Should I file a restraining order against my ex?
November 26, 2011 4:31 PM   Subscribe

Considering a restraining order against an ex, but I have a lot of questions about the logistics and just generally whether it's going to make the situation better or worse. For example, I don't think he knows where I live- so how would it even work? Many more questions inside.

(For answers regarding the law: I live in IL.)

I broke up with an emotionally abusive ex about a year ago. He was never violent towards me or directly threatened violence, but there were instances where I felt like we were getting dangerously close to that edge. He's maybe kind of a punch-a-hole-in-the-wall angry type of person. Towards me, he just had a lot of anger, outbursts, accusations, yelling, blaming, that type of stuff. I was afraid to break up with him because I was sure he'd try to make my life hell, but I did it anyway, finally (again, about a year ago.)

From the very beginning I asked him not to contact me at all. He'd be good about it for a while but inevitably I'd always get a text or five, or a phone message. Usually a burst of them all at once. Most of the time I tried to ignore it. Occasionally I'd break down and reply but always more or less with a message like :"Please leave me alone, I don't want to hear from you, don't text/call/email anymore." Sometimes nice, some begging, some angry. At one point, when I was ignoring all his texts and calls he actually showed up and rang my buzzer. I pretended not to be home, but moved shortly after that (about 6 months ago.) I also blocked his phone number, but the block kept expiring and I'd end up getting more messages from him. After a particularly brutal, mean bunch of messages recently I finally decided to go ahead and just change my number. So, at the moment he doesn't know where I live and he doesn't know my phone number. He still knows where I go to school, though, so if he was so inclined he could probably find me there. I don't know if he would do that or not. I don't think he would but . . . I'm not 100% sure and I've definitely been wrong in the past regarding what shitty things he was willing to stoop to.

I apologize, I'm rather emotional over this situation and I'm having a hard time being coherent- I have a lot of conflicted feelings/questions about all this so here they are in no particular order.

- For the most part, I've been trying to avoid knowing the content of any text/ email/ voicemail I get from him. I try to delete them all without reading or listening to them, because I'm afraid of what they will say. He doesn't threaten violence, but a lot of them are mean (recurring themes include what a bitch i am for ignoring him, how i ruined his life, information about people he's dating/ fucking now, and oddly enough, sometimes they just say 'i miss you and hope life is going well.') i think he's a sociopath. whatever the case, whenever i see an email/ text from him i get an extreme physical reaction- nausea, fear, adrenaline, often followed by nightmares for the next several days. It doesn't even matter WHAT the message says. I guess at this point even the nice messages scare me because I know the mean ones will often follow after I ignore the nice one. Anyway, what I'm getting at is- do I even have an argument here? "I keep asking him to stop and he keeps bugging me. But I don't know what he's even saying." Does someone need to be making an actual threat? Or is this harassment enough? Unfortunately, due to my OMG-MUST-DELETE-IMMEDIATELY thing, I don't have as much documentation as I wish I did. I should have saved it all, but I guess I just never really thought it would get to this point.

- I'm wondering what filing a restraining order against him would actually achieve. On the one hand, he doesn't even know how to contact me anymore, so it's possible it will stop. But then again, all it takes is one time for him to get really mad and decide I'm the cause of all his problems, and come hunt me down in a rage. Do I think this is likely? No, not at all. But I am not sure enough to rule it out completely. I know he has a firearm card/ permit whatever but I don't know if he actually owns a gun. I read that if you file a restraining order against someone they will have to surrender their firearm card/gun. So, this is one reason I would want to do it. But I know that it's not forever- will I be contacted when he's allowed to have his firearm card (and possibly gun) back? Will I have to keep getting R.O.'s for the rest of my life? What if I forget and the day he gets his (possible) gun back he decides to come get his revenge on me?

- On the other hand, like I said, it's entirely possible that without any more easy ways to contact me, he might just give up and leave me alone. If this is the case, I don't want to instigate more drama and escalate things by bringing a restraining order into it. I guess my question with this and the above statement is- for those of you who have been through something like this, are you glad you did it, or did it just cause more trouble?

- One of my biggest concerns is whether this would compromise what I've achieved by moving and changing my number. I mean, how do you get a restraining order against someone without them knowing where you live? Can it just cover certain areas? I want him to be kept away from my school. It's possible he could find out where I live by following me home from school, but I have know way of knowing whether this has happened. So . . . what the hell do I do? (My school has security guards and surveillance cameras- should I trust that this is enough to protect me?)

