What can I do to help my brother-in-law not be/stop being a stalker?
December 31, 2012 1:52 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to help my brother-in-law not be/stop being a stalker?

My mother-in-law got a call from her son's ex-girlfriend (S), telling her that her son (M) has been sending her ugly emails, and that she's getting ready to file a restraining order against him. This is alarming!

M is 38 and lives in a major US city (we are the closest family members, and live about 500 miles away). He dated S for a few years, but they haven't been a couple for the last few years. We (M's family) knew they remained in contact after they broke up, but were under the impression that it was friendly. I don't have details about the exact nature of the ugly emails, but I think they're along the lines of being unhappy that they're not together anymore, and anger with/blaming S. S did tell my mother-in-law one quote: "I hope you die".

We don't think he's violent, but I would certainly say that in the past we've observed that he has what we'd call "anger issues". Maybe he's depressed? We saw him over the holidays, and in that setting he seemed fine. He's employed now, enjoyed doing things with his nieces and nephews, he was pleasant to be around…overall he seemed to be in a good place. I guess that's why this news seems so alarming--has he so internalized this bad behavior towards S that it is "normal" for him?

S called my mother-in-law, I believe in the hopes that we could exert some influence over M to get him to cut this out. I searched AskMe, but all the questions I found seemed to be from the perspective of the person being harassed.

But, is there anything we, as family of the harasser, can do? I'm worried that if my husband calls and tells him that we know what he's been doing (which would involve saying that S called my mother-in-law), he'll be embarrassed, become defensive and more angry, maybe make things worse for S? Should a family member go visit him in person? If they did, what would the objective be? I mean, therapy seems like the obvious answer for him, but I think he doesn't think he has a problem. Is that something we can aim for--to help him understand that this isn't acceptable behavior? Any thoughts on how we can be convincing about that? Assuming we do let him know that we know, can you suggest any good resources (books, links, organizations) we can provide to him?

Thanks in advance for any ideas
posted by msbubbaclees to Human Relations (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Is S sure there has been no hijacking of M's account, that this nastiness is really from him?
S contacted M's mom. Perhaps mom is the one who should ask M what is up with him. Mom can say that S is contemplating legal action - ask M if the family can provide mental counseling for him in order to avoid the embarrassment to the family name. Or something.
M sounds like a 'street angel', a guy who is swell in public but cruel in private. Maybe the family should try to intervene in any case. In a major city, surely there is help for him.
posted by Cranberry at 2:03 PM on December 31, 2012

Before people dish out a ton of advice, I think it's worth checking: are you 100% sure that S is a reliable narrator?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:20 PM on December 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

From 500 miles away, there's realisticly nothing your husband (not you) can do except talk; and so what if BIL becomes "embarrassed, defensive and angry" by being told to back off his harassment and stalking? There's a point at which all of us have to take responsibility for our actions, and this may very well be that time for BIL..... If he won't accept that, then perhaps the ex-girlfriend SHOULD get that restraining order.
posted by easily confused at 2:20 PM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Consider that embarrassment, defensiveness and anger are also how a normal person might react to being falsely accused of stalking someone. Then just stay out of it, because you don't have any facts at all here, just one person's side of a very unfortunate story.
posted by Sternmeyer at 2:28 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Something stinks here. Why is S contacting your mother in law? Why not just go ahead and file the restraining order? I suspect she's a drama queen and wants to get the entire family involved in this drama. Personally I wouldn't do anything with this info except keep it on file in my head. IF there is really enough to get a non-temporary restraining order against M and if S is really serious, then she will file and that will be that. IF M is really stalking her as she says, family members trying to intervene is unlikely to help. IF he's not and her story isn't reliable, you risk alienating him if you confront him. I know I'd be upset if a family member took the word of someone else that I'd been behaving badly and then confronted me about it. Even if S has got irrefutable proof (and if so, why didn't she offer it??), I just don't think it's appropriate to involve you, and to me that says a lot about HER, not about M.
posted by parrot_person at 2:39 PM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

I tend to believe people as a general rule. I don't find her behaviour questionable and it's a bit sad that the first response here is to question a woman's motives who is worried about a stalker.

Your spouse needs to talk to him from a position of compassion and understanding. That many folk have been a few steps away from stalker-like behaviours when in very bad head spaces, but that they get help and don't write horrid emails.

Please believe her, and please support your brother in law. Reaching out to your mother in law is not a drama queen response. I bet she did it because she knew he had a compassionate family who would try to help.

