It was a dark night in November when the doorbell rang at 6 p.m. I pushed the button to open the door, thinking that it must be a delivery. I felt safe. Someone entered but did not turn on the light and I wondered why. I heard the heavy footsteps walking from door to door on the main floor, as if searching for something…or someone. My inner voice told me to shut the door and hide. Suddenly, I knew it was him. I closed the door and looked through the peephole. A couple minutes later my father appeared. After 10 years, he had finally found me - despite my secret address and safety plan.
Stalking is a potential threat. You need a safety plan.
My father was emotionally abusive throughout my life. He told me how often I had to see him twice a month. Each time, I visited him, he sent his wife into the sleeping room for two hours and brainwashed me. He badmouthed my mother’s family and blamed them to be solely responsible for his misfortune. He told me that the last cruelty my mother had done before her death was to allow me to study. As a woman, an apprenticeship would have been good enough for me. He told me that my mother’s cancer was God’s penalty because she had left him. He treated me like a possession. He never took responsibility for his actions or showed any intent to change. He was always right, I was always wrong.
Stalking is not about misguided love
When I was 28, I cut contact with him because I was sick and tired of his abusive behaviours. From that day on, he stalked me. Since he did not have my private address, he sent letters to my workplace. His letters contained abusive content: blaming me for not respecting him, intimidating me, badmouthing my mother’s family or talking to me as if I was three years old. I filed a police report and got a secret address so that he could not find out where I lived. I also developed a safety plan so that I would know what to do if he were to find me. Still, after 10 years, he had somehow gotten my address and was at my door.
Stalking is about power and control
16 years after cutting contact and even after moving abroad, my father still stalks me as soon as he got an idea where I might be. He sends me postcards and letters which I cannot be returned because they have no return address. On the surface they may seem benign, but….
I cannot change his actions and I will never understand what goes on in his mind. However, I have found a way to empower and keep myself safe.
Stalking is never ok. Stalking is not a sign of misguided love, it is about power and control. Stalking is a criminal offense in Canada. If you are being stalked, you are not alone. Here are some suggestions that have helped me. Hopefully, you will find something that resonates with you.
What can you do if somebody stalks you?
It is not your fault
Stalking is confusing, intimidating and abusive. It is difficult to process it emotionally. The following sentences were my mantra to keep myself sane:
- You have a right to say “no” to family members.
- You have a right to cut contact with family members.
- If they decide to stalk you, it is their choice.
- Stalking is abusive and it is not ok.
- You are not responsible for their behavior.
- It is not your fault.
Create a safety plan
If you’re being stalked, you need to establish a safety plan. I always have a safety plan in place. I will never know to what extremes my father may go, but I want to keep myself as safe as possible.
Talk to the police
I am not saying that it was comfortable, but when I lived in Germany, I went to the police and got the best protection I could. I also got a secret address so that my father could not find me. You may also want to file a police report and discuss measures on how you can keep yourself safe. Know your rights and claim them. Keep notes about the occasions when your stalker tries to contact you.
Share with people who believe you
I was fortunate enough to always find people who believed me. I shared the fact that my father was stalking me with friends, police, and employers to protect myself. Unfortunately, I have also met people who did not believe me. They were counsellors, friends, family members and, more than 20 years ago, even the police. Although society has changed a lot in recent years, not everybody understands the dynamics of violence and there still is a tendency to blame the victim and to deny violence. The reasons vary. Acknowledging that a family member is abusive is painful and denial or minimizing can be a powerful protection. However, minimization and denial is not ok. It is important that you trust your guts as to with whom you share your story. If somebody doesn’t believe you, you can choose to distance yourself. Surround yourself with people who support and believe you.
Get professional support to heal yourself
Stalking is intended to confuse and terrorize you and to ultimately leave you feeling hopelessness and powerlessness. It can be hard to work through on your own. I got professional help from a counsellor to deal with the effects of my father’s behaviour. In the end, I cannot control what he does, but I have full control over how I deal with it and how I allow it to affect my life.
After my father appeared on my doorstep that night, I phoned the victim’s department of the police. They knew my case. The officer said that she would phone my father to let him know that I did not want contact with him. A couple of hours, she phoned back, she told me: “I have many years experience in the department for victims of violence. I have talked to your father and I know that you have every reason to fear him." Her words were the most healing I had ever heard in the ordeal with my father’s stalking.
The cruel side of stalking is that there is no true justice. It is extremely hard to stop a stalker because they often know how to operate to escape being charged. I will have a safety plan until the day my father dies. However, I choose to give him the least attention possible and, to instead, to focus on living a happy and fulfilling life. I believe that is the best protection I have.
Further resources about stalking
Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime
This resource offers information about the legal situation in Canada as well as ways to create a safety plan.
Photo by Tj Holowaychuk on Unsplash