I'm being harassed in a public-facing job
June 23, 2010 12:58 PM   Subscribe

I work at a radio station in a big city, and am being harassed by one of our listeners. How to deal?

I work as a radio announcer, and getting nutty emails and other kinds of communications from the occasional whacko has always been an occupational hazard. I've never been contacted by anyone I thought might actually be insane, though, until a couple of months ago.

Right now I'm getting distressing emails from one of our listeners -- I'll call him Gordon -- whose first communication to me pointed me to his blog, which was full of incomprehensible abstract drivel, peppered with references to devil worship, rape, and other graphic sex acts. I didn't respond, and figured the guy would go away.

He kept emailing, but would switch tactics. Some were legit questions about the music we play, so if he asked one of those, I answered -- without giving him further incentives to continue communicating. He did anyway -- sometimes lucidly, other times like a whackjob. My advice from my co-hosts was: This happens to everybody. Stop responding and he'll go away.

It's been weeks, though, and he's still contacting me. He has also contacted the other hosts and our manager, who is concerned, but doesn't quite know how to deal with the situation. It escalated recently when Gordon showed up at a food drive being sponsored by our station. He had an envelope with a card, meant for the station host who was there that day, Tom, but Gordon was apparently too shy to give it to him directly. Tom showed me the card -- weird crap that made no sense, with some playing cards with pictures of people in swimsuits. Just bizarro crap.

So far the guy hasn't made threats, but he's located my You Tube account and is posting unpleasant comments like, "You can't even answer me, to hell with you." But nothing outright threatening.

I guess I want to know how much my employer owes me at this point. My manager has said that there's really no budget for private security at events, but he's willing to let the staffers and security members (if there are any) at these things know that I might need some extra help. He also advised me to respond to Gordon's emails with a boilerplate-type message, like, "Thanks for listening, we appreciate your comments. Due to the volume of mail we receive, we can't respond to everyone." Or something like that. This is different from the advice my co-hosts gave, which was to cut off communication totally.

I'm female BTW, and have been stalked before. I won a permanent lifetime restraining order against my stalker in 1992, and it was a groundbreaking ruling at the time. I felt great, but the ruling turned out to be unenforceable locally. And the guy kept contacting me. Still, it was a valuable victory for me, even if only morally. (The guy finally stopped stalking me in 2003 when I got married.) I still feel totally helpless at the idea of another harassment experience. I wouldn't know what to do, other than take it to court like I did before.

Anyway, your comments and/or experience around this would be welcome!
posted by frosty_hut to Human Relations (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Talk to your HR. If the manager won't help, HR will. They have an obligation to protect you from internal and EXTERNAL harassment.

Worst case scenario...you don't want to be in a situation where someone can say "Well she should have told someone who could do something about it!".

You told your manager, talk to HR.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:02 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

The person who is harassing you appears to be mentally ill. If you make a complaint to the police, giving full details of the situation, they might well want to take him to a psychiatric hospital for observation. However, I should add that the degree of vigilance of the police varies tremendously by region, and some local police departments feel that they really have no time to spend on anything less urgent than the latest drug-related murder - and even those go unsolved half of the time. That and parking violations. If you can observe this nut job parking his car illegally, the police will take an immediate interest.

Other than that, just keep ignoring him. Either he will give up and go away, or he will become more aggressive, in which case you will have a stronger complaint to take to the police or the courts. And if you are still worried, there are always self-defense classes.
posted by grizzled at 1:06 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ask your boss to watch "Play Misty For Me" or "The Fisher King" then see if he/she can still ignore your concerns. This is a potential liability issue for the station and you deserve support.
posted by ShadePlant at 1:13 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Talk to HR.
Inform them that you are scared, and that you going to talk to the police.

However HR responds, talking to the police might be a good idea. If he is a local nut, the police might have some valuable information about him for - they might know that he is dangerous, or that he is harmless. Plus, it will establish a case file, that could help later if things get crazy.

