I am a Stalking Survivor

 

I am a Stalking Survivor: My Story

 

The Beginning

Throughout my college experience, I have been through a lot more than I could have ever anticipated. Coming from a small town with a graduating class of around 70 students, I only had the pictures of what university life would be like from the movies: frat parties, solo cups, roommates that would become my maids of honor, a guy down the hall that would become your greatest love. I know, I know… I was expecting an early 2000s movie, and that is what it started as.

Coming from another state, I did all random roommates and lived in one room with four girls on a co-ed floor. I became inseparable from my one roommate, who we will call Phoebe for the sake of anonymity, and close with another, who we will call Sally. Phoebe, Sally, and myself spent the first half of the year hanging out every weekend with the guys next door and one of the boy’s cousins who always came over, a boy two years older than us attending school there who we’ll call Cole. 

When I met Cole, I knew there was something different about him. I just couldn’t tell what. From the first night, he got my phone number and began talking to me separately from the group. I did not give much thought to the flirtatious texts or the way he was always looking at me and then back down when I would catch him. Just a friend with a little crush, I thought. But when I look back to where I am now as a fourth year, after a Title Nine No Contact Order -- the equivalent of a campus restraining order -- I see the way I could have caught the signs.

The Signs

I realize now that Cole always wanted to put me in situations that created vulnerability. When we were at a party and I said I was done drinking, he would be the first to put another cup in front of me. When I refused to do something, he would bother me until I budged. As I often pulled all-nighters in my dorm’s upstairs study lounge, he would find out when I was up there alone to “keep me company.” One night he reached over and began holding me, and when I tried to nicely brush him off, telling him I had to go, I could not get out or move; he was too strong. As he began pushing his lips onto my shoulder, holding and restricting my arms tight against my body as I attempted to pull away, that was the first time I began to realize I was alone and no one could stop him. He was at least a 6’0” man, and I was a 5’5” girl. I managed to break free after a few minutes and stood up, saying I was tired before rushing downstairs, my heart racing. For the sake of peace in our friend group, I pretended it never happened.

He always would have on and off contact with me and would say that this was because he “needed me” too much. It was strange, but I was not a confrontational person and did not want things to be weird for when we hung out with our friends. He would send me non-stop messages on different platforms, then when I would finally respond, he would block me or remove me for a few days. Then, he’d pop back up. Once, I even received an email while blocked by him from someone claiming to be his ex-girlfriend, telling me he was in love with me. At the time, I did not even realize this was likely him, trying to maintain my attention or find a way for me to reciprocate his advances I continued to reject. When I tried to put my foot down a couple of times on the strange behavior, he blamed it on alcohol. He even went as far as to come over and put all his alcohol in our room so he “wouldn’t have access.” This was just another excuse for him to find a way into my space while convincing me there were other things to blame for his behavior.

After months of increasing problems, second semester I went out with my roommate, Sally, and the boys next door. I’d told them I didn’t want to go out, but Cole started messaging me through Venmo -- since he was going through one of his blocking phases because he was “seeing someone” and couldn’t handle “being able to talk to me” -- telling me how his cousin really “needed it.” I tried to blame it on money, and he sent me enough money for a drink, saying I had “no excuse.” As I realized was a habit of his now from months of manipulation, I gave in and went. After dancing and enjoying ourselves, Cole suddenly showed up and joined us.

At this point, Cole kept convincing everyone to drink more and more. Cole went with the boys to go use the bathroom before we left, and after time kept passing and it had been half an hour, my roommate and I began to wander around for them. Sure enough, they were gone. For the first time, I let myself be angry. I had been pushed and pushed to go out, and then left to walk home alone as two drunk girls in the middle of the city at three in the morning. When we luckily made it back safe, I yelled at the boys for leaving us as they were standing there in the hallways by our doors, laughing and talking. This is where it all escalated.

The Escalation 

From there, I began to piece together everything that Cole had been doing. Against my beliefs and better judgment, Sally said the yelling was unnecessary, so I apologized the next night through the money sending app. There, he told me that he and his “girlfriend” broke up because of me and my “stunt” and that I got what I wanted. So, I stopped responding and began the process of cutting such a toxic person out of my life. About half an hour later at midnight, his cousin that lived next door showed up at my door.

His cousin told me that he was not sure why, but Cole told him that he needed to have me block him on all platforms. I was confused. I did not have him added on Snapchat and I did not have him added as a follower on Instagram. His cousin came back fifteen minutes later to say that Cole was still looking at my Facebook and Twitter. Chills ran through my body. I had never even interacted with him on Facebook before, and was not following him on Twitter. Did that mean that he was constantly going through my social media platforms, looking at all of my information? I quickly blocked him on both and sat there scared with my best friend and roommate, Phoebe. She said something like, “it’s like he’s stalking you,” and it all began to fit.

