Her Story: I Was Stalked in College

In fall of 2013, I was in my first year of college. I loved my campus, and even though I loved my roommate, when a private room in another dorm opened up, I took it because I thought I would study better in my own space. After years of sharing rooms with my sisters at home, I was also excited to be alone for the first time. The new dorm was a lot cheaper, and not what I was used to. It was kind of the campus joke—the oldest dorm still standing. The community floor plan didn’t afford residents much privacy, but everyone told me “We’re like family here,” and it was definitely true. There was always someone in the kitchen, the study rooms, in the lobby watching TV or hanging out on the benches outside. You couldn’t help but meet people everywhere you went.

About a month after moving in, I started seeing a lot of one guy in particular. He was always sitting outside, greeting me when I came in or out. I’d say hi to be nice, but I couldn’t tell if he lived in the dorm or if he was even a student—it seemed as if he sat on that bench 24/7. After so many days, he eventually asked me for my phone number. When I told him I wouldn’t give it to a stranger, he got really mad and started screaming at me, calling me a b***h and saying “No one would want you anyway.” I just walked away, rushing to meet my friends to get away from campus (and him) for a weekend.

After that day, though, things just got worse. I couldn’t go anywhere without him seeing and trying to corner me. Every time I came near the dorm, he was there. I started walking the long way and going in the back door, hoping I wouldn’t run into him in the elevator or the stairwell. But I still didn’t feel safe. I saw him a few times a week, and he’d always yell at me, run after me or go on long rants about how I had to have sex with him. Once I brought a friend to my dorm, and when we didn’t respond to his threats, he threw a glass bottle at us. It just missed my head as it broke on the door beside me.

About a month later, in November 2013, I finally reached my breaking point. The guy would wait outside the dorm and follow me whenever I left, wherever I went. I went out to get dinner one afternoon and he stayed right behind me, even getting in the same line as me, but instead of ordering, he just turned around and followed me through the food court. I was too scared to sit down. I just kept walking, hoping to lose him in a crowd. When I finally turned around, I saw him standing not too far away, with a group of friends. He waved and smiled. I just stared back, and as if there were no one else around, he started yelling, saying he was going to strangle me, cut my throat and rape me. He ended with, “That’s what happens when you don’t speak to me, b***h.” I walked straight out of the food court and to the campus police department. The officer who met me in the lobby was the first person to put a name on what was happening: I was being stalked.

Once I reported the stalker to the police, I felt like a weight had been lifted, but I quickly realized that everything wasn’t going to get better right away. I didn’t know his name or if he even lived in my dorm, so I couldn’t identify him. I had to write a detailed report of everything that happened that day, and go over it with multiple officers. That night, one of them came to my dorm. I was supposed to walk around and come back to the officer if I saw him. Thankfully, he was in the lobby, so I could finally ID him to the police. The officer sent me back to my room and I hoped that would be the end of it, but my problems only multiplied. Everyone in the lobby saw, so the whole dorm was talking about me. For someone who seemed crazy, the stalker had a lot of friends—everywhere I went, people were calling me a snitch. Once I was cornered by a group of men who yelled at me loud enough for everyone on the quad to hear. They wanted me to apologize for “getting him in trouble” and tell the police that I was lying—because, they said, it was obviously made up.

Day by day, it felt like things were just getting worse for me and better for him. I was told that they moved the stalker to another dorm while they looked into the case, and that I’d have to meet with the assistant dean of students. One day on my way to a meeting, I ran into the stalker—I thought he had already been arrested and left campus. I knew he had been instructed not to talk to me, but he walked up to me anyway, and grabbed me by the arm. He begged me to tell the police to drop the case, saying, “It was just a joke, you don’t have to be like this.” I pulled away and started running, but he ran after me. I don’t know when or where I lost him, but when I arrived at the campus police station a few minutes later, he wasn’t behind me anymore. That day, an officer took me to the county courthouse to talk to a judge and get an arrest warrant.