What every you do, do not just accept the situation. Fight back, find help, keeping raising hell until you get it. Do not live in fear.
posted by Flood at 1:17 PM on June 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

There's no budget for security at events? Will there be a budget for the potential physical harm this listener may cause? I would think your employer's responsibility is to provide you with safe working conditions at the station and at events. Speak to your station manager, HR and report this "fan" to the police. You may also wish to inform building management (if you lease) to warn them of potential confrontations in the common areas of the building. Give the promotions staff a heads up so they can be on the look out for you as well. Be safe.
posted by Allee Katze at 1:18 PM on June 23, 2010

I'm sorry this is happening to you. Have you read the Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker? If not, get a copy today. And definitely talk to your HR department.
posted by janekate at 1:24 PM on June 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you are worried about your physical security, in addition to whatever else you do, please take some self-defense classes and/or purchase some pepper mace. You might wish to consider home or car alarms. In the very last line of defense, you have only you to count upon.
posted by adipocere at 1:26 PM on June 23, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for your responses so far. I appreciate it!

Hall -- re: your comment, we didn't have an HR department where I work until about a month ago. They've now hired a person who does payroll, health insurance, and office supplies. I don't know if she has a legal background. I spoke with my manger this morning about this, and he said both he and the HR lady want me to feel protected. I would think so, since there's probably a possibility that they could be sued by me or someone in my family, if something happened to me.

Actually, I don't feel inclined right now to hold the station responsible for what some nutjob does. It's an occupational hazard of the biz. But since I asked for security at my next appearance, and they turned that down, I'm feeling a little worried and vulnerable.

Yes, grizzled, I probably won't go to the police. They refused to uphold my previous restraining order, and I'm a bit disillusioned over that.

I have to stand behind a table at my next event at a wine tasting. My manager thinks that the entrance price will be a deterrent to Gordon, who's indicated that he's homeless. So I'm hoping that works. I've thought I might want to get a bullet proof vest. I keep thinking of Rebecca Shaeffer getting shot in the chest, ugh.

Play Misty For Me -- yeah, what a creepy movie! Thanks for taking this seriously, ShadePlant :)
posted by frosty_hut at 1:29 PM on June 23, 2010

Also, management may wish to address this matter to avoid potential loss of advertisers and revenue if something untoward does happen at an event. If you can and feel it's appropriate, discuss this with sales management; they may take this more seriously as it would affect their bottom line. The flip side, of course, is they may decide to stop sending you to off site events which impacts your wallet.
posted by Allee Katze at 1:30 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for these new responses. You're saying I should go to the police after all. Maybe I will.

Thanks again!
posted by frosty_hut at 1:30 PM on June 23, 2010

Response by poster: Allee, brilliant idea, I love that. They're insane about the bottom line here. That line of argument might just get their attention.

I asked to be pulled off events, but we only have three hosts at the station, and my manager refuses to take me out of rotation, unfortunately.

I'm find all your responses very valuable here, thanks so much!
posted by frosty_hut at 1:33 PM on June 23, 2010

Response by poster: One more thought, Hal -- thanks for the reminder that I don't want to be told, "Well, you never mentioned..." So I;ll be sure to put all my communications with my manager in email. Sent Items has saved my butt before! ;)

Just to further explain -- I work for a tiny company. there are no layers of management -- I just have two bosses, my boss and the station manager, and we have one HR person and one sales person. There are about twelve people who work here. I figure if they don't see the urgency, I'll just do whatever I have to do!

I might hire my own security. It couldn't cost much for a single day.

And I will go to the police, I like the case file idea. Thanks :)
posted by frosty_hut at 1:39 PM on June 23, 2010

Or you can raise the stakes: retain a lawyer for the purpose of writing a formal letter informing your employer of their various legal liabilities should they fail to respond appropriately to this situation.

...because they are walking into a remarkably large number of legal liabilities.

You don't need to threaten anything, just a letter that says "hey, so, FYI, figured you might want to know that your failure to deal with the threats directed toward my client have put you in jeopardy of the following penalties.... Just thought you might appreciate being informed of the risks you're facing."

Warning: I frequently err on the side of raising the stakes.

