Stalker, No Stalking!
January 4, 2013 2:36 AM   Subscribe

She isn't letting go. How worried should I be, and what should I do about it?

In March of 2011 I joined OKCupid, which has been great. Unfortunately, when I first started there I made some rookie mistakes (the worst of which being not paying close enough attention to a person's Enemy rating before messaging them). This resulted in me briefly dating a woman who I'll call "Sarah", whose behavior I eventually found troubling to the point of breaking off contact with her. Unfortunately, she seems unwilling to accept this, and I'm at a loss as to what I should do next, or even if doing anything is feasible or necessary.

Sarah and I dated (not exclusively) from the end of March to the end of May of 2011. By the end of that period I had decided that I was not interested in progressing to being her boyfriend, and I told her that I wanted to end dating her in order to pursue things elsewhere. She told me to get over myself and that she didn't have any feelings for me (which, if true, would have been a great relief to me), but asked if we could have a FWB arrangement in the meantime. I agreed, which I fully accept was a poor decision on my part.

The FWB arrangement lasted another month, at the end of which time I broke it off because I felt like she was getting too emotionally invested in a way that I knew I would never be able to reciprocate for her. She was upset, but wanted to remain friends (sans benefits). I felt bad about the whole situation, so (in part out of guilt for agreeing to her FWB proposal when I should have known better) I attempted to be a supportive but platonic friend to her. She made numerous attempts (some quite embarrassing) to get me to reconsider and resume our FWB arrangement, but I kept my boundaries firm and remained completely platonic with her.

In September of 2011 I left town for a week. When I returned home she asked if we could hang out, and something in the way that she asked made me suspicious, so I looked at her Twitter account (something that I had not done in the past, because I wasn't terribly interested in what people have to say on Twitter). I immediately noticed that she had been referring to me as her boyfriend for months (and as recently as that morning). This was in spite of numerous conversations that we'd had about how I was not and would never be her boyfriend, and how it was not ok for her to call me that (when drunk or on special occasions like her birthday, she would request that she be allowed to do so).

I decided that I had had enough of her constant attempts to ignore and erode my boundaries, and I sent her an email explaining why this was not ok and instructing her never to contact me again. She immediately sent me an email in reply, which I'd expected, but I didn't respond to it and I figured that was that. Over the next few weeks she sent a few more emails and made some phone attempts, but I never resumed contact with her. Foolishly, I assumed that she would give up and stop contacting me so long as she received no reply. That has proven not to be the case.

I don't feel as though I'm in any danger, but some of my friends have suggested that maybe I should start worrying and being proactive about putting an end to this. Here are the possible red flags in this situation:
  • Sarah's emails are coming with increasing frequency. At first they were coming once every few months. Then it was once a month. Last month she sent three, and just this evening she sent another one.
  • Sarah's emails are becoming increasingly accusatory/pleading. Her first emails after I ended contact were about how she wasn't interested in me and how this was all a big misunderstanding. Her more recent emails have been about how I "cruelly ripped [her] heart out" and how I "owe [her] another meeting".
  • Sarah's jealousy would manifest in really unsettling ways. After we stopped dating she would Facebook stalk the girls that I was seeing and make strangely racist comments about them, and she would occasionally react to seeing an attractive woman on the street by saying things like "I want to smash a bottle in her face" or "I want to hit her with my car". Her tone of voice did not sound like she was joking.
  • During our time hanging out, Sarah would sometimes brag that she had enlisted the help of her friends in stalking guys that she'd been interested in in the past. They would do things for her like wait outside of a guy's house, and then call her to tell her when he left, and follow him around so they could report to her what he was doing.
It has now been almost a year and a half since I broke all contact with Sarah (far longer than the period that we were actually together). I have blocked her on all social media, and changed my privacy settings to prevent her easy access to my profiles. I would block her emails without reading them as well, but I am somewhat concerned that I might someday have to take them to the police, so I'm placing them in a special email folder rather than blocking them or deleting them.