- He told me a while back that he was planning to move to another state. Knowing him (he's full of shit) he probably didn't, but I don't know how to find out- I don't want to contact him or any of his friends or family. If he does live in another state can I still request a R.O.?

- One of my biggest concerns is just what his reaction is going to be to this. I know him- he will be furious. He will think it's all in my head, that I'm overreacting over nothing, and that I'm trying to ruin his life. He will probably tell this to everyone he knows (how he never did anything, how I'm a crazy bitch trying to ruin his life, etc.) It's not that I care what they think. More like I know this will cause him to want him to retaliate in some way, and he's pretty damn persuasive/ manipulative- what if his friends and family all believe his side of the story and team up with him to punish me for this? It's not like I can get a R.O. against him AND all his friends and family. For people who have been through this- if you had an ex like this- did he react by flipping out? Did it make things worse? Especially if it was a long time ago- my biggest fear is that taking this action would escalate him from a problem that was going to fade away on its own, to a problem that will continue to follow me for the rest of my life. Because if I understand IL law correctly, it would go on his record and follow HIM for the rest of his life (or at least a while?) and as long as he's thinking of me he's going to want to be harassing me.

All I want is for him to just completely disappear from my life and leave me alone. I don't care about getting revenge or "punishing" him, and I'm afraid that's what he'd see this as, and take it as an invitation to harass me even more when he can. What if it keeps escalating? What if I end up having to call the police on him and he gets arrested or goes to jail? I don't think any of that would cause him remorse, i think it would just fuel the fire for him to retaliate and try to ruin MY life. i want to just let it go and hope and pray that moving and changing my number will be the end of it. but i can't feel totally comfortable knowing he may own a gun, and knowing he has a bad temper and terrible judgment. so what the hell do i do? (i'd like to move to another state, far away, but i can't until i finish school- so a couple more years, unfortunately. I can't transfer to a different program, I have to finish the one i'm in.)

I'll make a sockpuppet account so people can memail me directly, and so I can answer questions if necessary, I know this probably wasn't the most coherent question ever. he spent several years trying to make me doubt my own judgment and sanity, and it seems to have worked- i really need some outside perspectives regarding this problem. the more i think about it, the more confused and frustrated i get. am i overreacting? am i not doing enough? do i have other options that i'm not thinking of? thank you all so much in advance. (and for those of you who might suggest i should also seek counseling- i plan to, first thing Monday morning I'll be calling the therapist I was seeing immediately after the breakup. and i have not read the gift of fear but i see it recommended on here all the time and plan to try to acquire/read it today too.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I was going to recommend The Gift of Fear, but I see that you refer to it in your last sentence. I would read it as soon as possible. It gives some concrete steps about how to proceed.
posted by dfriedman at 4:41 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

One drawback of orders of protection is that the respondent (your ex) has the right to show up and be heard at the hearing. And because there are a number of repercussions for the respondent (in some states they can't own firearms while the order is in place; it shows up on background checks and looks bad; and of course it limits their freedom) judges do NOT, in my experience, grant them without there actually being some past threats.

Consider whether you want to take the risk of "riling up" your ex given that your request for the order of protection may be denied.

On the plus side, if it is granted, police take them very seriously if he violates the order and contacts you.
posted by jayder at 4:45 PM on November 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Gift of Fear does cover a lot of these questions. A few highlights, which you'll learn about in more detail when you read the book:

-Responding sometimes, but not all the time, to his messages, is known in psychology as "intermittent reinforcement." What it does is tell him that there is some number of messages he can send you that will get him what he wants (a response from you), and all he has to do is keep doggedly pursuing you in order to get his reward. You need to stop responding at all ever to anything he says or does. Don't contact him, don't contact anyone he knows, don't have anyone else communicate on your behalf. It won't stop the unwanted contact immediately, but he will likely eventually get the message that you're not going to reward him, and he will likely grow tired of you and stop.

-Save your messages. It sounds as though you're starting to do that now, but save as much as you can. Set up a way to save them without reading them (e.g., a special folder in your email or text inbox that you can divert messages to without looking at them) so that you don't have to see them, but they're there if you do need to analyze them or turn them over to someone later.

-Your instincts about restraining orders are likely correct. They sometimes work, but they sometimes escalate the situation. The book talks about how to know which situation you're in and gives you some factors to use in making your decision.

-You may benefit from letting others in your life know that you're being stalked and that you need their help to avoid compromising your safety. Talk to the security director at your school to find out what your options are. Find out what security measures exist in the building or community where you live. Let your friends, family, coworkers, and others in your life know how important it is not to reveal your whereabouts or contact information. This is often really hard for people, because it feels as though he's seeping into your other relationships, but it's a really important safety precaution. Let people help you.

