Monday, April 15, 2013

Haunted by an Ex ??!!

Haunted by an Ex ??!!
In many states, harassment by phone, text, e-mail , or other communication devices is prohibited by law now.

I never imagined that I would be a victim of cyber-stalking, but when it began to happen to me, it was as scary as it sounds in the news. I had dated this man for several weeks and then soon realized he was unstable, possibly even violent, so I ended the relationship immediately. I changed the locks, stopped answering my phone, and figured the problem would go away.

But I forgot about technology. He began to e-mail me incessantly, endless carefully crafted letters about how horrible I am, what a terrible lover I was, why I would never be happy without him etc. At first I read the e-mails and got upset all over again each time, then I wised up and began deleting them immediately. But they just kept coming. I began to ask around about what you’re supposed to do in these situations, and the advice was to block his e-mail address. So I did and that stopped things for a while. At the time, I thought it was over.

But then he began e-mailing me from new accounts he’d created on Hotmail or Yahoo and the insults got worse and worse and I started to actually get scared, even though there was no evidence that he was going to do anything more than just send nasty messages over the Internet. But I ask you, isn’t that bad enough? Well, my roommate thought so. She insisted that I file charges with the County Clerk and ask for a restraining order. My cyber-stalker was served real hard copy papers a few weeks later.

When my case finally came to a hearing, the judge actually laughed at me, saying that this did not constitute a threat on my life. I was humiliated and infuriated, leaving the court room in tears (the stalker didn’t show, thank goodness) and I never got to ask the question I wanted to ask which is: How do you stop someone from incessantly e-mailing you? Because I have a public personality, there was no way to change my e-mail address definitively, so it could just go on indefinitely? I couldn’t believe this could be legal!

There is a lot of gray area, as in my case, when you used to date the person who is now harassing you, especially if he or she hasn’t threatened you physically. Under law, the courts won’t issue a restraining order if they don’t literally think your life is in danger, as in “he has a gun and he’s at my front door.” But what about the psychological abuse and the off-the-charts stress level of being ‘watched’ and harassed with no way to stop it? I would come home from a night out and he would have e-mailed to say what a loser I was for going to such-and-such a place that night. Creepy! But legal? Not anymore.

In many states, harassment by phone, text, e-mail , or other communication devices is prohibited by law now. Lawyers advise their clients to keep a trail of the harassment by starting a folder in their e-mail program for all the unwanted messages or printing them out. It’s painful, but it’s worth it because that way the authorities can see proof that the harassment is real. Next on the list of priorities is to contact the police and tell them what’s happening, plus send a registered letter to the perpetrator from your lawyer stating your desire to have him cease all contact. A paper trail is your friend. If your cyber-stalker is someone that you don’t know, you can also utilize “reverse e-mail” technology to gain more information on this person.

As for my story, even though my hearing was unsatisfying, humiliating and I did NOT get my restraining order,  I did in fact get the desired result afterward. When the legal proceedings were over, my ex never contacted me again. Apparently even just the fact of the authorities getting involved is enough to stop some people. Lesson learned. Don’t be shy and live in fear – tell someone and put a stop to it.

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