This matter is not causing me extreme mental anguish, but at the same time I want to take whatever precautions I can to be safe. Ideally, I would like for her to leave me alone. I'm not the sort of person who worries much, and that has sometimes caused me to dismiss things that later turned out to be dangerous, so I was hoping to get the hivemind's opinion about how concerned I should be about all this. Also, what are my options for putting an end to it? She hasn't become threatening yet, but she is persisting in contacting me after I've instructed her not to do so. What are my legal options here (I'm in Los Angeles, if this matters)? What does MetaFilter think I should do with this?
posted by Parasite Unseen to Human Relations (33 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
IANYL but here are my ideas:

My first question is: are you certain you have been assertive enough with her? If I'm reading your question correctly, you've only once asked her to leave you alone completely? Normally this should be enough, but Sarah's extreme behaviour and determination to contact you anyway makes me wonder if she has really got the message? I think you need to tell her to go away very bluntly several times. Maybe using several different methods, and explaining that you will take legal action if she doesn't leave you alone, will get your point across better? Then you can really be certain you have done all you can to make it abundantly clear to her.

If that doesn't work then I would talk to the police about getting a restraining order out on her so she can't contact you or come near you.

Perhaps you could also suggest she seeks some help for her mental health? Are there any family or friends who can help her understand why she needs to move on? What does she mean when she says you owe her a meeting? Are there any unresolved issues between you two (beyond a typical breakup) that might explain why she is so aggrieved?

Good luck and I hope it all works out!
posted by EatMyHat at 3:24 AM on January 4, 2013

A couple things:

1) Good for you for saving her emails in case you need them later. Keep doing that.

2) Good for you for refusing to engage with her. Keep doing that.

3) She may be dangerous, or she may just be her own audience*. Take precautions, and don't be afraid to file a complaint with the police if you start to feel uncomfortable. You don't have to press charges; I'm not sure that you could anyway as she isn't threatening you, but it does create a paper trail that could serve you well later if this gets out of hand.

*I have an ex who has been emailing/texting me for four years. I haven’t responded in all that time, and did take precautions to make sure that he wouldn't be able to find out where I live (set my legal address to my father's house, etc.). Eventually, I realized that he doesn't expect me to respond, he just wants to feel heard in a world where he has no one to listen. Sort of like that friend everyone has who stream-of-consciously vents and wants everyone to sit silently and listen to their catharsis. They need an audience for their insecurities and outbursts, even when they're really just talking to themselves. They aren't dangerous, per say, just an annoyance with exponential growth potential.
posted by Shouraku at 3:35 AM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think you need to tell her to go away very bluntly several times. Maybe using several different methods

No no no. That is the most important and most universally applicable rule for stalking situations. Do. Not. Contact.

If she wanted to engage in a reasonable social interaction she would've stopped e-mailing long ago, when it was apparent that a reasonable social interaction wasn't possible as the other party wasn't interested in engaging with her. She wants attention, not necessarily positive; OP has been doing exactly the right thing by offering no response at all.

That it is only e-mails and that the e-mails are not at all frequent (even with recent escalation) would leave me inclined to think it will die out eventually without much bother. I would be on somewhat high alert for weird or red flags, but otherwise go about my life.

"Sarah would sometimes brag that she had enlisted the help of her friends in stalking guys that she'd been interested in in the past. They would do things for her like wait outside of a guy's house, and then call her to tell her when he left, and follow him around so they could report to her what he was doing" sounds like something she made up; waiting outside of somebody's house etc would be a very boring, and embarrassing, thing to do. Cold or hot, uncomfortable, possibly dangerous, tedious; who would sign up for that, over and over, unpaid? Particularly next to the "I want to smash her with my car," it sounds like she's an asshole who thrives on drama, but also like somebody whose dangerousness generally exists only in fantasy.
posted by kmennie at 3:37 AM on January 4, 2013 [38 favorites]

I think you need to tell her to go away very bluntly several times.

