What do I do about my stalker?
December 30, 2006 6:15 PM   Subscribe

I have a stalker. This young woman is 26 and we were friends at work, and became friends outside of work. I don't know what to do next... will the police help me? There is no threat of physical harm... just the mental stress from her not leaving me alone.

She became overly clingy a couple of years ago and when I told her I wanted some space, she started calling me daily and e-mailing me several times a day. Even though I asked her to leave me alone, she kept on, and it grew and grew until I couldn't take it anymore and finally had to threaten to call the police. Then her husband e-mailed me, and said what the hell was wrong with me that I would threaten to put his wife in jail, and couldn't we just work it out and be friends. I explained to him in e-mail that I needed some space. Finally, it let up. I banned her from my web forum (that I own), and she re-registered with her husband's e-mail address and a new username. I finally banned her by IP. This was spring 2005.

In spring 2006, a year later, I moved my forums from Ikonboard over to phpBB, and didn't transfer the ban list. Shortly thereafter she registered with yet another username and I never noticed until I was informed about a week ago. She was dumb enough to e-mail a moderator to ask about a technical issue, who remembered her e-mail address from before. My moderator contacted me, and I banned the person by e-mail and IP. She e-mailed my moderator to ask why, and the mod told her that I said she wasn't welcome there. She replied to ask if she'd done something wrong.

I am really tired of her still wanting to hang around when I so clearly do not want to be her friend, so I just e-mailed her and laid it down, saying there is no chance of us ever being friends again, and that if I ever catch her on the boards again (these are boards I own on a domain I own and I pay for the hosting) or if she ever contacts me again, or sends me another Mary Kay catalog, I'm calling the police.

One problem is shortly before the whole spring 2005 mess, she moved away from my town. I now only have her maiden and married name, her husband's name, their kids' names, an e-mail address, and an IP. (I do know roughly what city she moved to - either the city itself or a nearby suburb.) Will the police get their address from the IP if I report her? Will the police even talk to her for me? My mom contends that since my boards are technically public, she may not be committing a crime by visiting them, even though I've made it clear that she's not welcome there and banned her several times. I also don't necessarily have the previous e-mails from 2005; my hard drive was dying and I got a new one. I can pop the old drive back in and see what Google Desktop (which was already installed on the old hard drive) can find, but no guarantees.

I feel sick about this whole thing, I hate being mean but this girl is just too dense... she just will not leave me alone. Will the police help me?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you explained very clearly that "need some space" means that she should leave you alone? She may have misinterpreted what you said. "Need some space" can mean many things, "Leave me alone and do not contact me or attempt to hang out with me" is very clear.

After you've taken that step, yes, the police will help you. You will need documentation of the problem.
posted by SpecialK at 6:18 PM on December 30, 2006

If she's moved to another town, doesn't that resolve most of the problem?
posted by fenriq at 6:27 PM on December 30, 2006

I know one thing: the police will not help you. I had a case far worse that include direct death threats (details I will not go into for fear of attracting the person again). This person stalked us for years; ignoring them was bad because they freaked out, talking to them was bad because they clung. Only time and some other obsession on their part took them off the trail.
posted by Osmanthus at 6:30 PM on December 30, 2006

I don't see what the big deal is, or why anyone would want to keep them off of a web forum because they were "clingy" in real life. Without knowing how many people there are on your message board, it's hard to say, but her just visiting your website public website isn't really "Stalking" you.

Police have budgets, and I'm not really sure they would care too much about this if they're not at least calling you to harass you.
posted by delmoi at 6:34 PM on December 30, 2006

The threat of harm is usually an element of the legal definition of stalking; i.e., without a threat of harm, there is no stalking.

If you go to the police and say, "There's someone visiting my web forum whom I have banned before, but she re-registered under another account name," they will very likely look at you like you're crazy. I'm not trying to be flippant, but this is not a problem they will get involved in. They're busy responding to domestic violence calls, drunk drivers, shootings, burglaries, etc., and somebody who thinks their web forum has been trespassed upon will get laughed out of the police station.

My mom contends that since my boards are technically public, she may not be committing a crime by visiting them, even though I've made it clear that she's not welcome there and banned her several times.

Your mom has good sense.
posted by jayder at 6:34 PM on December 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

The stress you are having is mostly self-inflicted. If she's out of town and doesn't show up at your front door or peeping in your windows or bothering you in person, what are you so concerned about? If she's bugging you on the phone constantly, screen your calls, change your number or get a voice over IP line where you can block any number. Emails can be ignored or filtered, so I don't quite understand the problem there, either.
posted by MegoSteve at 6:37 PM on December 30, 2006

I think your mother may be right -- your forums aren't "technically" public, they *are* public, and so there is no stalking here any more than if she obsessively read editorials you wrote in a newspaper.
posted by modernnomad at 6:38 PM on December 30, 2006

Figure out what her username is, and make her posts invisible to you. Move on.
posted by phrontist at 6:38 PM on December 30, 2006

Ignore the person? Forget the ban, forget the "call the cops", forget talking to her husband. Every time you do any of that, you are maintaining contact with her. This is what she wants.