Even so at minimum record the hell out of everything from now on. Make a little logbook of every time this creep contacts you or attempts to contact you, as well as every time you mention it to anyone at the station. Make it obvious you're doing so.

I'm sorry you have to go through this; a friend of mine worked at a large media conglomerate that operated several stations, newspapers, etc., and they had a staff (HR, hired goons, the whole nine yards) to handle this type of thing.
posted by aramaic at 1:41 PM on June 23, 2010

Please make sure you have documented all of this in writing. Document the situation, document what you asked for, document even that you don't want to hold them liable, but that you asked for extra security and they said no. In writing, not verbal, email is okay but a written letter is better. It will help if you ever have to do anything more than this.
posted by micawber at 1:43 PM on June 23, 2010

You will hire your own security? The station owner/management have a duty to protect you since this came about due to your work for THEM. If they don't have a policy in place that addresses this situation, they need one pronto. At minimum you should contact the police about this and file a restraining order. Until this wacko is locked up...which usually takes something pretty major to happen, you need to up your awareness about 500%. Read The Gift of Fear as was mentioned above, and also read "How to Be Invisible". You are most vulnerable entering and leaving your home and place of work and at public events since your location is posted ahead of time. It doesn't take much for people like this to go from psycho stalker to psycho killer so don't brush this off even if he "seems harmless".
posted by MsKim at 1:47 PM on June 23, 2010

I second reading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. Just finished reading it the other day and there is chapter on people stalking celebrities and public figures and how to handle it. He also gives some background on the Rebecca Schaeffer case. The book has some really good tips and things to think about. Unfortunately, it was written in 1997, so doesn't address commenting on social media sites and the like.
posted by foxjacket at 1:48 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

The "ignoring" thing is super important, especially the keeping it up part.

As far as ignoring goes, sometimes -- especially when your stalker is showing moments of lucidity -- you might think you can convince them to knock it off, either via angry confrontation or reasonable discourse or human appeal.

You cannot. The defining characteristic of somebody in this obsessive loop is they can't distinguish good noise from bad noise.

This is something I knocked together when I was having a stalker problem to remind myself of why the total-ignorance policy is the only approach worth beans. It's been helpful for other people as well. When all you've got is a big red button and a crazy robot, the only thing you can do is not push that damn button.
posted by Shepherd at 1:51 PM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm going to suggest some of the same safety planning measures I have recommended in the past to DV and stalking victims (all of whom, thank God, remain alive and well today.)

1. Stop responding to this person entirely.

2. Go get another anti harassment order. It is worth the money to retain a lawyer to do this, because it shields you from being in the court facing your harasser on your own.This time, use the following strategy to enforce it:
a. Get a photo of the harasser and make a lot of copies of it.
b. Make sure every person that might see the harasser -- your receptionist, your neighbors, the security guards, others at publicity events, etc. -- get a copy of your order and the photo and a request to call the police immediately if harasser is seen.
c. Document every sighting or other effort to make contact by the harasser with the police.
d. Request that your station issue a formal no trespassing warning to the harasser, too.

3. Talk to your attorney about state law on stalking. In most states, repeated following or contact after an order issues is a crime, normally a felony. This makes the police eventually get a lot more interested in making an arrest.

4. Contact a local DV agency about other security precautions, such as changing your phone number, concealing your address,

5. Be watchful and careful. Don't stop living your life or succumb to fear, but also don't make yourself too easy a target, e.g. by taking the exact same route every day, parking in remote locations, walking alone if you can get company, or discussing your personal life on the air.

Take care.
posted by bearwife at 2:28 PM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

While your employer may not be able to afford to hire a squad of marines or some such, they ought to at least make a point of sending multiple people to all public events. Particularly if he's been contacting several of you and has already shown up at another events.

Talking to the police is a probably a good idea. Also, you all should all be comparing notes. Make sure everyone is using the same playbook (I think Shepherd's advice is best here) and make sure everyone knows if he's getting weirder or openly threatening everyone.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:31 PM on June 23, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for your great and caring responses. Got a lot to start working on now! I really appreciate it. :D
posted by frosty_hut at 7:15 AM on June 24, 2010

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