I strongly disagree with this. Any contact from you now will tell her that if she just keeps trying, you will respond to her eventually. You are doing great with the no contact OP, keep it up. Continue to ignore her and get on with your life. If it escalates any further, call the police.
posted by futureisunwritten at 3:43 AM on January 4, 2013 [9 favorites]

kmennie makes a great point - really would any friends of hers take stakeout duty on guys she's interested in? if she was 12 and it was the school cafeteria, yeah probably, but in this situation? I think she's lying. So maybe that might give you some comfort to just think she's a bit deluded?

again - do not contact her to tell her no. you told her no contact a year and half ago. she doesnt need any more telling. in fact by ignoring her for the last year and a half you really have told her no over and over again. like giving in to a toddler temper tantrum or whatever, if you ever relent it will give her the reaction she wants. She wants contact so dont do it even if it is just to say you dont want contact.

continue keeping emails etc. but generally ignore. my thoughts for escalation to laywer/police would be perhaps if you were in a new relationship and had serious concerns she actually knew that/was contacting the new girl etc.

other than that - is there any particular reason why you're thinking/posting this now? i know you said you just had another email from her. Was the tone/content different and causing you to worry or is it just that you're fed up of it? you have every right to be fed up but its the tone/content of this latest message that is probably your best guide as to whether you need to do something more about it.
posted by moreteaplease at 4:25 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I feel like if the genders were reversed here, some of the answers this far would be different. I would say to keep doing what you've been doing, and monitor the emails for threats against you. If one comes up, contact police with this timely timeline, and all the emails she's sent (and any other contact attempts). Keep vigilant, with no contact.
posted by kellyblah at 5:06 AM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

I do think you should be worried, but it's sort of unclear what you can do. Let me share a story. I know a girl who became obsessed/stalkerish with a guy like this. The end result was a public, anonymous but very vicious accusation of him being a sexual predator, the details of which I won't bother with. Presumably from the girl. She (presumably she) also broke into his house and car and destroyed some of his property. He did damage control on the social piece, but it could easily have ruined his career or made him lose his job. There are definitely things a person can do to harm you if she takes it upon herself. Oh and his current girlfriend got a bunch of anonymous "information" the he was a sociopath and about his sexual history. (The same stalker girl was begging the guy to date her and decided he was a sociopath only after he turned her down.)

Don't contact her at all, and don't respond if she contacts you. The increasing frequency is sort of worrisome, but if you contact her it could get worse.

You might want to get a police report on record (does anyone know the legalities of this?) just in case she publicly shames you at work somehow, and you need to follow up with your boss and make the case that you have a stalker. Or maybe talk to an employment lawyer just in case?

There are some jobs where vicious accusations can be a fire-first, ask-questions-later kind of deal. For instance I know someone (10 years ago, I don't know all that many people with stalkers) who was fired from his job working with undergrads after a rape accusation from one of the students. I knew the guy at the time, and it would honestly have blown my mind if he raped her. It seemed to be a case of they dated and he lost interest, but she didn't. He probably shouldn't have dated an undergrad, but he was less than 5 years older. Anyway they made him leave his job within 2 weeks based on the accusation alone. It was a residential position when he worked with undergrads.

Keep holding onto those emails from her just in case!
posted by kellybird at 5:13 AM on January 4, 2013

Oh man, please don't do what EatMyHat says; this will only invite further contact. She could also use more contact in an attempt to entangle you further. (For example, you seem like someone who might feel obligated to act if she made a suicide threat.)

The increasing frequency after all this time is worrying. Something happened; maybe she was recently rejected by someone else? I wouldn't be suprised if other ex-lovers of hers were getting this treatment too; don't respond and make yourself the most appealing target.

