Stalking needs a #MeToo movement
What's happening to Kim Kardashian is nauseatingly common; just ask me; just ask anyone.
This week the author, speaker, podcaster, and, in her own words “professional troublemaker,” Luvvie Ajaye responded to Kim Kardashian’s stalking situation on her website and social media. If you, like me, haven’t been a follower of any of the parties involved, here’s a quick overview.
Kim K, the reality TV personality who is rich and famous for being rich and famous, has divorced the rapper, designer, and profoundly unstable genius Kanye West (now legally known as “Ye”). They have four young children together and to use the technical legal term to describe their divorce and custody proceedings, it’s been a shit show.
Kim has recently begun dating SNL star and comedian Pete Davidson and Ye has launched an all-out harassment campaign, pulling public stunts, posting photos of her with unhinged rants, and threatening Davidson with violence.
The viewing public has largely responded by grabbing popcorn and a can of rosé and settling in for the show. Comments fall into the categories of
She knew she was marrying a crazy person, so she deserves it
She signed up to be a reality star, so she deserves it
She has made a public spectacle of her life, so she deserves it
She often wears revealing clothes, so she deserves it
She has posted nude photos, so she deserves it
You get the picture.
Ajaye’s point was basically, what do we have to do to deserve NOT to be threatened and harassed?
I follow Ajaye on Facebook and while I’m mostly just a breathless fangirl, I joined the comments conversation on this one. An ex stalked me for years and memories of the horror and frustration still light up my adrenal response like the Las Vegas strip. It’s been almost exactly two decades since I last encountered my tormentor, but I could barely type my response.
Ajaye’s post inspired an avalanche of responses and comments, some expressing the sentiments listed above, but what was notable to me was that SO MANY women said that it had happened to them. I actually knew that it was common—my therapist at the time, in the 90s, had given me a book on the topic—but reading the responses, just seeing the sheer number of them, was a stinging reminder that little has changed since my experience.
I left my ex, whom I will call Rich, in the early 90s. We had started dating my senior year of college and continued for a few years afterward. He was educated, attractive, always fashionably dressed, and worked for a prominent advertising agency in Dallas. The defining characteristic of our relationship was his chronic dissatisfaction. We wouldn’t argue so often, he told me, if I was only thinner. He had some other complaints, but that was the main one.
For the record, I am 5’ 5”, and a size 6, and have been with little fluctuation since high school, but I have never been bony and that’s what he’d have preferred. He was an early adopter of the Incel movement’s philosophy that straight, white, cis-, American men are promised submissive women who look a certain way and he felt hard put that he’d been cheated out of his birthright. He was frustrated that I didn’t try harder.
During one of our big blowouts—him yelling and me crying—he said, “I can’t live like this!” I don’t even remember what it was about, maybe that he wanted to play tennis and I thought it was too hot? And it occurred to me—and I am not even invoking artistic license when I say this—with a sound in my head like a Lego brick snapping into place. “Wait, why are we?”
Within weeks, I had found a therapist and asked for a separation. He’d responded callously, with “Well, I sure hope you know what you’re doing, because if I were you I’d be worried that I was fucking up.” And he’d packed his things and stormed out.
We had never really had much in common, didn’t want the same things from our lives, and, when I was really honest about it, didn’t even like each other. I was sad to be starting over when most of my college friends were getting married and starting families, but also relieved. I assumed he would be, too.
Then the stalking started. He started with letters, handwritten in blue ink on yellow legal pads that typically ran to three or more pages, front and back. His topics would shift from newsy gossip about mutual friends to pleas for me to come back to him to threats along the lines of “you’re going to be sorry.” He signed his name at the bottom with a smiley face beside it.
One day a few weeks after I’d moved into a new place just blocks from the old one, my mail carrier knocked on my door and sheepishly handed me a large postcard-sized form. It was a postal order that Rich had forged my signature on to have my mail sent to his new address. The mail carrier looked spooked and told me that this was, in fact, a federal offense, but he wanted to show it to me. I put it in the box that was already rapidly filling with the letters. I didn’t know what else to do.