Luck, possum.
posted by taff at 2:46 PM on December 31, 2012 [82 favorites]

I think this is something for M's mother to take up with him on her own. I don't see that it needs to be in person, if she lives 500 miles away. I mean, none of you are worried about S's immediate safety, right? It's just an angry email thing, right?

Something like "You know, S called me recently and said she was concerned about some upsetting emails she'd received from you. Is everything OK? Is there anything you need to talk about?"

Or maybe, if there is real fear that this is a criminal thing and not just bad breakup territory, rather than going with "Is everything OK?" she could lead it more into, "This worried me, because the police take stalking very seriously and I just wanted you to know that S seems to be willing to escalate this."

I think that you, the in-law Asker, and probably also your husband (who I'm assuming is M's brother?) should stay out of it for the time being. In general, I think it would be good for your husband to model loving, mature, non-abusive behavior for his brother, but I assume he probably already does this and that there isn't a family-wide motif of entitled misogyny. Especially considering you live so far away, I don't know that there's any kind of INTERVENTION for you two to hold or magic button you can press to make him stop being like he is.
posted by Sara C. at 2:50 PM on December 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'd be interested in confirmation about S's side of the story, but my inclination would be to believe her. Though it would be interesting to hear what she hopes to gain by contacting your family. I think there's a real unsavory dimension to responses here assuming that she's not telling the truth or a drama queen.

There's a case to be made for throwing things back to S and basically saying, "We don't think we can do anything to improve this situation for you." But if you are willing to give it a shot, this is what I'd do.

I'd suggest having a few members of the family talk to M in person and see about getting him to agree to have no further contact with S and to email her something civil to that effect. (This should be something M should be especially amenable to in the event that S is making things up.)

I wouldn't get roped into making consequences explicit if he gets defensive, just state what you know, which is that S may file a restraining order and that you have a chance to bring about the results of that which are most important to S (the no contact) without any real unpleasantness in terms of legal and/or professional consequences to M, and that this shouldn't be a problem if he's in a healthy place with respect to the breakup, and that if he does have a problem with it, it would be a good idea to talk to a professional. Then, let him make up his own mind.

Keep S in the loop about letting M know that you'd like to talk to him, when the conversation is scheduled, and what the results of it are.
posted by alphanerd at 3:01 PM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

But you don't really know what's happened here. You have a second-hand story from a third party. You can take this seriously without either ignoring it, falsely accusing him, or jumping to conclusions about the third party's veracity or motives.

If I were you I would sit M down and tell him what you were told and ask him whether there is any truth to it. He does have a right to know if things like this are being said about him. He of course always has the option of lying, but try to read his response with an open mind. If you are afraid he will lash out at you, make sure there are a couple of other people in the house.

Wait - I would say that, but M isn't someone you see a lot, is he? So, how does this affect your relationship? In what way specifically is this your business?

Is this information that you need or is it a piece of gossip?

I do have one dark thought that crossed my mind. You say he's doing well and is happy and in a good place. If someone were malicious enough, they might want to rock that boat by saying something like this.

Is there a way you can silently find out if one person has a restraining order against another? If you can monitor that, do so.
posted by tel3path at 3:03 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

well take out the issue altogether of who is right and who might be making up stuff. I would suggest to your MIL to call her son and say that she was contacted by his ex, and that she loves her son and is not accusing him of anything, but that she simply wants him to know what the ex had told her so that he can react appropriately.

See what his reaction is- maybe he'll admit to the behavior being true and being out of line, maybe he'll admit to it but think he's in the right, maybe he'll say she's lying. Then go from there. If he says she's lying, let them sort it out. If he admits to it, then consider other suggestions that others will flush out better like therapy, 'talking sense into him' or whatever.

Hope this ends well for all parties concerned.
posted by saraindc at 3:16 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

My best friend was horribly stalked for years by her ex. One of her last ditch efforts before involving the police was to go to his parents.

(I was there, he was actually stalking her, in case someone is worried she made it up as well).

He was maintaining a fiction that he was okay, that everything was okay, that he was friendly with her. While sending her death threats, suicide threats, turning up in the middle of the night and so on. Nothing was done until he actually acted, but she had hoped by involving his family that they might be able to convince him to stop. Or at least not enable him by letting him maintain a fiction where everything was okay, or that she was 'crazy' and needed his help, or helping him find her and so on.

The restraining order ended up not happening - it unfortunately would have given him the address of the house she had gone great lengths to hide in.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:19 PM on December 31, 2012 [23 favorites]

Can't S just forward the emails to the mother? Maybe in context they read differently. Either way it seems like M has a right to know what's going on.
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 3:26 PM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

If it were my brother, I'd reach out. I think Sara C's script is a good starting point.