And yes, what others have said about the "e-stalking" not likely to be taken seriously by the cops.
posted by kellyblah at 6:43 PM on December 30, 2006

I wish there were anonymous replies to anonymous questions, because I would love to hear what specific things this former friend did to drive you so crazy that you can't bear to be on the internet with her. Without knowing those details, the poster of this question comes off as much, much crazier than the person that's "stalking" him or her.

Honestly, as someone that used to be that obsessive over message boards five or six years ago, I can understand your overreaction with sneaking around bans. I eventually took the crazed reactions I was having and flamewars I was involved in as a cue that I really needed to stop being so emotionally invested, because it was starting to take over my real life. Take your overreaction as a sign that maybe you should step back and take a break once in a while.
posted by MegoSteve at 6:47 PM on December 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

I don't understand the problem, either. It sounds like she hasn't bothered you in a direct or traditional sense in over a year. So she registered under another name at your forum? You were not harmed by this and would not have noticed without doing some snooping about her yourself.
posted by flarbuse at 6:47 PM on December 30, 2006

Yea, it sounds like MegoSteve is onto something- hand over your web forum to your moderator and take a break for awhile. Ignore any e-mails from this woman, and see what happens. Go out and breathe the fresh air. I think it will do you some good.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:58 PM on December 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Smart person MegoSteve. I am not being stalked but I can use your suggestion to stop being so emotionally invested in something.
posted by JayRwv at 7:12 PM on December 30, 2006

If it took you all these months to realize she's still active on your website, she must not have been really bothering you that much.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:25 PM on December 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

update from the OP:

Perhaps I have overreacted. I think that it's because I remember the stress of spring 2005 and I really, really don't want to go through all that again - thinking about it is stressing me out. I suppose I will try to ignore her. I just don't get why she wants to be around me when I've made it so clear that I want nothing to do with her. She seems like someone with borderline personality to me, desperately begging to be friends.

thirteenkiller - I didn't know because she didn't really post. She had a total of 5 posts, all of them basically one-liners. flarbuse - I didn't snoop - my moderator brought it to my attention.

Those of you who don't understand... I guess you just can't know until you've had someone hounding you, calling you and e-mailing you constantly. As I mentioned, I guess it's remembering the stress of the past situation that's stressing me out the most. Thanks for the perspective.
posted by jessamyn at 7:55 PM on December 30, 2006

I recently went through a situation similar to yours...someone was harrassing me via email and text message. I told her in no uncertain terms never to contact me again, but she didn't listen. She was clearly becoming unhinged and mentally unstable. I carefully documented everything she wrote to me...saved all the emails, wrote out all the texts, everything. I finally had enough one day and took my case to the cops. Not only did they say there was nothing I could do without an overt threat, but because I was living in one city and she was living in another, it wasn't clear who would handle the case if something did happen. So the fact that your friend has moved probably is a bad thing in terms of getting outside help.

You're absolutely right that people can't understand how unnerving something like that can be if they haven't experienced it and how long-lasting the effects can be. Even I didn't understand until I went through it. But the posters are also right in that there's nothing the cops can do. As much as it SUCKS that you're the one who will have to go through the effort of letting go and moving on, it's really the best thing.

Good luck.
posted by christinetheslp at 8:39 PM on December 30, 2006

I'm surprised that no one has yet recommended The Gift of Fear, as it always seems to come up in threads about stalking and unwanted attention. It's a fantastic resource, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

The worst thing you can do is continue to give this person attention: positive, negative, or neutral. She wants contact with you, and any response from you, including banning by your mod or a visit by the police (and I agree that the police probably wouldn't agree to get involved), constitutes contact. Ignoring her completely (which includes not responding in any way if she participates on your forum) is overwhelmingly likely to result in her getting bored and going away eventually. It will probably be incredibly difficult for you in the short term, but it's the best way to get rid of her in the long term.
posted by decathecting at 8:48 PM on December 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Here's a book I highly recommend which talks about stalkers, both dangerous and not: The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker.