Report her to the police. Don't wait until something worse happens, you want a paper trail. You might think that's silly, but it costs you nothing and you'll be glad you did if this escalates. (Which, given it's been a year and a half, indicates this is not the temporary anguish of a jilted lover, but some real imbalance.)

moreteaplease: other than that - is there any particular reason why you're thinking/posting this now?

Read the post again; there is increasing frequency to the contact.

really would any friends of hers take stakeout duty on guys she's interested in? if she was 12 and it was the school cafeteria, yeah probably, but in this situation? I think she's lying. So maybe that might give you some comfort to just think she's a bit deluded?

What makes you think she doesn't have deluded friends? I have seen this before; a strong-willed, manipulative person can get a little cadre of folllowers who do things they otherwise would not.
posted by spaltavian at 5:55 AM on January 4, 2013 [10 favorites]

No. Contact. It is the only way to keep her from feeling emboldened about that if she pesters you long enough, she will "win" and get what she's looking for out of you.

Talk to the police, turn over the emails. They may say they can't do anything, but get it on record.

If it were a few weeks, I'd say just maintain no contact and let it settle itself. But we're going on over a year. Her focus on you is not normal.
posted by skittlekicks at 6:09 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you need to tell her to go away very bluntly several times.

I disagree with this too. You want to be non existent.

I had thoughts similar to kmennie - She's a drama queen.
posted by mattoxic at 6:12 AM on January 4, 2013

Hopefully, this could be the extinction burst of her contacting you. Though late in coming.
posted by vegartanipla at 6:23 AM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

"Sarah's emails are coming with increasing frequency. At first they were coming once every few months. Then it was once a month. Last month she sent three, and just this evening she sent another one. Sarah's emails are becoming increasingly accusatory/pleading."

If Sarah were a toddler or a dog, this would be called an "extinction burst." It is very common that when trying to get a pet or child to stop a troubling behavior by refusing to reinforce it with attention, the frequency of that behavior will actually INCREASE as the pet or child repeats it more and more often trying to get the attention back. When the extinction burst fails, the behavior decreases. Responding to an increase in frequency and intensity will simply reinforce to Sarah that she CAN get your attention this way if only she escalates enough. Ignoring it will, in most cases, cause it to taper off.

It's scary because you've been doing all the right things by not responding and yet the crazy is STILL increasing, but that is a completely normal part of the process. Listen to your intuition and stay wary, but hopefully this is just an extinction burst and if you continue to ignore her, the behavior will start to die off.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:28 AM on January 4, 2013 [28 favorites]

Do not contact, do not suggest she needs mental healthcare, do not respond to her emails.

I believe you can call your cell carrier and have her number blocked.

Are any of your friends aware of the situation? A friend of mine had a problem with an ex stalking her and he eventually started trying to contact her friends and family via facebook--if this happens, make sure people know not to respond to her.

While my first thought is that it is unlikely that she would enlist her friends in helping her stalk someone--she also was telling people she was in a relationship with you when she wasn't. I would think there is a possibility she does have friends who she could manipulate into following her "boyfriend" around after she tells them all about she suspects he is cheating on her, or something like that.
posted by inertia at 6:35 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

She could stalk you by passing by the police station on her way, and the police can't still can't do anything until she makes a clear and specific threat against your life or property.

The police should not be confused for personal security. Personal security is your responsibility.

90+ % of all such issues you face can be a resolved through complete and total disengagement. Gender plays a role in how you respond and what's driving her. All communication to her must cease. Initially, this will provoke her - but sustained disengagement will force her to walk away, because you've cut off the fuel. This is where people in your position often fall apart - they get sucked into responding "one last time."

Now, if she crosses the line and makes a direct and specific threat of violence against you, you can file a police report. Keep in mind the harsh reality, this report does practically nothing to protect you.

If you want true personal protection, you will have to make changes to your living style, proactively. MeMail if you need further.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:41 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

You should really go get a copy of The Gift of Fear and read it. Today. The author deals extensively with the best way to respond to stalkers and other unhinged people, and (as I recall) has a lot of helpful information about how to gauge how dangerous someone is likely to be.

