Threats Online Are Real Threats

Threats Online Are Real Threats

This is a picture of the police reports I filed twelve and ten years ago, when a man I was dating raped me, and stalked me, and sent me death threats for two years. All the threats were online. He was careful, he didn’t OVERTLY threaten me. Instead, he’d write a story using fictional characters to respresent the two of us. An elf, for him, based on a character he liked to role play, and a banana, for me, because the livejournal account I’d had (and shut down because of his harassment) had “banana” in the name. He sent me stories where the elf kidnapped the banana from the coffee shop I’d been at the day prior, then skinned her alive and laughed as she screamed for mercy. They came from unknown, anonymous email addresses.

When I filed the first report, he had raped me a week earlier, and I had yet to leave my house. But after I refused to take his calls he had come to my building, was let in by a neighbor who recognized him, and banged on my apartment door until he heard me calling the police. When the police asked what he had done, I looked into the corner of my studio apartment and saw the shirt he’d ripped off my body. I wrapped my arms around my bruised places, and thought to myself I’d had more showers than I could count in that week. That if I reported being raped, there would be no proof but an old ripped tank top, and my word against his. I was terrified of the retaliation I might face. I was terrified of what I would have to go through if I was fortunate enough to bring him to trial. And I told the officer, no, the man I let into my apartment threatened to hurt me, I made him go, and now he wouldn’t leave me alone.

For two years, my phone didn’t stop ringing. My email was always full of violence and hate. No matter how often I changed email addresses, or online profiles, or phone numbers, or moved, he was right behind me. After two years of this, my wonderful boyfriend, now my wonderful husband, convinced me to report the stalking and death threats to the cops. I printed out pages and pages and pages of emails, death threats, fictional tales of anthropomorphized produce being mutilated. I printed out the poems I’d written and published as a form of therapy, and his furious reactions to them. And the police told me, “There’s no crime here.” When I pointed out I’d been raped, they shrugged it off. “Sounds like a bad breakup to me,” one of the officers said. The other officer told me he’d file the report for a domestic disturbance, he’d find my stalker, and, “Scare him off for you.” I don’t know what he did, but whatever it was, I have rarely received mail that I could plausibly trace back to him since.

I still have these police reports because one of the terrifying things about being stalked is, you can never be sure it isn’t over. You can never be completely positive the nightmare has ended, and there isn’t somebody looking over your shoulder all the time. There are times when I scour a crowd and wonder, “Is he here?” There are times I get weird spam comments on my blog and a word or two stands out and I think, “Is that a random spambot? Or is this something worse?”

There are lots of reasons I keep blogging. Lots of reasons I keep writing about sexual violence. Lots of reasons I keep writing about online harassment. But having these two documents in my home is definitely one of them.

It’s kind of like a security blanket that scares the shit out of me.

But it also reminds me that the more people out in the world DOCUMENTING what happened to them, telling their stories, using their voices… The more people out there saying, “This is real and this is happening and this is the way the world is and WE CAN CHANGE IT,” the faster the change happens. It’s only when patterns can be proven that we can really see they were there all the time.

Now, as you may recall, I recently wrote about my move to the suburbs. As I’m rapidly learning, small town suburbia is VERY different from the city. Not just politically, but interpersonally. While occasionally a preschool teacher or another mom at my daughters’ school would tell me they’d read something I wrote and loved it, or just that they saw it, they were always polite. Even when they disagreed, they recognized that our voices were equal in their weight and the value of their content. What I’m experiencing now is very different.

Some people in my new town read my post, and took it VERY personally. DEEPLY personally. So personally, I’ve been banned from those local groups I joined online, and according to a few new friends, the offended parties are gleefully vilifying me now that I can’t contribute to the conversation. One person sought me out describing a “successful witch hunt,” and that they were still snarling about me. Another friend sent me lovely screenshots of the things these new neighbors of mine were saying about me in a different group, and they were not kind.