Here is one of his main themes (with the example being a woman pursued by a man): "One rule that applies to all types of unwanted pursuit: Do not negotiate. Once a woman has made the decision that she doesn't want a relationship with a particular man, it needs to be said one time, explicitly. Almost any contact after that rejection will be seen as negotiation.
. . .
If you tell someone ten times that you don't want to talk to him, you are talking to him - nine times more than you wanted to. When a woman gets thirty messages from a pursuer and doesn't call him back, but then finally gives in and returns his calls, no matter what she says, he learns that the cost of reaching her is leaving thirty messages."
posted by jeri at 8:51 PM on December 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Well, they always say that in cases like this it is very important to document every incident. Keep a log with the dates and all pertinent info. That way, if you have to go to the police they will take it more seriously.
posted by mintchip at 9:55 PM on December 30, 2006

she just will not leave me alone

She hasn't had any contact with you personally for two years, right? I'd say she got the message about leaving you alone, and just enjoys reading your message board, which I presume is about some topic other than you. At worst, she's still obsessed with you but has learnt how to control it so as not to bother you.

If she starts bugging you again, go to the police. Otherwise, at this point, it's just you harassing her.
posted by cillit bang at 10:31 PM on December 30, 2006

It's not really clear from your post when physical stalking became e-stalking--although both are bad, they are two different things. Ok, I'm sounding like Ric Romero, sorry...
posted by mecran01 at 11:18 PM on December 30, 2006

I now only have her maiden and married name, her husband's name, their kids' names, an e-mail address, and an IP. (I do know roughly what city she moved to - either the city itself or a nearby suburb.) Will the police get their address from the IP if I report her?

Now who's stalking who?
posted by sour cream at 1:56 AM on December 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

I can certainly understand the apprehension, anonymous. Personally, I have had a stalkerish situation with a guy who would not leave me alone even though I told him to. Like you, this person never did anything that the police would be concerned about; emails and creepy gifts from Amazon didn't count as harassment. And I don't think evading a forum ban counts, either. The stalker has to threaten you in email, make personal contact via phone or in person, or send something harassing in via post. However, I agree with mintchip to document what she's doing right now just in case it escalates.

It took two things to get my stalker to leave me alone. One was to outweird him. The e-stalker told my husband he wanted to sleep with me, and my husband replied, "Sure, if I get to sleep with YOU first." That cooled his jets a bit, but I admit, it's a gamble to try and outweird a kook.

He finally stopped completely once he found a lady to marry. Honestly, that's the only thing that worked. Osmanthus' comments were right on the mark with this, unfortunately. I'd say that your e-stalker is probably already starting to move on and distance will finish the job eventually.
posted by smashingstars at 2:00 AM on December 31, 2006

it's your telecommunications interface - seize control of it.
back when i practiced law, i had to answer my phone. not now. i only transfer the phone line from my computer to my phone when i want to call out. there's maybe sixty seconds in a year when someone can make my phone ring, only happened twice in five years, both ok.
whitelist your emails - set it up so that if you haven't affirmatively approved the originating address, it ends up in the junkbox.
most web forums have a feature where you can invisibleize annoying posters; when you do this, they're like the tree falling in the forest when nobody's around. that's about all you can do; usernames and ip addresses can be banned, but not users themselves.
posted by bruce at 2:19 AM on December 31, 2006

Decathecting has the best answer IMO. I haven't read the book he/she refers to, but the advice is spot on.

Some of the posts appear to be blaming you, the victim, which is unfortunate. While you are not to blame for being stalked, you do have some control.

Control in a situation like this is doing what Decathecting said to do. Cut off contact. Do not respond no matter what she says or does.

Responding in any form, positive or negative, to a stalker is like playing a slot machine. It provides them with a variable ratio reinforcement schedule where they never know when they'll get reinforced but they know if they keep on and on, eventually they'll hit the jackpot. They will keep initiating contact (pulling the slot machine lever) over and over again until they get a response from you (jackpot) again.

I hope the stalker gets some help for herself eventually - it must be a painful way to live.
posted by forensicphd at 7:15 AM on December 31, 2006

Another update from the OP:

I just wanted to make it clear that YES, we did know each other in person, so I did know things about her like her last name, her kids' names, etc, without having to "stalk" her ( sour cream ). I also knew her before she got married, so again, it's not like I had to look this information up.

I had told her I didn't want to talk to her shortly before she moved, and when that happened, she made things up, like frantically e-mailing me, saying she had a friend who was threatening suicide, what should she do. I made the mistake of responding... although I simply said "call the police." I learned not to respond to things like that.

Thank you again, everyone, for the advice.
posted by jessamyn at 8:56 AM on December 31, 2006

Anonymous, I feel very sympathetic for your plight. Be thankful that this woman is only stalking you via the internet and it sounds like she has a family and some other real world commitments that keep her somewhat grounded in reality.