As the nights began to continue, the alarms continued to go off. You know a platform you cannot block people from? Your school email. He sent me an email saying that while he thought we “were better without each other,” we needed to meet alone and that he didn’t want anyone to know about it, that it would “stay between the two of us.” He said, “we will always deeply care about each other,” but that if I did not respond, he would stop contacting me forever. Three hours later after I did not answer, he followed with another email saying he forgave me.

I would wake in the middle of the night to message requests on Instagram, where he would tell me he could not stop thinking of me or how he needed me back and to forgive him. “You’ve forever placed your mark on my heart,” one read. His cousin began asking my roommates and I to look out for him because he thought Cole was in an emotionally unstable place, and when I told him how scared I was at all the messages I was receiving, he told me just not to respond and it would eventually stop. But it didn’t.

Once it became clear that it was not enough to keep attempting to message me, he began messaging Phoebe, sending her an email that pushed me over the line. I was already spending every night crying and double checking the locks. I was at my family’s Easter, trying to just enjoy one day of peace when she forwarded it to me: the email titled “Long Shot.” Cole told her about how he just needs answers about me, and how he would not survive without them and that it would “kill him” because he would drink until he died. It was crazed, the way he referred to me like we had been dating, and the idea of him placing his life in my hands was terrifying. That is when I began my journey with Women Helping Women, a group that supports and helps women who are survivors of gender-based violence.

The Process

My mom drove down the four and a half hours from our home state to be with me. I sat in a little corner room with poetry on the wall and a tissue box that I had  used up on the table. I explained everything that was happening and how scared I was and unsure of what to do, and she validated every emotion and told me that what I thought: what I was experiencing was indeed stalking, and to a level that was likely beyond my knowledge. When stalkers have reached a limit where they no longer value their own lives, the person being stalked is in the most danger, she explained.

She recommended that I attempt to get a Title Nine No Contact Order and change my dorm so he didn’t know where I lived and though I was fearful of the repercussions I might face, I needed to be safe. I decided to stay at my current dorm but began the Title Nine process. I was assured that both parties were bound to not allow any backlash from themselves or those around them during and after the order. I just remember sitting in an office room in a cold building, walking there through the parking garage he had tried to get me to go with him to one night alone with the boys, before a mutual friend found me along the way and took me back. Such a small memory, but another one I was realizing in hindsight was an attempt to isolate me.

In the room at a conference table, they took down only the facts as I tearfully shared my story and after they informed me that they would offer him the same session to discuss his “side of the story.” I will never know if he went or what he said, but I know that just a couple days later, I received contact from the Title Nine department affirming an order would be placed within the week. At this point, I was growing even more terrified. I was scared of what Cole and everyone I knew would do once they found out and asked them to put a hold on it until I had things in place. I began having second thoughts, that I now know are the results of all the grooming I had faced from Cole that year. It had been a few days since I had heard anything from him, and I was hopeful that maybe it was over.

I had friends come down and visit for the weekend, and as we all sat together, talking, and laughing in the middle of the night, I went across the hall to our communal bathroom for a minute. When I came out, Cole was standing there, stumbling in front of me. My body froze and the anxiety swelled through me like sharp icicles in my chest. He was turning around to face me when my brain finally remembered how to walk and I dashed into my room, locking the door quickly behind me. I turned down the lights and told everyone that he was in the hall when I heard the knocking at my door and his voice.

I quietly sat there all night as he kept asking for me. Sally and my friends told him to leave, but he refused. They tried to lie and say I was not there, but it was to no avail. My friend told him I was getting a restraining order, and he laughed at the idea. “For what?” he had said. He sat there for five hours into the early morning, knocking and trying to talk as everyone just tried to sleep the situation away. I cried with Phoebe and told her that I was getting a No Contact Order and she reassured me that she and everyone would be there for me. That afternoon, I finally had the strength I needed and called the department to issue it.

The Reoccurrence 

In the beginning, Phoebe, Sally, and our mutual friends supported me. The guys next door stopped talking to us, and Cole’s cousin sent me the nastiest messages you could expect. With one more insane email before he went silent, Cole told me that he was deeply in love with me and that he dreamed of me every night. He told me that he was doing hypnotisms in the evenings to attempt to “get rid of my spell,” and that the timing “right now just wasn’t right.” I went home for the summer and returned sophomore year, ready to keep on the healing process. However, Phoebe and the others who had just held my hand through it all, began to flip.