The book is really invaluable, but if you feel as though you still need more help to figure out what, if anything, you want to do next, there are people who can help. The author is a security consultant who works with, among others, stalking victims, and there's a resource list in the back of the book that might point you to organizations that can help. A battered women's shelter in your area, even if you're not a domestic violence victim, will know a lot about hiding from people and about whether and how you can use the legal system to protect yourself, and I bet they'd be glad to answer questions. You can contact police without filing any paperwork, just to find out what your options are. Right now, gather as much information as you can about what your rights are, what resources are available, and what the possible outcomes are. Then, hopefully, you'll feel empowered to make the best decision you can. I'm so sorry that this is happening to you, and I wish you all the best.
posted by decathecting at 4:52 PM on November 26, 2011 [9 favorites]

Definitely seconding talking to a shelter in your area. You can also file a police report just in general (that is, without asking them to do anything about it today) - as far as I'm concerned, this is quite clearly harassment/stalking territory, and the police should know even if you decide against getting any kind of a court order.

Your workplace and school should be aware this guy is out there and that no information should be shared, and no calls forwarded to you. Make sure you're not listed in any school directories, in particular - you have the right, under FERPA, to keep them from publishing that information.

I don't know enough about the efficacy of restraining orders or your situation to really say one way or another (which is why you should be talking to a shelter in your area.) I will say, however, that you're right to be concerned, in the sense that a restraining order mostly helps you in the event the person breaks the rules in a way that doesn't do anything more than scare you, and is then held accountable for violating the order. There are a lot of "ifs" and good luck involved. As long as he's not physically in jail, you have to rely upon other people, your own situational awareness, and similar "real world" stuff to keep you safe: the restraining order, at the end of the day, is just a piece of paper.

Oh - and if he's been calling your cell phone, you should be able to get a list of all your incoming calls for the last six to eighteen months (depending on the carrier.) Same with incoming text messages - my carrier only keeps those up for a month, but Sprint lets me see texts on our corporate account going back to sometime in 2010.

(Make sure to give copies of all the evidence to somebody he doesn't know, like a friend from college.)
posted by SMPA at 5:09 PM on November 26, 2011

Shit. My whole big answer to you just got erased.

"On the other hand, like I said, it's entirely possible that without any more easy ways to contact me, he might just give up and leave me alone."

This eventually worked for me. I was also afraid of instigating more drama. I know it worked because I still have the same cell phone number, even though thanks to technology, he thinks I changed that number, too. So I am certain.

On the other hand... I've been stalker free only about 6 months, married 3 years, and I have yet to change my last name officially on my driver's license or pass port because I don't want my new last name to show up on public records searches.

Likewise, create a few sock puppet email accounts and start using them for everything you do online, especially purchases on Amazon and whatnot. Your old email address is linked to your name and current address via people search websites like thanks to the way (marketing) data is tracked.

There are lots of other tricks for disappearing from this guy, but you should start with your Internet presence.

Likewise, spend the $1.99 a few times and look up yourself and him on a few of those public records sites. That might tell you where he is, and it will definitely tell you what he can find out about you.

Go ahead and plug his cell number and then email address into spokeo, that will tell you a fair amount, too.


I SWEAR to you that weird trigger feeling goes away within a year once you are certain your tracks are thoroughly covered.

If I were you, I'd move after graduation.


If you feel you are in danger, see him at your school, or others say he's showed up asking about you - contact the police. Don't equivocated or apologize as you state your situation. You're making that mistake above. This isn't your fault. Yes he is harassing you and it is illegal, but I agree your best bet right now is simply to 100% disappear your electronic presence from him.
Don't respond to another text/email/phone call should he get your new contact info.

If you ever feel in danger, call the police. If you feel really scared, consider transferring schools. Look at it as an opportunity for adventure, not a hardship.

MeMail if you have any questions. My situation has been going on about 5 years. I put up with feeling terrorized for WAY too long before I figured out that I needed to stop responding and change my contact info. Create distance. You'll be fine.
posted by jbenben at 5:09 PM on November 26, 2011 [5 favorites] provides legal information, both federal and state, to women who have experienced domestic violence, stalking and/or sexual assault. There is an overview of Illinois law, including sections on restraining orders and how Illinois law defines stalking, aggravated stalking, and cyberstalking.

>A battered women's shelter in your area, even if you're not a domestic violence victim, will know a lot about hiding from people and about whether and how you can use the legal system to protect yourself, and I bet they'd be glad to answer questions.