Here’s a brief recap of just the first year:
After I changed my phone number, he got my new one from mutual friends who bought the Crazy Woman narrative—he just wanted to talk to me, he said.
He broke into my car.
He showed up at the preschool where I worked and stood beside my car for hours waiting for me to come out on several occasions. The director of the school was sympathetic, but her priority was keeping the children safe, so ignoring him was impossible.
I got a restraining order.
He tried to kick my front door in while I called 911. I am not by nature a crier or a screamer and I was stunned to hear myself doing both as the calm voice on the phone asked me to spell my name for a third time and went through a list of questions including whether or not he had ever punched me, shot me, or stabbed me with a knife. Each one was a separate question. I realized that my back door was glass and prayed that the police got there before he realized it.
When the police finally came down my darkened street, the flashing lights and sirens gave him plenty of lead time to drive away before they arrived.
The young officer told me that there was little they could do. Only judges could enforce restraining orders, IF you called them during work hours, IF someone answered, IF the judge felt like it. He asked if I kept a gun.
I flew to San Francisco for a music festival and was walking down a sidewalk in SOMA when I saw him getting out of a cab just steps away. My friend and I went back to our weird little boutique hotel so I could freak out privately. “I’ll just call the front desk to make sure he’s not staying here,” my friend said. She asked for his name and the clerk said “I’ll connect you with his room.”
I moved to another city, an hour away, to attend grad school. It slowed him down, but he found me and the letters started, again.
A new stalking law was established after the high-profile murder of a young actress by her stalker, so I called the university’s legal assistance program and said that I wanted to talk with an attorney about the new stalking laws.
“Stockings?” the person answering the phone asked. “Stocking laws like laws about, um, panty hose?”
“S. T. A. L. K. I. N. G.” I spelled it out, again frustrated and humiliated. The attorney never returned my call.
Various iterations of letters, calls, calls from mutual friends, useless conversations with law enforcement, and attempted break-ins continued until I graduated.
Eventually, I moved from Texas to California, got married, had kids, and the contact stopped. When we moved back to Texas in the early 2000s, I was walking out of a dim restaurant with my toddler and infant when I felt someone looking up at me from a booth. It was him. This time I’m sure it was purely coincidental. He caught my eye and smiled like we were old friends, like he might jump up and hug me, but with the ferocity of a new mother, I shot him a look of pure hellfire so intense that he crumpled.
I never saw him again, but I had nightmares for years. My heart beats in my ears like timpani drums as I think about it, even now.
I never expected to have much in common with Kim Kardashian, but here we are.
After Rich’s first couple of stunts, my therapist gave me a book called Obsessive Love. It explained that, while stalkers usually don’t intend to murder their targets—they just show up with firearms to show us how serious they are—they often do. Thank goodness for that therapist and that book; it helped me to take the situation seriously when no one else did.
Complicating the fact that stalking behavior is typically seen as something between romantic and no big deal is the fact that, as a target, I felt deeply ashamed, like it was my fault. I felt, and was often treated like, a trashy daytime-talk-show-guest kind of idiot who had either invited this drama and therefore (1) deserved it or (2) was working it for sympathy. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to nice women/smart women/women from good families. It feels a lot like other forms of sexual harassment and assault in that way.
The statistics on stalking, harassment, and relationship violence are sickening. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 89% of women and girls who had been physically assaulted before their murder were also stalked in the last year prior to their murder. Fifty-four percent of women and girls reported stalking to the police before they were killed by their stalkers
Less than a year ago, two students at the college where I was teaching were murdered when the disgruntled and recently released abuser of one of their mothers shot all three of them. It crosses all the lines: age, socioeconomic group, race, ethnicity, language, and even the kinds of power, influence, and fame that is accessible to Kardashians.
The groundswell of women’s voices (and I am sorry to say that this is still a disproportionately gendered crime) of the #MeToo movement gives me a small glimmer of hope. And while I wouldn’t, as one commenter on Luvvie Ajaye’s post put it, wish the hell of stalking “on my worst enemy,” maybe the spotlight that follows celebrities like Kim K around will cast light on the sheer scope of the problem.
Has this happened to you or someone you know? Stalking and harassment needs its own #MeToo movement.
What should we call it? Where should we start?