a way and found him quite charming and likeable (except for that creepy stalking thing and the 25 years age difference). But I guess that's up to your friend to decide.

Eventually, it subsided, but other options that were tossed around at the time included someone picking up the phone and pretending to be her (armed) police officer boyfriend.
posted by sour cream at 12:59 PM on July 14, 2009

Response by poster: Famous last words.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:58 PM on July 14

Good point, MCLC; I shouldn't have speculated on his future actions.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:02 PM on July 14, 2009

She has read The Gift of Fear.

But she has apparently not understood the book's central premise, which is that bad shit is very often very predictable.

Restraining order

Indeed. I recommend a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver chambered with .38 special rounds. Big, fat, easy-to-use, accurate, with lower recoil for smaller people.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:05 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

If he's a persistent loser with a bunch of "please why won't you talk to me" messages, ignore it and it will go away. Eventually. As Nicky Flippers said, we don't arrest people for being creepy. Being annoying isn't a criminal act. Assault and harassment are criminal acts. If he's doing either of those, you need to file a report. As far as "how long can this go on," who knows? Depends on how desperate and/or how big of a loser he is, I guess.

If it's just a bunch of whining and pleading, ignore it (as hard as that is to do). Monitor it, though, for sure, or have someone else monitor it--the minute the threat of violence or any sort of harassment comes up (you, himself or anyone) escalate it and file a formal complaint with your police department with the enormous backlog of evidence you will have built up. "I told him to stop contacting me, and since that day I've had 67 emails, 23 voicemails...and then on July nth, he sent me the following violently worded message..." complete with a folder of timestamped email printouts and a CD of MP3 files of voice messages. Exhibit A, Your Honor!

You may also want to call your police's non-emergency number, briefly explain this situation and have them advise you on what to do.
posted by ostranenie at 1:06 PM on July 14, 2009

My boyfriend had some difficulty with his ex not getting the hint about ending contact. Finally after she started emailing me, his parents, and leaving evidence around the house that she'd been in his home, he called the cops. They advised him to formally notify her that contact needed to end and then they suggested that if he could, call her mom or dad. He called her mom, and told her what had been going on. The emails and insanity continued after the letter advising her about possible police action, but ended after he called her mom. It was awkward and weird to tell someone's mother that they were doing this crazy crap, but apparently her mother had dealt with it before and merely responded with "I had hoped she wouldn't do this again."

Good luck.
posted by teleri025 at 1:12 PM on July 14, 2009

You don't need to be threatened to justify involving the cops

Yeah, about kinda do. They aren't there to protect you from being irritated by loserspam. Their function is to enforce the law. Whether or not your friend is being harassed is in question here. If you get a few whiny emails here and there and a voicemail once a week, ehhh, I'd let it go. If you feel threatened, definitely yes, that's harassment, call the police immediately and begin filing reports. (Harassment is illegal everywhere. Why wouldn't it be?)

It's up to your friend to decide where to draw the line: "okay, I've had enough of this shit, I'm filing a report and starting the process." Gather evidence, watch for signals. At the point you actually become worried about being in danger, start filing. It looks like you're somewhat teetering on the brink here, so that would be now-ish.
posted by ostranenie at 1:15 PM on July 14, 2009

Once you've sent a clear, unambiguous request for the other person never to contact you again, all harassment should be dealt with by the maximum possible legal escalation, no matter if it is a weird stalker sending threatening letters or a loser ex who won't leave you alone.

Here's my reasoning:

Let's take the later case, a loser ex who is more annoying than threatening and likely more of a danger to herself/himself than anyone else. A restraining order, delivered by the police, with the possibility of a misdemeanor charge will often times be the touch of reality that a person like this needs to realize the effects their actions have had on other people, and that they need to get help from a mental health professional.

For the creepier/more threatening/weirdo types -- people too far gone ever to respond to logic and who don't and will never care about the pain they are causing -- a restraining order and flashing of badges will be the only way for them to realize that their actions will have consequences on their own life if they don't fucking knock it off forever.

There might be some case-by-case situations where this wouldn't be the best idea, but it's worked for me and my friends. Anti-stalking law exists for a reason, and you should use it.
posted by Damn That Television at 1:22 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yeah, about kinda do. They aren't there to protect you from being irritated by loserspam. Their function is to enforce the law. Whether or not your friend is being harassed is in question here. If you get a few whiny emails here and there and a voicemail once a week, ehhh, I'd let it go. If you feel threatened, definitely yes, that's harassment, call the police immediately and begin filing reports.

At least in New York, the definition of harassment in the second degree is not limited to threatening behavior. I don't think NY law is unique in this respect.

There is absolutely no need to wait for the behavior to escalate to that of threats in order to proceed with some official business.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:31 PM on July 14, 2009

Restraining order for sure.