There's a reason it's recommended all the time on AskMe; it's a terrifically valuable book (albeit one with an offputting title) for anybody to read, but especially for people in your situation, dealing with someone acting erratically. A lot of your anxiety right now is probably happening because you haven't ever faced someone acting like this and you have no good way to tell how much danger you're in; Gavin de Becker's book is really great for calming that sort of anxiety by explaining what is motivating her and what the true red flags are, so you can feel more in control.

Good luck, this is a shitty situation.
posted by iminurmefi at 6:49 AM on January 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

I was also going to recommend The Gift of Fear and following the advice.

Continue to maintain no contact.

I would seriously look into filing a police report or look into a restraining order simply to lay down legal precedent for her being a crazy person. The restraining order may be a long shot since the harassment is mainly online and involves no threats of physical violence against you. Unfortunately there is enough difficulty getting violent crazy stalkers to stop sending repeated violent emails to their victims, much less nonviolent crazy stalkers pleading repeatedly to be taken back and Facebook-stalking people. The book has more advice along these lines.

I am guessing there isn't much you can do at this point to make her stop. You can lay down the groundwork necessary to protect yourself if she escalates.

Oh--block her on Facebook, if you haven't already. This will prevent her from seeing your relationship updates, even if you have mutual friends. If you start dating a girl seriously on Facebook, recommend to her that she blocks Sarah as well.
posted by schroedinger at 7:19 AM on January 4, 2013

I have had (and may still have) a person stalking me. At one point this person found my name and email address on a website for a youth sports league in which I was coaching and emailed the list with all sorts of outlandish accusations against me. The only saying grace was that the accusations were so absurd and the email such a rambling mess that I chose to let it stand on its own and not respond to him or the group. One other coach called me to alert me to the email and I gave him a two minute synopsis and told him he was free to repeat it.

After that incident I did proactively talk to my boss and to the heads of a volunteer organization with which I did a lot of volunteering about the situation. I was factual (he used to report to me, we had to let him go, a year later he had a documented psychotic break for which he was hospitalized, he has not worked since, and he has now started making postings about me on a blog and through emails) and told them that if they receive such an email or read anything to please alert me and to feel free to ask me for my response or side of the story. I mentioned I had gotten legal advice, which I had, that the best course of action was to ignore him as well as to alert local police to the situation in case there was ever a 911 call from me. I was concerned for my kids that were young at the time. I lived in a small enough town that the police were very understanding after I gave them a 30 page printout of all his stuff. I was assigned a local detective to call if I ever want help or whatnot.

So, I would ignore her emails. If you are at all concerned with escalation and your public reputation, I would pro-actively have a 5 minuted conversation with your boss, and I would also alert the local police if you live in a small enough town. (If you tell your local precinct in NYC or SF or LA, you will get a thank you for reporting this type response that will be a waste until you get legal with a restraining order.)

My two attorneys suggested that a restraining order might provoke him to escalate and since he was contacting outsiders, might just force him to leave me off the emails which would leave me in the dark as to his actions. Unfortunately, it is a judgement call as to whether you think this person would ever go violent or escalate the harassment.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:41 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am sorry that you're being stalked. I think you have been given some good advice in this thread, particularly those comments echoing your gut sense for the past year and a half. You have been doing things right. Sometimes it's helpful to hear that. And while I'm not a fan of unsolicited book recommendations in general and I sometimes feel it's tiring to see The Gift of Fear trumpeted in every stalking-related thread, the truth is that it's an interesting, relevant, and useful book, and probably a good suggestion.

She could stalk you by passing by the police station on her way, and the police can't still can't do anything until she makes a clear and specific threat against your life or property.

