Talking of Stalking…

“I hope it wasn’t the Marsala!” the voice on the phone said. My friend blanched. She had just finished emptying the supermarket trolley and one of the big paper bags had split as she was putting it in the boot of her car. Her teenage daughter had helped her pick up some objects from the ground.

Not wanting to attract attention, she snapped the phone shut. The message was clear; the man who was stalking her knew which wine she had bought, because it was clear that the bag that had split was one containing tins and packets.

What made it even worse was that this person was her ex-husband. She had changed her number several times – making sure it was not modelled on dates of birth, landline or house numbers, or ages. And yet, each time, he somehow obtained her new number, and when he called, he told her something that indicated he knew where she had been, what she had done, and to whom she had spoken.

One day, her telephone fell out of her shirt pocket into the floor-washing pail, as she bent over.

And that was the end of the weird calls. When she was talking about this to her friend – who is IT savvy – it all fell into place.

There are products on the market touted as “ideal” for checking on (quote) “…an Alzheimer’s patient [or] monitoring a teen’s driving [or] whether a partner is sexting…” These products allow you to see the “real-time locations, speed, and directions being taken” and e-mail or SMS alerts will be received by a person doing the surveillance/tracking when certain limits keyed into the device are superseded.

And there’s more. These devices will also track conversations. In phones that have a camera, the picture will be relayed to the other person’s device. In effect, he will see what you see, and hear what you hear. It is relatively easy to programme a telephone in the couple of minutes it takes a person to go to the bathroom.

Just for the record, there also exist USB Sim Card readers that may retrieve deleted text messages from a cellular telephone’s SIM card. And there are gadgets that are even more sophisticated and advanced than that, for which the original Mission:Impossible Force would have given their eye teeth.

Of course, there will always be people who do not have any of these devices, and enjoy making life a misery for others making calls from withheld numbers. I consider it a great disservice by mobile phone companies, that they do not divulge the names of the perpetrators to the victims. The latter have to go to court to discover the identities of the former – who, of course, get a kick out of knowing they have worried their prey to that extent.

This could be taken to mean that the days when someone followed you physically in order to scare you – or to get closer to you – are gone. But this is not necessarily so, as was evidenced this week when the Michael David Barrett, who had stalked ESPN reporter Erin Andrews to the point of taking hotel rooms next to hers, in three different cities, and filming her through the keyhole, was sentenced to (only) two and a half years’ imprisonment.

My friend – let’s call her Carmen – found this out for herself, too.

Carmen noticed that wherever she went, people whose faces gradually became familiar were “there” too. This was happening too often for it to be a coincidence – especially since she was one of those women who are into everything – gym sessions, social events, dining out, and so on. She was unnerved when gifts with notes like “Hope you enjoyed Avatar xxx”, or “Why did you go to the gym on Tuesday this week, not on Wednesdays as you usually do? Xxx” were left on her doorstep.

This harassment stopped as abruptly as it began.

Writers and people in the media tend to get stalked for the oddest of reasons. A writer friend of mine had someone who would critique her latest book, suggest what she ought to have written, and provide back-stories for the minor characters, who, according to this person, ought to have received more attention in the book.

One particular (male) disc jockey had a (male) admirer who would not take no for an answer. E-mails came thick and fast, giving playlists links to news items about pop personalities, reminders of celebrities’ birthdays… and invitations for coffee, dinner, and even weekend breaks. The sender of the messages “knew” that the disc-jockey was playing particular songs to pass messages to his sundry girl-friends and to spite him; and so he was going to report the DJ to his wife… So the DJ finally realised that the “ignore” function wasn’t working – and threatened to go to the Police with a print-out of all the mails received. The harassment stopped.

Stalkers fall into one of several broad categories: they may be obsessed with being like the person they stalk, or morbidly infatuated and wanting him for their own, either as best friend or lover; thy may be delusional and twist facts to make it appear that they are the victim, rather than the person they are stalking – or they may actually believe their victim harbours a crush on them but is too timid to admit it. There are those stalkers who cannot, or will not, believe that a relationship is over.

Whichever the case, being stalked is neither funny nor “nothing”. It pays to keep a chronicle of every incident – be it calls with withheld numbers, e-mails, gifts, sightings, and anything else that indicates sinister behaviour.

You never know whether you might eventually need to present your log as court evidence.


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