Stalkers are so fervent in their pursuit because they believe they have a right to possess their object. It's this assumption of possession that makes them dangerous.

No matter how non-threatening may be, the very fact that he can't process the idea that interaction with him is not wanted, makes him dangerous. Because he's trying to get to the part where she sees the perfect unity of two souls that he thinks exists, and as time goes by and he can't "get through to her," he may well decide as many other unwell people have, that all she needs is some alone time with him, with or without her consent. He could sneak into her apartment, for example.

Restraining orders were well-made to protect people from this.
posted by Billegible at 1:55 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This is in California, if that's relevant. Thanks to everyone for their help so far; if you still have something to add, please do.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:55 PM on July 14, 2009

Having been in this situation myself, and held off on calling the police until it was reaching ridiculous and threatening levels, all I can say is that she needs to call the police.

Even if he is not doing anything illegal in your state (e.g., harassment), the police are usually very happy to assist in setting up a paper trail. What I went through after calling the police, and what your friend may be able to expect:
  1. An officer arrived at my house and listened to my description of events. You can request a female officer if one is available. You should expect to wait for an officer as this isn't an immediate emergency.
  2. He took the copies of text messages and emails, and a CD with voicemails that I'd made and put them in my file.
  3. Along with the useless Victim's Rights pamphlet, he gave me a stack of copies of an incident list that I could record specific occurrences on.
  4. He gave me a number to call at any time where I would be able to reach a detective, but advised that in any emergency, 911 is the way to go.
  5. Gave me examples of do's and don'ts, mostly common sense things, like don't respond to the messages no matter how threatening they are, and if you feel threatened or in danger, call the police immediately.
  6. Gave general advice on where to get information about other legal avenues, like restraining orders
I highly recommend calling the police first. You say that you're convinced the man is harmless, but so was my ex boyfriend until his obsession with me spiraled out of his control. I think you're assuming that he's harmless because he was non-violent in the past and isn't threatening any action right now. When a stalker becomes obsessed with something, they are not seeing reality, and will occasionally do things they would not normally do. My ex was gentle as a lamb for many years, but toward the end, I was terrified, paranoid and afraid he would rape me. Stalkers are capable of doing more harm to their victim with their passive actions than most victims are able to see for themselves. It is not worth your friend allowing him to subject her to mental trauma by allowing this to continue, and it can continue for many years.

I thought he would go away if I ignored him, but he didn't stop until I got the police involved ... after three years. The last straw was a creepy message from him that stated he wanted to have sex with me, and while I wasn't sure he would try to act on it, I didn't want to take the chance. My point is, I urge you to call the police to start a paper trail. If he does become threatening, it will help both of them in the long run, easing the ability for him to get any help he needs while keeping him away from your friend.
posted by neewom at 1:59 PM on July 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

As far as how long it can last: someone I know still has an active stalker from when she was fourteen (so more than 26 years now) -- we know this because she moved and changed her name, but many years later he found her new name and sent "feeler" mails to people of the same name (she got one) and then he found her on Facebook (and so is now blocked.) He was in his twenties when it started, which just makes it creepier.

Obsession is a strange, strange thing.
posted by davejay at 2:09 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Indeed. I recommend a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver chambered with .38 special rounds. Big, fat, easy-to-use, accurate, with lower recoil for smaller people.

I'm not going to argue for or against the merits of firearms or gun control.

But I do know that if you combine a person who is reasonably upset, with a brand new weapon (which is a HUGE responsibility), someone is VERY likely to get hurt. And the person who is least likely to get hurt is the person that you bought the gun to protect yourself from.

Don't buy/carry ANYTHING to defend yourself with if you can't master it and get VERY comfortable with it in a very short amount of time.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:41 PM on July 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

You can probably call the police and make an appt. to meet with someone, unless you want someone to see the police car parked out front.

Don't be too low-key, or hesitate to get a restraining order. This person is wreaking havoc, and should be held accountable. The stalker may have a record, and your report may help a prosecutor. If you choose not to get a gun, there should be a very good emergency plan.
posted by theora55 at 3:54 PM on July 14, 2009

Important: when you contact the police, understand that the officer is a human being. Meaning: two officers may each react quite differently. My friend's sister was being stalked by her ex boyfriend who kept sending email messages - dozens of them each week - all of them with simple sentences which to her (and us) were completely unambiguous, and yet, were seen as ambiguous by the female (!) officer whom she was in touch with first (the sentences all revolved around how he "just wants to put it in one more time", "I'd like to put it in, just this one time" etc., never getting more specific than that). Long story short, she was extremely discouraged by the cop's reaction, but we convinced her to go again and get somebody else. She did, and she got results.
posted by VikingSword at 4:03 PM on July 14, 2009

The Gift of Fear actually has some good tips for dealing with this. She should re-read the chapter about persistence.