I am not your lawyer, OP, and I am not licensed in California. In jurisdictions where I am licensed, the above is not true. If you need legal information or advice you should speak to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction. Generally speaking you should ignore legal advice you receive in Internet forums, because it is often wrong.

For what it's worth, it is sometimes also necessary to advise stalking victims that you should not take legal advice from the police, either. In my experience this is a topic (stalking, harassment, etc.) where people often report, "Officer Jones told me X," and X is just plain wrong.
posted by cribcage at 7:54 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Print out the emails and take them to the police already. I went to the police after a year of similar nonsense. Haven't heard a peep since.

If you do hear a subsequent peep, you've already started to lay your groundwork with the police, so a restraining order would be next. If that doesn't work, then throw her to the mercy of the courts for contempt violations.

Expect to be taken less seriously than a woman would be taken, but forge ahead. Peace of mind is worth it.
posted by mibo at 8:17 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

3 or 4 in the last month is an increased frequency but it could be an isolated case of increased frequency or related to holiday loneliness or something similar (Though obv I hope the recent contact is an extinction burst) . I was unclear when I asked about anything else 'other than that' - I meant in reference to the earlier comment about causing conern for a new relationship. You mention seeing some girls whilst still friends with Sarah and her facebook stalking them but not anything more in terms of affected relationships over the entire period or current relationship status. I wondered if there had been serious relationship developments that she could have got wind of or potentionally inferred regardless of it being true (e.g., i dont know OKC but could being blocked by someone look different to them than to searching for someone and establishing that their profile had been completely deleted, implying to her you're now getting married or similar?). That is the kind of thing one might imagine could stir her up and she did before get shitty about other women. I dont expect an answer to this btw, i'm just proposing it as a line of thought.

What makes you think she doesn't have deluded friends? I have seen this before; a strong-willed, manipulative person can get a little cadre of folllowers who do things they otherwise would not.

In the post OP doesnt mention over a period of a year and half anyone else emailing, lurking outside, following, committing acts of reckless vandalism etc which i think wouldnt go unnoticed given the situation. I guess also, and i am not trying to suggest the current situation isnt worrying, but i only ever hear about cadres of followers when i see big culty type stuff on the news. I'm not saying it hasnt ever happened but i dont think it will be likely (or calming to OP to think its likely) that a bunch of people are silently and invisibly stalking him over an extended period to please/avenge one woman.
posted by moreteaplease at 8:22 AM on January 4, 2013

I dated a woman like this for a while, and I agree with the people who say don't contact her at all, not even to tell her not to contact you. A person like this thrives on being able to get a reaction, any kind of reaction, out of you. A negative one works just as well as a positive one, and sometimes is actually more desirable because our negative reactions, while usually less frequently expressed, are usually frequently more vehemently expressed, and a person like this wants to feel important more than they want to feel loved.

So don't contact her at all, and if she continues or increases the intensity of her attempts to contact, then go to the police and get a restraining order.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:27 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

You told her to leave you alone a year and a half ago. Not only is she continuing to contact you, the unwanted contact is escalating. At some point you might want a restraining order. I'm not licensed to practice law in California but it looks like you would qualify for a domestic violence restraining order based on the fact that you used to date this person and she is stalking you now.
posted by steinwald at 8:29 AM on January 4, 2013

Hello there Parasite Unseen, I'm a cop in a medium/large Canadian city. This is a good issue to take to your local police. She is basically harassing you but it sounds like at this point you're not interested in seeing her get in trouble and want the behaviour to stop.

Everyone who says you need to disengage is, in my experience, absolutely correct.

If a police officer were to become involved the most likely course of action (again, Canadian standards so YMMV) would be to create a record of the complaint and get in touch with the other party, once, to tell her not to contact you ever again. This creates a formal record of the police passing on the "do not contact" request. At that time it would also be explained to her that now that such a request is on the record any further contact could be treated as criminal harassment and result in some serious trouble.