The thing about stalking is that it is never just over. Even when the contact has stopped, the side effects linger. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to go hang out with his cousin anymore who they’d begun speaking to again, or laughed about seeing Cole (who lived in the same building as his cousin that year) when they visited. I pretended like it was okay and believed that it was my burden to carry since it affected their friendships, when in fact, if Phoebe and the others had truly supported me, they would have never put me in those situations.

A year later that summer before junior year, I received my first contact since from Cole and the fear I had been keeping at bay resurged. This was right after graduation time when he was expected to leave. He made a new account and said that he had thought he had seen me and wanted to say hello. He felt bad for the way things had gone and told me how “happiness looks good on” me. My stomach churned. Isolated and alone again, he began sending me messages to a new private Instagram I had, asking me to respond so we could “all hang out” again together. He even began sending me texts, either from himself, or from him claiming to be someone else messaging from that number. After the lack of support they had given me that year, I never shared this with Phoebe and Sally.

I tried to keep pushing through, and as we moved into a new house that fall and threw a small, house-warming party, I was spending most of my time upstairs while everyone partied in the basement. I walked through the lower level once to walk a friend to their car, and I just remember the watching eyes I was receiving from Sally as I quickly went upstairs without looking around. After hanging out upstairs for a bit, I ran into one of our friends on the way down who had come to make sure I was okay. I asked why, and she told me: Cole was there. 

I was a mess. How could my best friend and the people I lived with invite him into my space? I never wanted to see him again, and now, he knew where I lived? That friend kicked him out and Phoebe and Sally had the audacity to get angry at her for removing someone from the premise because it was “their house, too.”

I contacted Women Helping Women again, but with the limitations enacted by Nancy Pelosi on Title Nine services, there was nothing more I could do. While I was still a student, he was not anymore. I could try to get a civil restraining order, but then I would have to stand next to Cole in a courtroom and share our stories, with most likely a male judge making the ruling. If the restraining order did not go through, I would have no protections at all and would have just further irritated him. I was too scared to stay at my house, surrounded by Phoebe, the person I thought was my best friend, and Sally. The same people I’d lived with since freshman year who told me they’d supported me, told me I needed to “grow up” and “get over it.” They were going to continue giving my stalker access to me and my home. I couldn’t break my lease with Title Nine assistance because it was an off campus property, and the landlord didn’t care, even though the next and final time I’d tried to stay there after that party, Cole showed up again on my porch.

I became a shell of a person. I was so devastated and mentally drained, terrified to walk my campus at the risk of somehow seeing Cole, since he was still hanging around campus despite graduation, or seeing Phoebe and my roommates, who had hung me out to dry. I dropped to part time classes and began commuting from home. I began working around 35 hours a week to pay for the place I could not live in, while they made fake Craigslist ads with my number and threatened to sue me for not paying utilities. Everyone of our mutual friends who said that they thought what Phoebe and Sally did was wrong, continued to hang out with them and slowly stopped talking to me. 

I had no friends, no home, and no safety. But, despite everything that happened to me, I survived. I found a sublease to take over my lease so I could finally cut ties with them in December, and I began making friends with those I worked with and those in my classes. I created a support system unlike one I’d ever had before and realized that these were the people that truly loved me, those who saw me at my worst and reached out to say, it’s okay.

Being A Survivor 

The fact is, that while I am at a very comfortable and happy place in my life for the first time in three years, I am still actively dealing with the consequences of what happened to me. I began to re-enter the dating process earlier this year, and I am learning to re-trust men and being alone with them. I have learned to open myself back up to my friends and new roommates, realizing that I can rely on others. Every once in a while, I receive an Instagram message request from Cole on a new account that I have not blocked yet where he tells me he just wants closure and has a question. Sometimes, it is an email to my school account, where his paranoid side comes out and he tells me to tell my friends to stop looking at him, though I talk to no one from before. Other times, he will attempt to add one of my new friends from after everything on Snapchat, when he should not know them, and I am left wondering if I’ll ever be out of the woods from his watch.

I live my life with everything on private, all platforms with as minimal access to the public as possible, so he can gain as little information about me as he can. Even now, writing this piece, I have chosen anonymity for my protection. I know he is still looking for me and while the thought scares me, I also live with this newfound strength and fearlessness about me. I have come to realize that while I cannot control what has happened to me in the past, I can live my life to the bravest of my abilities despite everything. Sometimes, being a survivor of stalking does not mean that the fear is gone. It means that you have the strength to be stronger than the fear.

Editor’s note: Stalking is an act of emotional abuse. You are not overreacting by prioritizing your safety and comfort. Every University has their own title IX office for dealing with these events. Reach out and get help if you need it. It is not paranoia or overreacting, it is putting your safety first.