The day I cried non stop.
So after three years of anxiously waiting on hyper alert for the next email, letter or message from my harasser, I heard that he was arrested. The day was spent informing funders and people who had supported us as a charity amidst of the horror of stalking; so I had not had time to think or feel… then suddenly the tears just didn’t stop coming…with wails and deep airy breaths of shock. He really had been arrested.
He spent 9 hours in a cell because he has caused destruction to my life, my family, my staff and many others…. I know that in some ways this is just the beginning as the next hurdle is facing him in court, where he and his lawyer will probably verbally tear me apart and laugh at me…but just for now… he’s arrested. Finally, I am believed. The horror I have experienced with every waking breath has been understood as criminal behaviour.
Since the very first texts on January 3rd 2011 where he promised to ‘rid Bath of the scourge of my evil’ and ‘speak forth’ of all that I had done, (which I still am unsure of, apart from support his wife) I have lived not knowing what any day will bring. Every single day could bring encounters with people staring at me curiously because they have heard lies that he made up; or it could bring anonymous threatening emails which are obviously sent to intimidate me, but still create the fear and freakiness that you may imagine…The day could be full of phone calls from other agencies or funders explaining rather awkwardly that they had received an anonymous complaint saying that we are being investigated by the local authority, or yet another allegation that my qualifications aren’t real..
As a counsellor I have spent hours of my life helping people reflect on their inner pain due to sexual, physical and emotional abuse and have been privileged to support them as they vocalised the horror of their journey’s. They have expressed the depth of betrayal, rejection, shock, shame and horror of being wounded, often by those who knew them.
I had no idea of the extent of the devastating affect of cyber bullying, stalking, strategic slander, defamation and psychological abuse until it became a part of my narrative three years ago. Surprisingly, verbal, psychological, and emotional abuse has the same effects as the physical variety [Psychology Today, September/October 2000 issue, p.24].
The scars of psychological abuse are not visible to the human eye but can be profoundly deep, devastating and life changing. There seems to be such a distinct contrast between the empathetic response of family and friends to physical wounds and injuries and yet little understanding of the affect of being harassed. So the emotional pain is intensified due to the isolation of no hospital visits, no doctors and no visible scars that shock and facilitate any support.
I now bear the emotional scars and the physical consequences of being stalked and harassed for three years. I know that everything I say may be used against me to damage my reputation and cause hours of distraction from the work that I do in helping other victims of trauma. I’m never sure who is recording me, who is going to feed back to them what I say so that it can be twisted and used to harm me. We have moved to a secret location and my four children have been disrupted from their schooling to try and limit the damage of the abuse. The financial, emotional and practical implications have cost us as a family, despite our aim to reduce the stress on them in the longer term. The traumatic stress still affects me every day as I live in the reality of the unknown and in a constant state of psychological alertness, ready to respond to the next challenge that my harasser creates.
I live with the knowledge that when we, as a charity, have any success which becomes public, my harasser and his colleagues will probably write to as many people as they can think of to make complaints about me.
This strategic system harassment, alongside the four twitter accounts used to defame and slander me, the 40 domain names in my name which were bought up, the website account in my name on google, the anonymous emails threatening and mocking me, the slander around the city where I work has taken it’s toll on me. Every word they have spoken is so full of hate and poison against me.
The harassment never seems to stop. He is probably watching me. Our successes cannot be celebrated publicly without the knowledge that there will be horrible consequences. We can’t ever make a mistake, as it would cost us dearly, more than for other organisations. We have people waiting for us to make any mistake that they can highlight, and he would ensure we faced consequences for any tiny error that he uncovered.
I imagine if I had been lying in a pool of blood with scars all over my body there may have been more understanding, but the silent, secret, sometimes subtle nature of the constant harassment and hate campaign leads to an isolation. The inability to speak of the situation has caused my staff and I to stumble in conversations when people question our busyness and tiredness. For 3 years we have not spoken of the constant harassment, apart from to a small group of friends, because don’t want to be people who defame another person. But now I have been advised to speak out about my horrific experience to protect any other potential victims. Our hope is that this group of people find peace and another purpose in life, rather than them living from a place of obsession and projecting all their anger towards me, for reasons they have never disclosed to me.
The trauma of harassment is the same as constant sexual or physical abuse and yet the justice system is only just responding to the importance of appropriate intervention. The consequences of harassment, strategic defamation and stalking are the same as any other constant, unrelenting traumatic experience where the victim is powerless and consistently damaged. The impact of trauma is still relatively misunderstood as a reality for many and ironically my life’s work is to educate and inform people of the neurobiological and psychological consequences of trauma.
Sadly because it is such a misunderstood area of trauma, there are few professionals who are ready to support a victim of stalking or harassment. I have been so grateful for the professional wisdom of Jennifer Perry at Digital Stalking (www.digital-stalking.org) and have been grateful to consult with her regarding the latest laws and what is the correct procedure for a case such as mine. Her guidance, support and knowledge has been a huge anchor in the storm of this situation.