Decathecting is right on here, and I bet you can find support groups this way as well. Another resource: Illinois Legal Aid. IANAROI (I am not a resident of Illinois), so I can't vouch for it, but it looks like a good place to start, and I'm sure someone on staff at a battered women's shelter would be willing to tell you whether it's a good resource or not. I wish you peace as you try to make your way through these trying times.
posted by virago at 5:26 PM on November 26, 2011

Hello, OP here. I really appreciate the answers so far.

I realize my intention probably got lost in the long explanation but what it basically boils down to is this: He terrifies me, but for reasons that are hard to articulate- I feel on paper that it doesn't look as bad as how I'm experiencing it to be. Hopefully therapy will help that. A restraining order is something I've never wanted to do, because of my fear that is will just cause the situation to escalate and get more complicated. but this most recent time when he contacted me and I freaked out, it was in front of my sister and she kind of got in my face about it ("you're making excuses for him, don't just ignore him, call the police, get a restraining order, do this and that." etc.) Personally, I don't think fear of escalation is "making an excuse for him"- it's something I genuinely believe would happen and therefore it's a road I'm not dying to go down. but her insistence did make me question whether my perspective on this whole thing is good or not. On the other hand, she's never been in a situation like this (which she openly acknowledged) so while her intentions may be good I don't necessarily trust that HER perspective on this particular situation is that great either. So basically I was hoping for some other options somewhere between "do nothing" and "order of protection" especially from people who have been there. So suggestions such as just filing a report without pressing charges (that's what it would be, right?) are definitely helpful. I want to protect myself in case things escalate in the future, but the less he knows about it now, the better. Can I file reports of harassment without him finding out about it? Is that what this would be considered? I guess I never considered it stalking because, except for the one time he rang my buzzer at our previously-shared apartment, I've never actually seen him. He has never shown up at my school- the only reason I think he would now is for lack of any other way to contact me. I just don't know if he's invested enough in contacting me to actually do that. (Obviously, I'm hoping not.)
posted by Argyle_Sock_Puppet at 5:39 PM on November 26, 2011

Please call a women's shelter or domestic violence advocate to discuss your options. If you are downstate, memail me and I can recommend one.

Also search out resources on campus for both security issues and relationship violence.

I hesitate to make a judgment because I'm not an expert in DV, but I think your instincts may be right that you want a paper trail but perhaps not to engage with him with a restraining order. Stop intermittently reinforcing him and call for expert advice.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:15 PM on November 26, 2011

Two years ago, I got a restraining order against an ex who was doing what yours is. It's not necessarily stalking (although it might be) but it is DEFINITELY harassment. I did have to face him in court, and if I'd known about that ahead of time, I probably would not have gone after it. That was one of the single worst days of my life, but I got through it and he was told to leave me alone.

Prior to getting the restraining order, I had filed a complaint with the police, who did absolutely nothing about the report. It didn't really even matter in terms of a record, because the volumes of text, emails, and voicemail messages from him that started "I know you don't want to hear from me, but..." served that purpose plenty well. I'd skip that step entirely and go straight for the restraining order if I had to do it over again, and I wouldn't have waited nearly two years to do it.

At any rate, aside from the terror of facing my ex in court, a restraining order worked very well to wake him up to the fact that what he was doing was Not Okay and that I wasn't the only person who thought that. I was very afraid that it would result in escalation, which luckily it didn't. I was able to keep my address secret when filing, because I wasn't sure if he knew it, and I was able to give addresses for work or school and he was told to stay away from at those places. He was also forbidden from contacting my family and friends about me, as he'd started trying to get to me through them when I wasn't responding. My order specifically mentioned electronic communications as well, so he couldn't email me and pretend he didn't know that was out of bounds.

You've done a lot already to remove his ability to contact you. Moving and changing your number are great steps. As others have said, take steps to protect yourself online - make social networking sites super private, change usernames on other sites, change all your passwords, especially to email and banking information. Do not ever respond to anything else he sends you. You could stop there and wait it out, or you could take the additional step of filing for the order now. It is generally easier to get an order when you have a recent, demonstrable pattern of unwanted contact, instead of trying in six months when he approaches you at your school but otherwise has been out of your life. It will take a long time to get over the feeling of dread when the phone rings, but it will go away.