I don't understand the upside of not getting involved. If M and S had an amicable breakup and she is now, years later, getting emails to the effect that he wants her to die, it sounds like something is up. I'd be concerned.
posted by bunderful at 3:27 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Contact M. Say "hey, I wanted to check in on you; I know we don't talk much, but when something important is going on, family takes care of family. So the family has heard a rumor that you've been harassing S, and they don't know if someone's stirring up trouble or if you're actually harassing her. Since I'm far outside the loop but am still family, and since I care about you, I figured I'd better get in touch. What's going on?"

Then, you know, have a conversation with him. Don't try to solve anything; don't try to get the final answer. Just listen, and after the conversation, think about what he said and see how you feel about it.
posted by davejay at 3:27 PM on December 31, 2012 [7 favorites]

The restraining order ended up not happening - it unfortunately would have given him the address of the house she had gone great lengths to hide in.

What state was this? FYI Normally you can request that your address be kept confidential by the court. You can choose a safe address for them to send paperwork to you, and even that can be filed separately from the restraining order itself. I'm in Washington state and I know it's that way here, and from Googling I couldn't find any state that doesn't have that provision. Some even have programs that provide safe addresses to use for paperwork.
posted by parrot_person at 3:47 PM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

msbubbaclees: "My mother-in-law got a call from her son's ex-girlfriend (S), telling her that her son (M) has been sending her ugly emails, and that she's getting ready to file a restraining order against him. This is alarming!"

Quick reality check: sending mean emails isn't grounds for a restraining order, even if you say "I hope you die." There needs to be more of a substantive threat there.

Personally, I would not get involved in this, and make as much clear to S and her family should they contact you. Does she not know how to delete emails, or perhaps set up a filter to send emails from him directly to the trash? If he's physically stalking her (e.g., showing up at her house or job), that's one thing, but I'm inclined to agree with the responders here that S is making more drama out of this than is needed.
posted by mkultra at 3:49 PM on December 31, 2012

My neighbor filed a restraining order on the basis of e-mails alone. Granted they were very gory and contained very explicit threats of inflicting really awful criminal things on her and her dogs and relatives but depending on the state it is at least possible to get restraining orders on the bases of e-mails alone. If he's sending threatening e-mails, those can be verified pretty easily by law enforcement. I don't think it's at all strange to be afraid by threats. The claims this woman is "Stiring up drama" are way out of line and part of why our society is such an abysmal failure at helping people who are being abused/bullied/assaulted get safe.
posted by xarnop at 4:00 PM on December 31, 2012 [15 favorites]

I'm really surprised by how many people think S is making this up. I have been in S's position and contacted my stalker's mother about the threats he was making before I went to the police. I hoped that someone besides me -- and who would be on "his side" of the breakup -- telling my ex that his behavior was unacceptable would wake him up. I wanted to start there because I knew he was having a rough time and wasn't generally a violent or horrible person, and maybe just needed a reality check. I didn't want to jump right to a restraining order, which seemed way more dramatic than a phone call to his mom. I didn't want to do anything to cause problems for him down the road, since he's in a job that does frequent criminal background checks. And despite my gut feeling that he wasn't violent, I was afraid that a restraining order might make him go really berserk and get violent.

I know she spoke with him about it but I ended up having to get the restraining order; hearing it from a judge was the only thing that got through to him.

If someone in your family does talk to M, I suggest that it be his mother, the one to whom S reached out. Sara C's script is a good one. She should bring up the point that she's on "his side" of the breakup and his behavior is still not okay. It may help him to hear that his behavior does not happen in a vacuum and that other people will hear about it. Ultimately, S may need to go through with the restraining order but even so, that's not the end of the world for him, especially if he abides by it. In the meantime, maybe your husband could reach out more generally, without letting on about any of this, just to establish more of a connection?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:01 PM on December 31, 2012 [31 favorites]

*I'm NOT suggesting dismissing the possibility the claims could be false or part of a drama because they could, but that should not be the goto response everyone has when someone simply states they were being harassed to someone they hope could help.

When my ex was mentally ill and threatening suicide and claiming he heard voices that told him to hurt people (and stalking me for years claiming he wanted to die because of how much he had abused and traumatized me), I wish his family had gotten involved. I don't see anything wrong with trying to get the family involved instead of going straight to law enforcement who would have zero power to help the person get into therapy or truly address any possible sources of the behavior. Unfortunately his family were part of the cause he was a mess and werent available to help.