‘Trauma is perhaps the most avoided, ignored, belittled, denied, misunderstood, and untreated cause of human suffering.’ (Levine and Kline 2007;3)
There are a few research papers that have begun to evidence the damage of this abuse. They all evidence that the affect of consistent stalking and harassment can lead to post traumatic stress in many cases. This is made evident in the paper, ‘Occupational Effects of Stalking’, Abrams and Robinson, (2002) Can J Psychiatry 2002;47:468–472
‘Abuse of all kinds also interferes with the victim’s ability to work. The researchers found important psychological problems resulting from the stalking, including these:
- Increased anxiety and arousal for 80 percent of victims
- Chronic sleep disturbance for 75 percent of victims
- Recurring thoughts or flashbacks to the stalking, resulting in distress for 55 percent of victims (often triggered by ordinary events such as a ringing telephone or doorbell)
- Appetite disturbance for 50 percent of victims
- Excessive tiredness, weakness, or headaches for 50 percent of victims
- Numbing of responses to others, including feeling of detachment for 38 percent of victims
- Nausea before going to places associated with the stalking for 33 percent of victims
- Increased alcohol or cigarette use for 25 percent of victims
- Contemplation of suicide for 25 percent of victims.
Here’s another list from another professional:
Although not exhaustive, the following are some of the more common effects that victims of stalking experience:
Effects on mental health
- Denial, confusion, self-doubt, questioning if what is happening is unreasonable, wondering if they are over-reacting
- Guilt, embarrassment, self-blame
- Apprehension, fear, terror of being alone or that they, others or pets will be harmed.
- Feeling isolated and helpless to stop the harassment
- Depression (all symptoms related to depression)
- Anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia (frightened to leave the house, never feeling safe)
- Difficulty concentrating, attending and remembering things
- Inability to sleep – nightmares, ruminating
- Irritability, anger, homicidal thoughts
- Emotional numbing
- Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress disorder e.g. hypervigilance (always on the lookout), flashbacks of frightening incidents, easily startled
- Insecurity and inability to trust others, problems with intimacy
- Personality changes due to becoming more suspicious, introverted or aggressive
- Self-medication alcohol/ drugs or using prescribed medications
- Suicide thoughts and/or suicide attempts
Effects on physical health
- Fatigue from difficulty sleeping, being constantly on guard, symptoms of depression
- Effects of chronic stress including headaches, hypertension
- Gastrointestinal problems –
- Fluctuations in weight due to not eating or comfort eating
- Development or exacerbation of pre-existing conditions e.g. asthma, gastric ulcers and psoriasis.
- Shortness of breath
- Impact on health of increased use of alcohol, cigarettes or drugs
- Sexual dysfunction
- Physical injury due to not concentrating or being under the influence of substances
- Heart palpitations and sweating
Effects on work and school
- Deteriorating school/work performance
- Increased sick leave
- Leaving job or being sacked
- Changing career
- Dropping out of school – poorer education and career opportunities
Effects on social life
- Insecurity and inability to trust others impacting on current and future relationships and friendships,
- Problems with physical and emotional intimacy.
- Avoidance of usual activities e.g., going to the gym, going out.
- Isolation through trying to protect others , feeling misunderstood or psychological symptoms.
- Others withdrawing from the victim because they don’t believe the victim, they are unable to cope with the victim’s mental state or as a direct consequence of third-party victimisation.
- Victim moving to a new area, changing their phone number, name or even their appearance.
Effects on finances
- Loss of wages due to sick leave, leaving job or changing career.
- Costs incurred through legal fees.
- Expense of increasing home and personal security.
- Cost involved in repairing property damage.
- Seeking psychological counselling and medical treatment.
- Cost involved in breaking leases on rented properties.
- Expense of relocation.
What may prevent a victim from seeking help?
- Not understanding that what is happening to them is stalking and/or illegal.
- Trying to pretend that it is not happening.
- Believing that they should be able to deal with the situation, thinking that the stalker will see reason, or not wanting to get the stalker into trouble.
- Fear that others will think they are over-reacting or that they will be blamed for somehow having encouraged the stalker in the first place. The latter is particularly pertinent for those who have had a previous intimate relationship with the stalker, even if it was only brief or just a flirtation.
- Fears about how the stalker will respond either to them or those that they love or care for.
- Direct threats from the stalker
- Feeling isolated in their plight, believing that there is nothing that can be done to help them, or not knowing who to go to.
- Previous requests for help being ignored
- Fear of losing their job or the situation becoming more difficult when the stalking originates in the workplace.
- Financial limitations in regard to seeking legal advice or taking time off to seek help.
- Limited options in respect to changing their situation e.g. relocation to safer housing
Hope that helps!
Betsy de Thierry
Director of the Trauma Recovery Centre http://www.trc-uk.org
MA in psychotherapy and Counselling (awaiting final mark), B.Ed (hons) Primary Education, PG.Dip Play therapy, Dip Couns; Dip life coaching.