Read The Gift of Fear and take a women's self-defense class. Be safe.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:15 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

When/if you contact the police, do not put your faith and safety in the hands of _campus_ police. I once had a restraining order magically disappear when admissions let my freak show transfer in to the school he was banned from setting foot on. I found this out when his test papers started showing up in my 300+ lecture class return pile. When I complained to administration for help, that's when the order was dropped --there the day I protested his presence, gone 2 days later. Maybe that's not typical, but that's not what I've heard. Educational institutions are intensely PR driven machines.
posted by Ys at 6:23 PM on November 26, 2011

Gavin De Becker is pretty dubious about restraining orders -- he once called them "homework assignments police give to women to prove they're really committed to getting away from their pursuers" and said they "clearly serve police and prosecutors but do not always serve victims."

From Wikipedia: "Experts disagree on whether restraining orders are effective in preventing further harassment. A 2010 analysis published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law reviewed 15 U.S. studies of restraining order effectiveness, and concluded that restraining orders "can serve a useful role in threat management." However, a 2002 analysis of 32 U.S. studies found that restraining orders are violated an average of 40 per cent of the time and are perceived as being "followed by worse events" almost 21 per cent of the time, and concluded that "evidence of [restraining orders'] relative efficacy is lacking," and that they may pose some degree of risk. A large America-wide telephone survey conducted in 1998 found that, of stalking victims who obtained a restraining order, more than 68 per cent reported it being violated by their stalker. Threat management experts are often suspicious of restraining orders, believing they may escalate or enrage stalkers."

Certainly, you should not get a restraining order to placate your sister. She isn't the one at risk: you are. I've known a couple of women who've been seriously stalked, and their loved ones often had (I thought) way too much blind faith in the police and judicial system. There's nothing magic about a restraining order.

Good luck to you -- and yes, please do read The Gift of Fear -- it'll help you.
posted by Susan PG at 7:05 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

ahem. i was (am) an object of an order of protection in the state of illinois. it was taken out against me by my ex wife, and it had the bonus of including my (then 5 year old) son. let me tell you it sucks. due to a snafu in the court system my order never officially expired (despite the fact that the son now lives with me) and, as jaydar above indicated, has caused me problems in other areas. i have been denied employment and routinely searched when reentering the us as a result.

had i known of these problems when it was first brought up i would have fought it pretty hard. but it was pretty hard to do so because it all seemed so reasonable at the time. i didn't have any plans on contacting my ex or harassing her or anything of the sort. i probably would have been able to do so except my parents, of all people, opted to attempt a peacekeeping phone call. bad idea, as it was used against me despite the fact it was done without my knowledge.

after all that, i'm going to tell you that if this guy is really doing the things you describe then you need an order of protection. the police will not do anything without it unless there is actual violence. so unless you're ready to show them some blood or bruises you're outta luck.

when you get the order, you'll have to provide info on how to serve him. then he'll show up in court and you'll have to detail the harassment that you've experienced. bring the phone records as he's likely to deny them. witnesses would help a lot, too. the court papers will not reveal your address.

mostly, though, it'll boil down to this: the judge is going to tell him to stop contacting you and ask him if he can do that. most of all, though, the judge is going to ask this person to stop contacting you and harassing you. if this guy can't have a good reason for contacting you--ie owning property together or having kids together--then the burden is really going to to be on him, not you. if he's really on the up-and-up he'll have no problem following the terms of the order of protection--which was the argument used on me.

if you get the order and he violates it, and you can prove it (those cell phone messages would be very powerful in this regard) then he's going to pay via fines and jail time. police take it pretty seriously once you've made a formal complaint, which is what the order of protection kind of is.

my ex attempted, after the order was in place, to invoke it and have me arrested for violating it. she was unable to do so due to lack of proof. keep your evidence handy.

lastly: if you don't get the order this guy is going to continue to bother you. you do not deserve that in your live no matter who you are.
posted by lester at 8:22 PM on November 26, 2011

I looked into this when I left my psychotic abusive ex in cali... but without any record of physical abuse (domestic violence calls/reports or anything), I would have had to go before a judge in a hearing... with him present... to state my case. Also, I would have to keep my current address and place of employment updated so that he could know *where* to stay away from.

I ended up taking greyhound to the other side of the country, cutting contact with any friends who spoke to him regularly or I wasn't sure I could trust to not talk about me with him, blocked him from all of my emails and social networking sites, etc.

You can always go into your local PD and explain the basics of the situation and relationship, and ask how you would go about protecting yourself... or whether they feel that a restraining order would be a good idea for you.
posted by myShanon at 8:25 PM on November 26, 2011

After reading your update, just wanted to pop back in...