In one of the last conversations I had in one of those groups before I was banned, ostensibly for posting links to fact checking articles or news sources with a “liberal bias,” like CNN, a neighbor, one of my new neighbors, made a comment about putting on his white hood and burning a cross on my lawn. I’d screen cap the whole conversation and show you, but I’ve been banned, as I say, so unfortunately I can’t at this point. But what I can tell you is that I did my best to shrug it off by making a joke. I told him sarcasm is hard to read online, but if he was serious about burning a cross on my lawn, let me know in advance so I could get some marshmallows.

Then I opened a bottle of wine, sat at my desk, and read for the thousandth time the name of the detective on my second police report, who actually offered to help me when I thought my life was endangered.

I live with PTSD from being stalked and threatened for two years. I live with PTSD from being assaulted and made to fear for my life. That’s how I live. It’s not a choice I made once upon a time to occasionally freak out completely when my doorbell rings. Or to breathe through tachycardic attacks and pray I don’t have to go to the hospital because the presence of other people in these moments of traumatic stress is threatening. So when my new neighbor tells me they’re going to burn a cross on my lawn, I do more than wonder. If there was ever a trigger for PTSD from online stalking and harassment, that’s it, let me tell you.

I’ve been looking over my shoulder for days. I’ve been anxious to the point of sleeplessness, physical illness, and bouts of weeping. I’ve been patrolling the hall outside my children’s door in the wee hours with a flashlight in my left hand and a dagger in my right. And I know it’s ridiculous. I know the chances that they’re coming for us are slim to nonexistent. But my PTSD doesn’t know that.

All my PTSD knows is that I am literally surrounded by strangers. And that one of those strangers has created an online vendetta against me. And another of those strangers has “joked” about burning a cross on my lawn. And another of those strangers has told me they have a map in their head of where all the minorities live. And more of those strangers have evicted me from participating in public discussions about race and inequality in our country and my new town. And I am of a different race. I experience inequality. I am a vocal, out, loud, brash minority. And while my opinion and my voice and my experience is as equal and valid as anyone else’s, for writing about my concerns in moving to an area where I may experience oppression, I seem to be, you know, kind of experiencing oppression. And I’m honestly shocked, more than anything. I’m honestly surprised that me being vocal is encouraging other people to make me feel endangered.

I haven’t been permitting my children to play outside as much as they’d like, because my PTSD tells me to fear for them. I haven’t been working on what I need to write, because my PTSD makes me a ball of nerves and despair. I haven’t been answering the phone, because whenever it rings my PTSD tells me it’s him it’s him it’s him it’s him again no matter what the caller ID says. I have been physically ill, emotionally wrecked, and productively stunted.

But as I always do, I’m going to climb out of this. As I always do, I’m going to shake it off, take my anxiety medication, and breathe deep. Eat some chocolate. Make some fresh juice. Do some yoga. Paint a few walls and unpack some more boxes. Do some self care and write off the haters. Because you know the most important thing about being terrorized, even if it’s by your own PTSD?

It’s not forever. It comes in waves, triggered sometimes by truly thoughtless, truly hurtful things other people do. But those waves pass.

I’m going to get my shit done, because I have no space in my life for this kind of fear.

But for all of you reading, for all of you considering that your comments are “just a joke,” or that online harassment is in no way real harassment, you’re wrong. Every word from your fingers might as well be screamed in somebody’s face. So be sure you’d be willing to say it that way.

I stand by what I write. Even when the occasional editor takes some liberties with my words, I stand by it. I stand by it when I say the suburbs are full of Christian white people who do not understand their privilege and are afraid of having it confronted. They’re proving it to me every day.

And I’m going to keep writing about it.


Read more about confronting white supremacy here: You Need To Talk To Your Kids About White Supremacy
Read my latest post here: Hillary Clinton is a John Hughes Movie Villain, and That’s Good

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