Sometimes a person who is being stalked just genuinely wants the stalker to get help and get better and, you know, stop stalking and threatening. It can be terrifying when someone you didn't think was capable of that sort of things starts saying dangerous cryptic and bizarre things. She is probably worried that in leaving him she has "caused" this and hoping his family could provide him with the support he seems to be seeking from her even though they are broken up and that is not appropriate.

I personally thought the abusive and stalking behavior was due to legitimate mental illness/life trauma/etc and just plain wanted him to get some compassionate help which is much more easy to achieve through family for a poor/uninsured/or hesitant person than what law enforcement can force on them.
posted by xarnop at 4:14 PM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

[Folks, please stop the "she is/is not making it up" derail now, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:24 PM on December 31, 2012

Some further clarification:

S forwarded some of the emails to my mother-in-law, we believe her. My guess is S hopes that family can intervene and influence him for the better. We haven't known her to be a drama queen, while we have known M to have anger issues.

As to why our involvement, in the past when M has had issues (e.g., quitting jobs, problems with his landlord) it has been my husband (M's brother) who has had the best ability to engage M in productive conversation and get him to move past his problems. So, that's why my mother-in-law called us.

I like the compassionate approach suggested by Sara C. and others. We'll discuss that with my mother-in-law.

Thanks everyone, and any other thoughts definitely welcome.
posted by msbubbaclees at 4:44 PM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

I tend to believe people as a general rule. I don't find her behaviour questionable and it's a bit sad that the first response here is to question a woman's motives who is worried about a stalker.

Hey. I was not questioning anyone's motives nor was I making any assumptions. I was asking a question, which I was clear was checking, and it was a reasonable question given that msbubbaclees was reporting what was positioned as 3rd hand knowledge. Nobody clarified that the emails had actually been forwarded until the post before mine.

Given that clarification, I agree that Sara C's approach is the best one given the distance.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:32 PM on December 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

parrot_person: "What state was this? FYI Normally you can request that your address be kept confidential by the court. You can choose a safe address for them to send paperwork to you, and even that can be filed separately from the restraining order itself. I'm in Washington state and I know it's that way here, and from Googling I couldn't find any state that doesn't have that provision. Some even have programs that provide safe addresses to use for paperwork."

Australia, Victoria. For a restraining order to work, there has to be a place they are restrained from going - that was the crux point. We'd finally muddled her tracks enough that he didn't know where she lived (previously he had known general suburbs/areas and wandered through them searching for her car etc) but he was still active online/telephone. To make it so he wasn't allowed to approach her work/place of residence, she would have to divulge said work/place of residence. Which just wasn't worth it.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:41 PM on December 31, 2012

A sticky situation; I sure don't like that she contacted his family, and I'm not saying he didn't send emails or whatever. But he's a grownup, going to tell his mother -- unless there is some real close ties there, it just looks -- to me -- to have come out of left field.

I can't see anything good coming of it, not over the long term. It maybe will get him out of her hair but there's sure other things she can do to effect that change and likely do it better.

I have a friend who was and pretty much still is a stubborn man, dated a woman and she waved him goodbye but that wasn't good enough for him, he called her, badgered her "Hey look, I'm the right guy for you." blah blah blah. Knowing how single-minded he can be, I know it had to be a drag for her.

I of course knew nothing of all this

Until he came to my door one evening, with some papers in his hand, a puzzled look on his face. He'd just been served. It totally blew him out of the water, he just couldn't get his head around it. He literally asked me "Well, what do you think I should do?" and sorry but I laughed, told him there was any number of things he could do and/or maybe *should* do but one of them would NOT be to contact that woman, ever again.

Realization dawned slowly, but when it did it really got his attn, like an ice-cold bucket of water dumped on him. Maybe not every person would respond to this, but to my buddy, having a large, thick-necked, frowny, gaseous-looking mope with a gun to show up at his door pretty much to tell him to knock it off, well, it worked.
posted by dancestoblue at 6:14 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Consider getting the book "Why Does He Do That". It's really insightful about men who are abusive to partners/former partners. It talks about a lot of these issues including the fact that one of the only ways the author has seen men reform from this kind of behavior is when their community (including family) makes it clear that it is unacceptable and that they support and believe the victim.