My husband is not a practicing attorney in the US where we live, but he has his law degree. We have an EXCELLENT attorney. I waffled on the restraining order for 3 years, as previously mentioned. I worked as an investigative journalist years ago, so I already knew to keep documentation all along, etc. It would have been SO easy for me to go to court - I had support, documentation, and the money to do it.

Unlike you, I live with someone, so that helped a little. But. My continual terror about unexpectedly running into this person around town really really fucked up my day-to-day life. I feel for you right now. And I understand that you are in a similar position to me... nice texts or emails or vm's then followed by angry ones when you don't respond. Yet so far, he hasn't tracked you down in person since you moved. Ditto for me.

Like you, during the first 2 years of my marriage, I ignored ignored, and then would respond to a communication as you did. Not responding at all and cutting off all contact took SO MUCH LONGER to work because I had a longer history of "intermittent reinforcement." I know stopping that worked absolutely because, like I said, I still retained my cell phone, even though he thinks I likely changed the number. The last time he tried phoning me directly was just after the birth of my son back in April.

Most importantly, since I cut off all communication lines, I don't feel him thinking about me now that time has passed. I'm not trying to get woowoo here, bit honestly, every time he would pop up on the radar, I'd feel it was going to happen hours or days before. Confirmation bias could be at work, but I just don't feel the same. MY GOAL WAS TO GET HIM TO MOVE ON TO EASIER TARGETS, AND I CAN TELL THIS IS EXACTLY THE CASE.

Here is the other BIG THING I did. Just before I implemented the 3rd party software on my iPhone to convince this guy I had changed my number + changed my regular outgoing voicemail to the robovoice that just states the number + stopped answering ALL incoming calls that didn't display a number I recognized on caller ID (which impacted my business for a year, but so worth it now...) I gave myself absolute permission that if shit escalated even a little, I would get that restraining order. Full stop. I gave myself FULL PERMISSION to take whatever steps were necessary. I shifted my attitude entirely. I think the change in my attitude saved the day.


I was involved with my ex quite for a few years longer than you were involved with yours, mostly as friends during a lot of that time, but for the same reason: I WAS AFRAID OF HOW HE WOULD BEHAVE AFTER WE SEPARATED COMPLETELY.

Somehow, he had convinced me I would always be a part of his life. When I gave myself permission to cut the cord entirely and take necessary steps if need be (see above) everything changed. Not overnight, but compared to the years of torment, fairly quickly.


I don't know your guy. With mine it was mostly psychological games. I was still afraid in a very physical sense, but I knew he was entirely enjoying having someone (anyone) to psychologically torment because that was just who he IS. He was (is?) very unstable towards the end of our relationship, so he could have escalated at any point, and I was flippin' terrified of that. I guess technically he still could. But I know/feel the possibility of that threat fades more exponentially every day that he's totally blocked from me goes by. I am no longer an easy opportunity for a thrill or release/target of his anger. It's really that simple.


Since you are in the thick of this right now here is my advice...


Pay $200 or whatever for a consult with an attorney. Get all of your documentation together. Be ready to pull the trigger. If one more thing happens - YES.

Similarly, take good "safety steps" and make them a regular habit. Adopt "street smarts," if you will. I grew up in NYC, so I'm already pretty alert about being aware on the street, avoiding parking my car in dark areas, that kind of thing. This is just smart to do, anyway. Also, on Amazon or at your local hardware store, pick up these door and window alarms for about $20. Install and use them.

I can't stress to you how important it is to hide your online identity. I don't have a facebook page for a reason. Although in a year or two I'll finally join the party with safeguards in place under my married name. And I'm looking forward to that, let me tell ya!


My gut tells me you will be fine. But take every step necessary. And them some.

I know why your sister reacted as she did. She's not wrong. But you have steps to take in the interim that will likely tip the scales in your favor.

I won't lie to you. This will change how you interact online and in person for the rest of your life. Might not be a bad thing, to be a bit more cognizant of your privacy than most people need to be. It's a long-term benefit, in my eyes. I still make a lot of money and have a great life without a lot of online drama. I'm grounded and wiser, I think ahead when I make decisions. I choose a GREAT husband, because I had the benefit of knowing the other outcome. I am absolutely empowered to protect myself (and provide wise advice to others on same) now that this issue showed up in my life.

Make this a blip you adjust to appropriately. Not a narrative that takes over your existence.
posted by jbenben at 8:38 PM on November 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

"chose a great husband" - oops.

You get the idea:)
posted by jbenben at 8:44 PM on November 26, 2011

I got a restraining order on an ex in the state of WA in the 2000's, and it did the trick. The harassment was similar to yours (verbal, no visits to the hospital, no bruises), and I want to point out when a RO can be successful: when the harasser has respect for authority figures (police, the court system).