I do around one/two of these a month and in 99% of cases we never have to do anything else because no one thinks you're just playing hard to get when you call the cops.

The other nice thing about this is from a risk assessment point of view. . . if she continues to contact you after YOU ask her to stop it's hard to know what that means. If she continues to contact you after a COP asks her to stop then you need to step up your personal security and consider doing the annoying things, changing phone numbers, changing email addresses, moving (last resort).
posted by BlueSock at 8:32 AM on January 4, 2013 [19 favorites]

Presumably if you keep ignoring her, which is definitely what you should do, she'll at some point move on to some other guy and forget about you. In the meantime, be somewhat cautious (look around if you walk out your door at night, check around your car before getting in, etc.).
posted by Dansaman at 8:36 AM on January 4, 2013

I'm so sorry for you.

I had a similar situation happen to me once, and it's scary!

You're doing the right thing by keeping the emails. If I were you, I'd also print them as well as electronically save them and just put the printouts in a folder in your home office. This way, if you need to grab them in a hurry for whatever reason, you will have them. Keep telephone logs of any messages she leaves you (both on your cell phone and work phone if she's at that point).

DO. NOT. CONTACT. - this means even ANY contact - no go aways, no emails back, nothing. zip. nada. But it sounds like you're doing that already too.

Document, document, document everything.

Right now it's just electronic and seems relatively harmless, but be open to the idea that this may escalate into physical manifestations of "LOOK AT ME". For me, it was when the Creepy Dude would leave flowers and other pathetic shit on my doorstep. I took pictures of the items, time and date stamped it and discarded what I could. I also removed the sticker with my name on it from my outside mailbox.

To be proactive, you might want to consider bringing these emails, etc. to the police station and explaining that you are being harassed and requesting that they give her a warning call as a request for her to stop contacting you (or if there's anything else they can do to help). Police can be very helpful in these situations. If it continues, look into getting a restraining order. This may sound extreme, but where her frequency is increasing and is prompting you to post this post on here, then it would be the best for your safety.
posted by floweredfish at 9:22 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you know if she has a criminal record? I'd go to the police and ask them how worried you should be. She certainly sounds mentally unstable, and they have likely received complaints. If she has a record of violence, then you need to get very serious about protecting yourself. If she has no record, that's not necessarily an all-clear signal, but it would be good to know. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 10:03 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

A police report won't really get you anything, but you can file for a restraining order--the police will tell you the same thing. It's not hard in LA County, but the sheriffs are fairly easy to avoid, and thus, you'll have to pay a process server to get her properly served and you have to show up in court to make the official request. If she does get served, she is supposed to show up and thus, you will see her there. I personally don't think you're in any danger. Block her phone number (or change yours) get a post office box, and when you save her emails--save the headers showing her ISP, or else it's easy for her to claim that you made the emails yourself.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:46 AM on January 4, 2013

I don't know if you qualify for a restraining order with what you have, but if you were to file a police report or reports, even if they blow you off, reports you file will serve as evidence of your consistent behavior and feelings over time. If you are accused of leading her on, for example, reporting her to the cops would be good evidence that you weren't doing any such thing.

A police report is a timestamp that says "I'm feeling threatened by the undesired attentions of this person at this time. 3 such reports over 6 months, or more, or whatever, would perhaps move a judge in the way any kind of he said/she said would not.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:11 PM on January 4, 2013

I'm thinking about your current girlfriend(s), because a girlfriend of an ex began stalking me once because she was jealous of his past. When she stood outside my daughter's preschool, I called the police. They laughed at me at first, because, like, it's a woman... But they did visit her, which had the great effect of ending the drama instantly, and there was a report. Like BlueSock said, if someone continues after that, you have real trouble, but then there is something to do about it.
posted by mumimor at 12:45 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sarah's emails are coming with increasing frequency. At first they were coming once every few months. Then it was once a month. Last month she sent three, and just this evening she sent another one.