Good luck. I'm sorry he put you in this position.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:03 PM on December 31, 2012 [14 favorites]

dancestoblue - if it were my brother, I would much rather contact him to see what's going on than have the police show up at his door. Sending anyone an email saying "I hope you die" is pretty horrible and warrants escalation. He's lucky she contacted his mother. If you send such an email, police knocking on your door should not be a surprise. This woman is being pretty considerate under the circumstances and I hope she doesn't regret it or have to escalate to getting a restraining order. She's showing him a tremendous courtesy by contacting his family and I hope they can get through to him before his behavior requires legal intervention.
posted by shoesietart at 8:28 PM on December 31, 2012 [16 favorites]

Also, the book that I mentioned, "Why Does He Do That", actually states that therapy is not necessarily helpful and can even be harmful because it often functions to reinforce and normalize abusive behavior. The therapist only hears one side of the story and then takes their client's side no matter what, "diagnoses" the woman in question with a mental disorder, helps him come up with excuses based on his life or childhood, and generally makes it easier for him to justify and minimize his unacceptable behavior (albeit inadvertently). That is the last thing he needs!
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:48 PM on December 31, 2012 [9 favorites]

Restraining orders can be a big fucking deal depending on your life situation. In the US, restraining orders are published to the National Crime Information Center registry, and information about a restraining order can come up during background checks; which may be uncovered by employers during future job searches. Worse, if he gets a very stringent order that prevents him from carrying firearms, and he has a job that requires him to carry, there goes his job.

All the he said/she said is not important. There is a much bigger issue that needs to be dealt with; that someone is considering taking out a restraining order that could negatively effect his life/employment.

The man needs to back off, not because he is right/wrong/good/bad, but because legal action may be taken against him that could have long lasting side effects. That is the angle I would approach him with: "regardless of who is right or wrong, this will have serious consequences. You need to stop talking to her before the law gets involved."
posted by Shouraku at 9:25 PM on December 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

That is not to say that he doesn't need therapy and help to get over whatever is causing him to act this way. Just that the immediate issues is that he needs to cut all contact with her, for both his and her sake.
posted by Shouraku at 10:59 PM on December 31, 2012

I think someone can supportively say that hey, you seem to be getting really obsessive over this, you need to cut this out - for your own good, just stop talking to her! Delete her contact information, block her on facebook, cold turkey cut it out.

I.e., stop contact just as strongly as you should if there WERE a restraining order... but I wouldn't say it that way. I'd point out that avoiding the situation, focusing on the good things in his life, etc. is better for him too.
posted by Lady Li at 11:14 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do want to add I think the youngrope rider is right in terms of therapy potentially being a tool that entrenches "forgiveness" and "acceptance" of dangerous behavior in some or many cases of abusive/angry people seeking treatment. I stated that at the time I was coping with a mentally ill stalker, I BELIEVED what he needed was compassionate care, but I was also a teenager with no education whatsoever in what he actually needed.

I think responding to frightening/harmful behavior by seeing it as a mental problem/cry for help is very common and actively taught in our culture as the cause of bad behavior and it's not abnormal for a victim of harmful behavior to see the perp as a human with problems rather than just a douche who needs a restraining order. (Even though the later that may be more useful and appropriate). For those of us with empathy in tact, it feels rotten to put a restraining order on someone knowing there are long term consequences that can't be undone.

You might see if there is a specialist in your area who deals with these kinds of issues (personality disorder, abusive behavior, anger issues etc) and do a few sessions with them just to gather reading materials and concepts about how to best respond to this. I'm NOT giving your BIL a label, but some of the techniques that help with personality disordered behavior might be useful for you in responding to him. It might help you feel more confidant in your response and increase the chances you're using a method of response that might have the most likelihood of generating the kind of response you're hoping for.
posted by xarnop at 10:13 AM on January 1, 2013

I don't know if the OP is still around. I have a stalker, I know his friends and family are fooled and would never guess. I felt SUPER stumped by this question, but I gave it a few days thought, and here is my best advice considering the elements of this particular situation.

My first thought was that you (your mother) should go ahead and contact the ex girlfriend and tell her to file the order. I'm afraid if you or your mom alerts your brother to the issue in the wrong way, he'll escalate/retaliate against the ex-girlfriend, and she'll have to file anyway. Prepare her for this outcome.


If you feel your brother will listen and can be at ALL reasonable...

- Tell the ex GF to stay at a friends and take precautions, as you are going to see your brother in person and talk to him. Then go see your brother in person.

- Talk to him in person about the fact that this issue has been brought to your attention, that there are consequences he doesn't need.

- If he shines you on and re-assures you without taking responsibility for his past behavior it is a red flag.


Your brother has anger issues. Once he finds out "everyone" knows what he has been up to, he may drop any sense of self-control. You don't want an unfortunate outcome. Tread carefully.

I hope everyone stays safe and it all works out well.
posted by jbenben at 12:06 AM on January 2, 2013 [10 favorites]

This last comment is probably the best advice out of the lot. I totally wish someone had done that with my ex-husband.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:03 AM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

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