The stalker and his friends weren’t the only people who made it difficult. One of the officers who took my statement asked repeatedly if I had done anything to lead him on, and if it was possible that I was only scared because I wasn’t used to being approached by men. I learned later that he didn’t act on the arrest warrant until almost three weeks after the judge signed it, because he didn’t think it was a “serious matter.” I also had trouble with the dean’s office. I once missed an e-mail from the assistant dean requesting another meeting. By the time I read it, I was at work and couldn’t leave. I had to wait days to get another meeting, but when I did, the AD told me he was beginning to doubt my story because if I was “really scared,” I would have met with him earlier. I couldn’t believe it. I had traded work shifts, skipped classes and missed sorority meetings to meet with campus police and administration, and to be shuttled between campus and the courthouse. I was more angry than scared, because at that point I felt like I was being jerked around. I got the feeling that people wouldn’t believe me unless I was completely hysterical.

As much as I tried not to focus on it, the case eventually had an impact on my class and work performance. Returning from Thanksgiving break, I confided in one of my peer counselors. She helped me get in contact with a man who worked in campus administration, who told me he would come with me to the dean’s office if it made me feel better. With his help, I finally got to meet with the dean of students, who promised me that he was going to work on my case and that I would communicate with him instead of the AD. He also said I might have to attend a hearing, where the stalker and I would both tell our sides of the story and let campus faculty decide what to do about it. I didn’t want to go, but the dean said it might look bad if I didn’t. If they decided my story wasn’t believable, I could be punished for filing a false report or breaking the university’s honor code. I was even angrier now—first, I didn’t seem scared enough for them, and now, a fear of being in the same room as my stalker was perceived as dishonesty.

About a week later, though, I got an e-mail from the dean. I was to make a list of all interactions I had with the stalker, including dates, times, locations, what was said and more. It was hard, but at that point I was glad that I had told people about the stalking. I looked through texts with my boyfriend and sorority sisters, Facebook messages to my family and old journal entries. I put together as many details as possible, submitted it to the dean, and waited for a reply.

Finally, after what seemed like the longest and worst semester ever, I received notification that I wouldn’t have to attend a hearing after all. My stalker was being expelled from the university. He would be arrested if he ever came to campus again.

Last year, I was served a subpoena in my dorm—the case was being continued by the city police, and they didn’t bother to notify me until the day before the court date. Because the university’s decision to expel him stood regardless of the city’s ruling, and because I didn’t feel prepared to go to court, I decided to ask to drop the charges. I met with the prosecutor early the next morning and told her that I wasn’t interested in pursuing the case. That was the last time I ever saw my stalker.

I now have my own apartment, very close to campus. When I’m leaving work or meetings at night, I try to go with a group or stay on the phone with someone. My sorority sisters are always checking in on me, and that makes me feel safe and cared for. Almost two years later, I’m not very scared of being alone anymore, but it does scare me to know that many other people on my campus have gone through the same thing that I did, and probably didn’t get as much help with it as I did. Even though millions of people are stalked in the United States every year, it’s been referred to as a “silent epidemic” because so few of these people report it. Although it was difficult to go through, I’m glad that I reported my stalking. Sometimes I still struggle with my decision; I’m afraid that people will find out and look at me differently, or that some people still don’t believe me. I was afraid to come across as weak, but in reality, I have strength now that I didn’t have before.

I’ve been scared to tell many people about what happened to me, but I think it’s important for college students to be able to recognize stalking and to know that there is something you can do about it. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that the majority of stalking victims are between the ages of 18 and 24, and it’s prevalent on college campuses. Many stalkers use technology to fuel their obsession (mine gained information about me through my Facebook page), so it’s important to maintain some privacy, especially when people our age are notorious for their use of social media. RAINN also suggests keeping any evidence of the stalking that you can, and even keeping a journal of everything that happens to you if you are being stalked. Most importantly, though, don’t let anyone tell you that it’s not that serious or intimidate you into silence. You deserve to feel safe and comfortable on your own campus. It took some time to convince myself of that, but now I know that it is true for every student. I hope that by telling my story I can empower others to speak up, and to never let another person’s actions or opinions get in the way of the education and collegiate experience that they deserve.

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Rhaina is a junior at Mississippi State University, majoring in social work. She is a member of Delta Xi Phi Multicultural Sorority, Incorporated. Her current obsessions include The Vampire Diaries, nail design, and typography. More of her writing can be found on Thought Catalog, onmogul.com, and rhainajohnson.wordpress.com.

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