This might be something called an extinction burst:
While extinction, when implemented consistently over time, results in the eventual decrease of the undesired behavior, in the short-term the subject might exhibit what is called an extinction burst [...] This usually consists of a sudden and temporary increase in the response's frequency, followed by the eventual decline and extinction of the behavior targeted for elimination. Novel behavior, or emotional responses or aggressive behavior, may also occur.[1]

Or she could be decompensating, stressed, lonely...unfortunately, it's hard to know. I'm sorry for that.

Either way, you should keep doing what you're doing. The absolute worst thing to do would be to reward this behavior with contact. Some people like this will see a restraining order as contact (!) or as so humiliating/upsetting that their desire to punish will simply become worse, which makes them much more dangerous. You also have the problem of a restraining order not being enforced, which just makes them feel invincible and reinforces the idea that their behavior is okay or benign (this might be a bigger risk when the perpetrator is a woman). Sometimes your addresses end up becoming known to them as part of the process of the restraining order. There are other risks as well.

Then again, some people will see a restraining order as a wake-up call that their behavior is sincerely out of line and stop. However, with the risks that might be involved in getting a restraining order, I personally would be somewhat reluctant to seek one based solely on unwanted and disturbing emails that, from what I can tell, aren't blatantly threatening.

The jurisdiction matters a great deal, some courts and police are better about restraining orders than others. Might be worth talking to a domestic violence experienced attorney about the likelihood of the restraining order being granted and taken seriously by the police.

The Gift of Fear talks about this quite a bit and is a good, quick read. It seems like from what you're doing that you're already following the protocol he laid out in that book.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:16 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also I should note that I'm not an expert in any way on this, but it's what I've gleaned second hand from a few friends who have had stalkers and/or domestic violence situations.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:17 PM on January 4, 2013

When I reached this point with the person harrassing me, I was seconds away from phoning my attorney, finding out options, and taking action. I am also in Los Angeles.

For me, it turned out to be an "extinction burst," so patience was all that was required. It had been going on for almost four years though, so I understand how the shear length of time is unnerving.

I think you should take action in your particular situation.

Talk to a lawyer, think about getting that or a conversation with the police on record. You need some kind of official documentation should this person try to ruin your career, slander you publicly, etc. You need to know your rights (even in LA, I believe you can file a restraining order regarding harrassment by phone or email - IANAL! - but it will help you immeasurably to know where the line on criminal behavior is.)

Also. I disagree with Ideefixe that Sheriffs would be easy for her to dodge since she will not be expecting to get served court documents in the first place (should you go that route.) Heck, I bet opening her door and seeing an officer in a uniform would terrify her, and back her off, just by itself.

If you spend a couple of hundred on an office consult you might feel HEAPS better about all of this. Anyway, phone consults are free and you may get enough info and reassurance just making a few phone calls trying to identify a lawyer you would hire should the situation turn dire.

So, that's my advice. I think you should make a bunch of phone calls, talk about the particular risks you are facing, and find out all of your options.

You can't control this crazy person, but you can regain some control by doing your due dilligence and getting concrete information about your rights and options under the law.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 1:35 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

kmennie makes a great point - really would any friends of hers take stakeout duty on guys she's interested in? if she was 12 and it was the school cafeteria, yeah probably, but in this situation? I think she's lying. So maybe that might give you some comfort to just think she's a bit deluded?

Please, I encourage you not to assume she is making this up. It's possible, but it's also possible that she does in fact have friends willing to do stake-outs. Some types of friends tend to engage in extreme-loyalty behavior, and the fact that it would involve "hours in the cold" would not affect them. Lots of people do stakeouts all the time - cops, private investigators, etc. If she's paying them in loyalty, that's still a currency that is considered by some to have value. It is not impossible that this is happening.

Take it as seriously as if she'd said, "I'm a member of a gang, and the other members of the gang sometimes help me stake out apartments so we can rob them."
posted by corb at 3:13 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

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