My own experience involved a clingy work associate who quit her job and traveled hundreds of miles to "find me" after I moved away. The police got involved only because her parents had reported her missing. After a few weeks on the road searching for me (going to my previous employers, searching my college campus, etc) she was in a fender bender - when the cops showed up they realized she was deranged and the background check revealed the missing person's report. She made it back home to her parents and is hopefully heavily medicated today... That was a few years ago and I've moved several times sense then, but I'm always conscious that if she ever goes of her meds again then it could start all over.

It's hard to express the fear that these people inspire in their victims. I was lucky - this whole episode only lasted a few weeks. To think that there are people out there who live with this hanging over their heads for many years is just unfathomable.

I haven't read through all the posts up thread, so I'm sorry if any of the following advice is repetitive but it's based on my own experience and research I've done on the subject.

- You must break all contact with this person. That means never, ever, ever acknowledging them in any way shape or form. Your emails, your message board posts, even the banning all furthers this woman's sick fantasy.

Your email where you "laid it down, saying there is no chance of us ever being friends again" is the WORST POSSIBLE thing you could have done. That single email will prolong her obsession with you.

One of the sickest things about stalkers is that no matter what you tell them, not matter how blunt, or direct, or reasonable you sound they will always hear something that is affirmative to their desires. In their minds they will twist your words and create far fetched reasons for what you say. So if you say, "I hate you, go away and leave me alone!" They will some how craft a reality where someone was perhaps forcing you to say those things...

- You may have to drastically change your lifestyle in order to break contact with this woman. That may mean hanging up the web forum for good. It sounds like this woman is very crafty when it comes to cyber-stalking so you may have to completely kill your online persona... shut down your websites, change your email and chat ids...

In my own experience my stalker was obsessed with my personal blog - she would comment on every post, and ultimately she used details there to track me from state to state. I had to shut the site down and can all of my email accounts, etc.

- Make sure that everyone around you knows that you're being stalked. Stalkers will try to get at you through your friends, family, even coworkers. Your acquaintances can be your first line of defense and also won't inadvertently share any private information with the stalker...

- You have to remember that this person is living in their own fantasy world. They are mentally ill. They need powerful medications and therapy.

On the upside what you describe sounds reasonably mild. Stalking you through internet forums is perhaps less invasive than phone calls at all hours, weird notes left on your car, or showing up at your house with the intent of shooting you and then turning the gun on themselves so that you can both exist happily in heaven together for all eternity. (These things happen.)

Obviously the police aren't equipped to deal with this sort of thing - unless she has made specific threats that could be used to get a restraining order. (Of course by the act of getting a restraining order you're acknowledging her existence and thereby increasing or prolonging her fascination with you... so it's a catch 22.)

I suppose if you have to shut your website down and can demonstrate some sort of financial or emotional damage you could sue her and her husband for damages and perhaps have the court order her to undergo treatment... but that's an incredible long shot.

I would hope that her husband or family would have noticed this stalking behavior and forced her to get help, but it doesn't sound like that is happening which is very sad both for you and this sick woman.

The good news is that stalkers can and do loose interest - especially if their behavior ceases to elicit responses from their victims... so, if you don't respond to her, figure out a way to keep her out of your forum or shut down your website all together then in a few months or so she may move on to something or someone else.

I wish I had better advice... but pay very close attention to her actions - if they start to escalate or become violent then seek help from the police, friends, and family.
posted by wfrgms at 9:23 AM on December 31, 2006

I think you're on your own with regard to keeping her out of your forums (that's not threatening or invasive in a way the police care about).

However, if she were to pose a physical threat to you or some such, and you could get a restraining order, then it might be possible to extend that to the forums as well. That's not likely to happen, from what you're saying.

All that said, it sounds like the threat of police action has some impact on her and her husband. Could be a useful bluff. And perhaps a letter from a lawyer would help as well? Lawyers will do pretty much anything as long as you pay them.
posted by scarabic at 10:21 AM on December 31, 2006

Lots of other good advice above. Your moderator is to be praised for noticing that she turned up again, and I think you should ask your moderator to monitor foro her and only let you know if she attempts contact. Your best response to her is absolutely no response. If she continues to contact you in any way, consider a Restraining Order, which is only useful in that it makes it clear that you want to be left alone.

You also need to get her out of your head. Read up on Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Wear a rubber band on your wrist, when you start thinking about her, snap it. If you must, prepare other subjects to think about to distract yourself. When you think of her, have a standard phrase, like "what a nutjob; glad she's outta here" then consciously relax yourself and move on.
posted by theora55 at 12:56 PM on January 1, 2007

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