1. Change her number but don't let him know and maintain the old voice mail. Every time she checks her voice mail she can call back anyone who isn't him and give them her new number.

2. Ditto with the email.

3. A restraining order is just more contact with him, which is what he's looking for. As he's not violent, seems like a bit of overkill, NOT because he doesn't deserve it but because it could turn him from desperate loser into pissed off, desperate loser

4. She CANNOT control his behavior, unfortunately. People like this will keep going and going as long as they want to. She should stop trying to do so and instead focus on what she can do to make things more tolerable for herself. A restraining order won't help with that.
posted by kathrineg at 4:23 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

are there any sympathetic friends or family she can contact? maybe a "hey, your friend/relative is creeping me the fuck out - maybe you can convince him to knock it off".

This may work but I have been in a situation where it was taken as "oh she still cares about me!!!!" So use with caution.
posted by kathrineg at 4:27 PM on July 14, 2009

Buying a gun is a horrible idea unless she has the time, energy, and money to learn how to use it properly.
posted by kathrineg at 4:30 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Please go to the police. It is the best way to find resources and to create a record of his behavior. I also agree with kathrineg's suggestions of changing her number and email, but not letting him know and still checking the messages (and saving everything from him). It enables her to move on, while still keeping tabs on him.

Has she ever taken self defense classes? Maybe the two of you can go together. This might help her feel empowered as well as give her some really helpful tactics for protecting herself, with or without the use of weapons. Best of luck to you & your friend. No one should have to live in the shadow of this disturbing behavior.
posted by katemcd at 6:14 PM on July 14, 2009

Seconding and thirding no gun. Pepper spray and one of those scream-in-a-can things.
posted by Billegible at 6:26 PM on July 14, 2009

I have to throw my opinion into this. I have had this similar problem, and so has others in my family. Going to the police is a good idea, but the police cannot be there to protect you all the time, and if he is determined a piece of paper will not deter him. Pepper spray is always a good thing to carry. Kathrineg said a gun isn't a good idea unless she has the time, energy and money to use it properly. I think that if she has these things, a gun is a good idea. Not only will it potentially help protect her in this situation, but if she learns to use it properly it can help protect her for life. At the very least, take some self defense classes.

My sister and niece were murdered by a man. I can't stress enough that getting that piece of paper from the police is not enough. Don't be assured because he hasn't been violent up to this point. How many crimes of passion happen every day by people who weren't known to ever be violent? Take every step possible to protect yourself. In some cases you cannot be too paranoid.

My last bit of advice... Learn to take care of yourself and show no fear.
posted by sporaticgenius at 7:33 PM on July 14, 2009

My friend whose ex has been harassing her by phone for years was told by an attorney that she had to change her phone number and if he started calling the new number, then the law could help. This is in Texas. Don't know if the attorney was correct or not.

It wouldn't be a bad idea for her to change her number anyway.
posted by ishotjr at 8:59 AM on July 15, 2009

Majority of the above answers are quite good. I do agree though with the brief mentions that some clinical psychologist/therapist (AKA: mental help) does need to get involved somewhere in this case to 1.) Make sure that this guy knows he is being taken care of (alerting him to the problem) and thus he doesn't feel like he has been shut out of the world (his world) abruptly and 2.) he can get back up on his feet and start living a ~normal life again. Whether that is inserted through the police or some other authority is up in the air, just be sure this is done.

Yes, the fellow might be a loser. Yes, he might have an obsession. Just be sure to take care in handling the matter (he is a human being, we are all nuts to some extent). Don't let the frustration get to you and transfer into worse consequences for the guy, external, psychological, and overall internal.

We just need him off her back, if we can achieve that with minimal net recoil on both him and her on all fronts, we have done our job.

Good Luck!
posted by JoeXIII007 at 3:01 PM on July 15, 2009

Personally, I don't give two shits about finding help for a guy who is harassing me. It is not my responsibility (maybe it's the cop's responsibility, I don't know), to make sure he gets mental help, kindness, etc. His consequences are a result of his actions. I don't see why the harassee in the situation needs to be concerned with it at all.

Transfer as much of this to official means as possible, get him off your back and out of your life, and I wish you luck.
posted by agregoli at 6:35 PM on July 15, 2009

Response by poster: Hey, this is resolved although I forgot to explain it.

After a pathetic suicide threat via email, the police were called; they showed up to his mother's house and talked to him and freaked him out. He was good ( for a couple months and then wrote again to "apologize" and say that things were all better and maybe they should be friends. My friend responded that she did not want any contact from him ever again (again) and that any contact would followed up with more visits from the police. So far, we've heard nothing yet.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:06 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

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