George was a friend. In hindsight, I see multiple red flags that I dismissed because we were not in a romantic relationship. He told me he was in love and wanted a romantic relationship. I told him absolutely not. A month later, he kissed me. He had pushed my clear boundaries in the past; the kiss stomped all over them. I told him to stop contacting me. Full stop. Over the next 3 weeks, I saw him several times while walking to and from work and on my lunch break. He would pull over, block my way with the car door and tell me how much he missed me and my dog, and attempt friendly conversation. George left a large bag of my dog’s favorite treats in the mailbox. We live in a small town, running into each other was bound to happen, right? I remember telling my adult daughter “This feels too easy. He’s taken it too well.”
Three weeks passed and I got a knock on my door. A neighbor said “Hey, George is driving by all the time and parking on the street and watching your house. It’s on the surveillance video. It’s been going on for over two weeks.” I don’t have a line of sight to the street from my yard or inside my house. The next day, a workman described a car and asked me if I recognized it. It was George. He’d been cruising the alley behind my house at all hours of the night and stopping behind my house. A different neighbor confirmed this and offered me surveillance footage.
I work in the schools. George’s granddaughter, whom I know, is in the classroom next door. In the morning, I spoke to the head of school security. To this day, I am amazed at his compassion and competency. Not only did he take measures to increase the security at school, but he also guided me in the initial legal steps and personal safety measures. When I started to downplay the situation, he said, “Stalkers are volatile. This will be fine until it’s not and that makes it dangerous.”
My state’s laws regarding stalking place it under the purview of domestic violence. Many people don’t know that, including the clerks at the courthouse. When I made the police report, the officer told me to file for a temporary restraining order (TRO) because without that her options are limited. I sent him a very clear text to tell him I knew what he was doing, had witnesses and surveillance video, and that this is his last warning. As I wrote that, I realized that he knows where all the cameras are and still did it. That worried me a lot. It meant he was out of touch with the reality of his actions. He didn’t think they were wrong or unusual or inappropriate.
I sought the help of an advocacy group. The whole time we filled out the TRO petition, I bounced between anger and frustration at myself because I knew better and then anger at myself for being angry at myself and disbelief that this was actually happening. I again downplayed the situation, telling the advocate that I didn’t want to take up her time, other people were in worse situations. Again, I was told the danger is real. The danger is in the unpredictability and the violence of intimidation, harassment, and when we no longer feel safe in our community and home because of one person’s actions, that is violence.
The initial TRO was denied. I found out that the judge who denied it is consistent in siding with the defendant/respondent in cases of stalking and domestic violence. I sought counseling and support through the domestic violence center. One thing that resonated with me was, “You can be afraid. You do not have to feel like a survivor yet.” That was important to hear. It gave me freedom to feel the range of emotions.
I decided to appeal the decision. George had not stopped his behavior. I found a place where he had been watching my bedroom through my fence. I obtained some of the surveillance videos and tried to not dwell on the depth of his violation. Pieces continued to fall into place: how he isolated me from the community, the demands that I tell him where I was (under the guise of “I just want to know you are safe.), telling me how much he needed me because no one else could help him stay balanced and calm, the hang up calls, Facebook comments, and cyberstalking.
The court approved the appeal, granted a temporary restraining order, and set a court date. I was not sent any documents from the court as to what would be covered at court, how things would proceed, or what to bring in preparation. The advocate, intern, and I were surprised when the judge declared it an evidentiary hearing and said that I needed witnesses and hard evidence. We were not prepared for her level of hostility or her demands. I asked for a continuance which was granted. I was put in touch with a family law attorney from Legal Aid who provided significant advice about the specifics of my case and general education about the interpretation of the state stalking laws. I waived my attorney-client privilege so that the advocacy center could be involved. The advocate I worked with has years of experience but the behavior of this judge in my situation was new. I requested and received the tapes from the original court appearance. Again, the court had not provided important information, like when evidence exhibits had to be shared with the respondent and the court. If I had not given them 48 hours' notice, none of it would have been admissible and the case would be dismissed.
I went into the hearing with the knowledge that the judge had set me up for failure.
I went into the hearing with the knowledge I was prepared far beyond the level she would anticipate.
I went into it with the knowledge that she would try to trip me up.
I went into it with the knowledge there was a significant chance I would lose.
I won. The judge granted a one-year order of protection. An order of protection isn’t magic. I will not let down my guard nor will I live in fear. The bigger victory is the chance to help other people understand that stalking and abuse can happen outside of intimate or familial relationships.
As time progressed, I shared the situation with some of my family. Overall, they have been supportive. My aunt was initially concerned for my safety with the caveat that “men can’t help it, they’re not very bright. He’s going to carry a torch for a while. Do you actually think he will hurt you?” I stopped discussing it with her.
I’m in my late 40s. Someone asked me how I would handle the situation if it were my daughter. That hit home. I would not minimize the psychological harm and distress or the potential danger. I deserve the same treatment. I can help break the cycle.