Sunday, 25 November 2012

Being stalked

Thankfully I've never knowingly been stalked. Yet. It remains a possibility. All women face it.

I've had something to say on this topic before - see my post Men who are fixated on 30 October 2011, which covered the Joanna Yeates/Vincent Tabak case in Bristol, and the chilling short story The Octopus Nest by Sophie Hannah.

I think I understand the situation well enough. Many (perhaps most) stalkers are clearly well-known to their victims: a jealous ex-husband, say, who keeps tabs on his former wife. That's bad enough, but at least the man's identity and address are known, and to some extent his actions can be anticipated and made subject to police intervention. The maverick unknown stranger is the one who creates the nightmare scenario.

Some man will fixate on a woman, and follow her to see what she does, and where she lives. Who she knows. Who's living with her. When she will be alone. If he is intelligent, the stalker will find out exactly what this woman's routine is, so that he can get on with his own life but still catch up with his victim whenever he wishes, turning up in the background at odd, disconnected times. He might be able to do this again and again for a long time, until one day the victim notices him, and then her terror will start to grow.

The feeling that one has been singled out, specially selected, and closely studied by an obsessed and presumably dangerous stranger is much more frightening than merely attracting some one-off casual attention. The very fact that she might be mistaken - because the stalker is not always there - is horribly unsettling. An alternation between feelings of fright and relief. The unpredictability of his appearances is part of the stalker's technique to reduce his victim to a state of utter distress. It isn't a demonstration of love, like Romeo turning up unexpectedly and serenading Juliet up there on the balcony. It's hate, the wish to play with the victim in a cat and mouse way, and then ultimately destroy her.

The foregoing reads like a film plot, but then whether real-life stalking follows this pattern or not, it is the pattern we all expect. These are the signs that we would recognise a stalker by, and how we'd discover what it is to be the victim. 

There was a period, not so long ago, when I feared I might be stalked by someone from my pre-transition past. Someone who wanted to vent their impassioned anger on me, who might become obsessed with making my life hell. And I imagined the phone messages and letters that might go with this. And maybe waking up to find that paint had been daubed over my car or caravan. All to punish my perceived selfishness and 'teach me a lesson'. It didn't happen, but throughout 2009 I was nervous that it might.

And now, in a different life, I am as vulnerable as any woman. Maybe more so. There is something subtly 'different' about the faces of most trans women. I think men notice it, and some of them will be fascinated by it in a way that will push them into stalking. And of course the outcome for the trans woman, if and when the man shows himself to her, might be fatal.

So I think I'm justified in regarding myself as high-risk where stalkers are concerned, just as any trans woman is. And that far from being a preposterous waste of money, my use of Fiona to go everywhere, so that I can't be found waiting at a bus stop, can't be found waiting on a railway platform, and can't be followed on foot down dark streets on my way home at night, makes complete sense to me. Never mind the fuel cost and the expense of parking. It's the price of security. I can be tailed only to my car. It locks as soon as I'm aboard. My personal travel capsule. If anyone wants to follow me home, they must be prepared to do it at 80 miles per hour, because I drive fast to get well ahead of the pack, and I'd have no hesitation in calling the Police if I had the least suspicion that I was being chased.

But I can't be locked in my car or my house all the time. And although my personal radar is sharper than it ever has been in my life, I may at this very moment be subject to some man's surveillance.  It could be a near neighbour, or just someone elsewhere in the village. Who knows.

Well, life is full of risks, and I refuse to worry unless I have clear evidence that I should. The new law on stalking, introduced today, will punish stalkers once detected and caught. But I'm not convinced that it will deter any. Since when did people with obsessions heed the law?

2 comments:

  1. Such as those who do 80mph on our roads! LOL. I hear what you are saying and you are wise to be aware, as is any woman with an ounce of sense. There are indeed some perverts about. Although I haven't been stalked, least I'm not aware of it, I was once followed by a guy. It happened about six years ago as I remember. I had been suffering from a trapped nerve in my neck, not a nice experience and I had decided to go for a walk but found I needed to sit down or rest after I'd gone but a half-mile. I was close to home and there happened to be a bench located at a nearby road junction. It was a bright sunny day so I was wearing sun glasses which I suppose hid my face somewhat. That meant it would have been difficult for anyone to suspect that I was a trans-person. Not that I looked like one but as you say one never knows what gives us away although another six years on I don't think that is likely to happen any longer. I digress. Anyway this guy appeared at the junction and was giving me the once over. He began to walk on by slowly, taking sly glances every few seconds. It is great wearing sun glasses because nobody can tell from a distance if you are watching them. I most certainly had my eyes on this guy I can tell you. He must have gone a couple of hundred yards up the road in the direction I would have gone to return home which is what I had intended to do because of the trapped nerve making walking painful. However, when I thought he was far enough up the road and not looking back toward me, which he had been doing, I got up quickly and went in another direction. I reached the main road and was walking toward my road when I saw him coming out of my road in my direction. I placed my phone to my ear and pretended I was talking to someone as he walked behind me very slowly continuing on his way. Obviously walking toward my road was now out of the question so I crossed the busy road and proceeded in the same direction as he but far more slowly. He then had a problem, he couldn't follow me or cross the road toward me without making it obvious that he had been tailing me. Eventually he turned off and walked some distance down another side road. I had stopped at the junction and was still pretending to be on the phone in case he turned back to look. When he was far enough away I doubled back and made it to my house and got indoors. I watched secretly behind the curtains to see if he had discovered that I had disappeared and came back to see where I had gone. About five to ten minutes later I saw him walk past my house with a look of bewilderment on his face for it looked as though I'd disappeared into thin air! I could have been in a house in another street or walking along another route for all he knew. I never saw him again.

    Shirley Anne x

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  2. I must point out that not all stalkers are male.
    Sir Trevor Macdonald is one high-profile former victim of having been obsessively stalked by a woman.
    Though I can well believe that most stalkers are male.
    Most of us have at some time received unwelcome attention from someone, and of course it only slides into stalking if the attention continues after we've politely but firmly said 'thanks but NO thanks...'
    Being a victim of someone's deranged obsession must be terrifying, and I have every sympathy for anyone experiencing that.
    But interesting that your latest piece is partly about the sensationalism of some media outlets, and I wonder if you have been led to believe that stalking is more common than it is.
    Having said that I have no experience of being transgendered, and as you also recently wrote about there are a few louts or lunatics capable of attacking anyone who they notice to be 'different', so, sadly, I think you are probably sensible to avoid being vulnerably alone after dark in public places.
    Terrifyingly, it seems that almost anyone can fall victim to random and apparently motiveless attacks :
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/23/attack-east-london-teenager-internet-tackle-crime?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

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