He & his family were so worried about the impact of the restraining order on his future that they hired a pricey lawyer to represent him at the hearing. I think this is the type of situation where restraining orders are most successful: when the harasser has a future to consider, when his family/friends can talk some sense into him. In my opinion, that's when a RO works: to give a harasser a wake-up call, that it's no longer a spat between the two of you, but now it's the harasser versus the police.

(As an aside, I've never been a fan of the police, but one night the harasser kept calling me over and over again for hours, so I called the police. A male officer came to my place, and picked up the phone when the harasser called once again. He identified himself as a police officer and told the harasser, "It's over," in a gentle-yet-firm way. I have never felt so much gratitude toward the police.)

The next day I got a RO. A woman who worked the restraining order desk at my City Hall (technically, an Order of Protection) who helped me fill out the application also accompanied me at the hearing the next week. She literally stood by my side.

I also am a fan of _The Gift of Fear_ and am quite low profile on the internet. For example, I have more than one mefi account. I have no facebook account.

No need to live in fear; I completely understand your visceral reaction to the voice mails. Breathe through them: it's just a conditioned reflex, but it will dissipate over time as you replace the reflex with a new, calm reaction.

It sounds like you are doing all the right things, and I understand your confusion re your sister's interpretation. It's a confusing time for you, and I'm glad you reached out.

Please feel free to memail me, because I have gone through this, and your sister hasn't. You'll be ok!
posted by honey badger at 10:47 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

A, what about a few stop-gap efforts to make yourself feel more protected at school while you explore your legal options?

1. Tell the security officers on your campus what you're going through. Make copies of the harasser's photo and give them to the appropriate people (your dorm mother/RA; head of campus security; each of your professors, if you think it might help). This will hopefully give you a little peace of mind knowing extra eyes are looking out for you and prevent him from finding and bothering you if he DOES decide to make an impromptu visit and starts asking around.

2. Go to your local police station and ask to speak to someone about a stalking situation and have them walk you through the steps involved in filing both harassment and stalking charges in your state. Many times, depending on local law, these things are interrelated and can afford you varying degrees of protection depending on the activity; for example, if you can't get an RO because of the lack of domestic violence/abuse history, several documented instances of harassment might allow you to press telephone harassment charges against your ex. This could be enough to make him stop, or escalate and threaten you - which would give you ammo to go after the RO. Be sure to take documentation with you showing that you've asked the guy not to contact you again, then take your phone/printed copies of emails and calls (your cell phone bill could be helpful here) that occurred after that date.

3. Enlist a buddy to walk to you and from each class/your car/take you to and from the airport/accompany you on off-campus trips. Even if it's just for the rest of this school year and it's a PITA, having someone with you at all times might help you relax; if he does any kind of surveillance trying to catch you alone, following this pattern might dissuade him (trying to think of worst-case scenarios here - this is highly unlikely).

4. Disable check-ins on your smartphone/Facebook account; don't take and post photos online to your Twitter/FB/Google+ account; disable geotagging on your smartphone. Don't respond to public event invites on FB. Restrict all of your social media presence visibility and searchability to a select list of individuals; disable photo-tagging by friends; and I'd even suggest creating a "dummy" account with a different name and gradually migrating everything to that instead, leaving your old accounts live but inactive. On your new account(s), don't post a photo of your face as your default image ever, if possible (he could probably find you using Tineye if you do, I'm sorry to say).

And as others suggested, read The Gift of Fear.

DO NOT RESPOND TO HIM AGAIN, THOUGH. EVER. Instead, document, document, document!

People upthread are correct in saying that unless you experience violence at the hands of this person OR you have written, recorded or witnessed threats of harm against your person, you cannot get a protective order/restraining order. For this reason, DO NOT DELETE ANY FUTURE ATTEMPTS TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOU. If there's a tiny chance even one of these things includes a legitimate threat, it will ultimately be the only thing that might get a judge to grant you such an order - so please save them. I understand the physical reaction to them - I experienced the same thing. Can you have a trusted friend or family member read/listen to/print them out for you and put them in a separate envelope to be stored somewhere? It's important. The worst thing that could happen is you shred a bunch of trash sometime in the future.

My advice is to call the police every time he contacts you again and report it as harassment. Period. As a person who's been stalked in a very similar manner, I sympathize with what you're going through. Feel free to Memail me if you'd like to discuss this further; you're not alone - lots of us have gone through this, unfortunately.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:04 PM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks again, everyone. Lots of good information here, and I have a lot to think about. One thing I am wondering about, though, is whether there would be a record of him attempting to contact me when his number was blocked (which it was for, I think, 6 months or so out of the past year.) Since I seemed to be getting at least a few messages from him every time the block had expired, I can only imagine he was sending stuff the whole time. Would there be a record of these messages coming in, even if they weren't delivered? (I have Verizon, if that matters.)

I feel like I have to delete the texts because they are so upsetting to me. Out of the several he just sent me that precipitated all this, the exact phrasing of the horrible things he said now keeps running verbatim through my mind over and over like a loop, making me sick and edgy. I'll probably never be able to erase it from my mind, along with countless other horrible things he's said. For this reason, I know I shouldn't read them but I also seem to be unable to resist it unless I delete them as quickly as possible. Morbid curiosity I guess, but I always regret it when I do read them. So i delete before I have the chance to change my mind or even think about it. Anyway, I have an old crappy phone, not a smartphone, but I'm ready to upgrade- what phone can I get where I can get texts to be forwarded to an email address? And delete them without reading them or having to see any part of the text contained within? Even seeing the first few words (as many phone display) is usually enough to make it impossible for me to resist opening the whole thing. Or sometimes those first few words are disturbing enough that I wish I hadn't even seen them . . . I want a phone that will tell me "You have a text from EX" and me to be able to say "DELETE!" (or, forward to an email) without having to open it or be exposed to its innards. any ideas?

again, thanks to everyone. i'm so sorry that so many of you have also been through this. i probably will memail some of you in the future, and thanks to all who memailed me . . . this is really just the tip of the iceberg, i'm struggling a lot to move forward in all parts of my life, including dating and more personal stuff, so i'm glad to know i have some supportive people to talk to about this. mefites, as always, are wonderful.
posted by Argyle_Sock_Puppet at 7:34 PM on November 27, 2011

People upthread are correct in saying that unless you experience violence at the hands of this person OR you have written, recorded or witnessed threats of harm against your person, you cannot get a protective order/restraining order.

This is patently, demonstrably untrue, although it does vary from state to state. Harassment - unwanted contact with or without threats - is against the law in every state, and qualifies for a restraining order or order of protection. The level of difficulty in getting that order varies by jurisdiction, but harassment and annoyance are crimes and can be both restrained and prosecuted.

OP, do not feel like it's not bad enough for you to seek legal protection. It is bad enough, if you decide to go that route.

In terms of texts, can Verizon block a specific number from being able to text you? Or can you turn off texting altogether? Or change your number? Seriously, if the texts are that disturbing, you really SHOULD be saving them as evidence, without subjecting yourself to reading them. Have a trusted friend go with you to the Verizon store and find out what your options are.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:18 PM on November 27, 2011

>I want a phone that will tell me "You have a text from EX" and me to be able to say "DELETE!" (or, forward to an email) without having to open it or be exposed to its innards. any ideas?


1. I think peanut_mcgillicuty's suggestion -- "Have a trusted friend go with you to the Verizon store and find out what your options are" -- is a terrific one!

But if you're not able to get an answer to your question at the Verizon store, make this your next question on Mefi. There are lots of tech-savvy folk around here who would be glad to brainstorm this with you.

2. Illinois' stalking law has been revised. In Illinois, a person commits stalking when they
1) engage in a course of conduct against another person
2) which they know or should know will cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of a third party or cause a victim emotional distress.

Someone applying for a protection order no longer has to prove that they were threatened, just that they experienced fear and/or emotional distress, according to the state attorney general.

Also echoing peanut mcgillicuty here: Please find out whether you would be able to get a restraining order, based on what you have experienced with your ex. Talk to a women's shelter employee/lawyer/police officer.

You need as many people on your side as you can find. I hope everything works out for you.
posted by virago at 9:44 PM on November 27, 2011

Oops~ we lost our anonymous! Can the mods do something about that?
posted by Ys at 11:08 PM on November 27, 2011

Mod note: Argyle_Sock_Puppet is an account the OP made for responding while remaining anon
posted by taz (staff) at 11:11 PM on November 27, 2011

I just want to echo that you don't have to experience violence or threats to get a restraining order (if you want one, I'm not saying you have to get one). I got a restraining order against a harasser solely based on his repeated attempts to contact me after I told him I wanted no further contact. The judge granted the order without batting an eyelid. This, even after the police laughed at me (literally laughed in my face), refused to let me file a report, and told me I should be nicer to him. So consider lots of options, and don't give up if you don't get help the first place you try.
posted by medusa at 4:51 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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