#281: Oh goody. More stalking.

Calming Manatee saying "Sit with me sweetie, I'll pop the kettle on."Hello, friends. Here is a photo of a calming manatee and a wee child. Here are baby bunnies sleeping. Here is a female film director holding her Oscars. This is Bates from Downton Abbey wearing a flannel shirt and holding a baby. This is two female Navy officers kissing and telling. This and this are network TV shows with complicated, three-dimensional protagonists played by brilliant black actors.

Find some image that makes you feel okay and hopeful about the world, because we’re talking about stalking again.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I started seeing my current boyfriend in fall semester of this year, although the fact that we had both had bad experiences with long-term relationships led to us taking our relationship slowly and not becoming “official” until the beginning of spring semester. His ex-girlfriend was abroad when we first started dating and came back for spring semester. Through a friend she shared with my boyfriend, she discovered our relationship and has been harassing me ever since. At first it just involved her blocking me from an on-campus organization I wished to join, which, while unpleasant, is hardly unheard of. However, it quickly escalated to her actively damaging my reputation, verbally abusing my friends, physically knocking into me when we happened to cross paths, and even pouring a drink on me at a party we both happened to attend.

While doing this, she was also sending messages to my boyfriend trying to resume their relationship. When he would respond by telling her he would not speak to her until she apologized to me, she denied knowing who I was. Now it’s six months later and, despite the fact that my boyfriend and I have blocked her on every available venue, she continues to harass us through insisting our mutual friends cut us off and insulting/verbally attacking me to my roommate (who is a member of her organization). I’ve reported each event to the leaders of her organization and considered doing the same to my school, but the lack of proof (she’s never directly messaged me, I was alone when she spilled the drink on me and during the physical altercations) means that they can’t bring her up on any solid disciplinary action. It got to the point last semester where I would avoid leaving my dorm unless I was sure she wasn’t on campus or unless I had my boyfriend or a close friend with me. However, this upcoming semester my boyfriend is going abroad himself and all of my close friends are doing the same or have graduated. I had hoped that her animosity would blow over by the time this became an issue, but it is still ongoing and I’m beginning to dread next semester. I looked at transferring last semester but it was too late to submit applications. I know this might not sound like such a big deal, but it’s extremely detrimental to my emotional and mental well-being. Is there any advice you can give me on how to get through this situation?

Thank you so much,
In Hiding

Dear In Hiding:

She is not only harassing you, she is gaslighting you by deliberately doing things when no one was around or claiming that you’re making it up.

Gaslighting is fucking insidious and hard to combat.

Good job reporting her behavior to her student organization. You say you considered reporting her to the school but worry that there is no concrete proof. I say, consider gathering as much documentation as you can (eyewitness accounts from friends, printouts/screencaps of messages she sent your boyfriend) and take the whole problem to the school’s counseling center. You need to go there anyway to manage the stress that this is causing you. Tell the counselor that part of the stress is the way she denies the behavior or deliberately does it when no one is looking. Tell the counselor you are terrified and considering leaving school over this. Ask the counselor to support you in approaching campus safety, Dean of Students, etc. Stalking & harassment are a dirty secret on many campuses – the schools don’t like to publicize it, or else you might stop taking out giant student loans to pay your very expensive tuition – but it sure as fuck happens and they will very likely have policies and ways to enforce those polices. Even in a she said/she said situation where she claims you are making everything up, they will take steps to separate you and instruct you not to contact each other for any reason. Document every conversation you have with the school. Write down names and job titles and make a record of what promises they made when.

Script: “Ever since she found out I was dating her ex-boyfriend, she has been acting out in a number of small ways that are hard to prove or pinpoint, but combine to make me very unsafe. She has physically invaded my space and assaulted me more than once – pouring a drink on me, deliberately knocking into me – but she is always careful to do it when no one is around in a way that is plausibly deniable. This is not a normal way to handle a breakup and an ex moving on and makes me fear what else she may be capable of. I am frightened of her and it is affecting my ability to complete my degree and participate in the life of this school. It’s okay with me if you think I am overreacting as long as you help me put an end to this hostile behavior and create a safe learning environment. What can you do to help ensure that I can safely focus on my studies?

Gaslighting cannot survive an audience for very long. It thrives on shame, secrecy, and you second-guessing yourself – “Did that really just happen?” –  and messes with your sense of reality. She wins when you start feeling like you don’t even deserve to bring in the authorities because they probably won’t believe you anyway.

Let’s take this beyond campus administrators, policies, and informal solutions. They might not help you. They may have relationships with her that make it hard for them to think her capable of this kind of thing.They might pressure you to keep things quiet and not make waves – “Let’s try to handle this internally with a minimum of fuss, shall we?” They may try to handle everything verbally and coerce you to not file a formal complaint (that might taint the other student’s record or be something they have to report in campus safety statistics, for example), in which case you say “I’m definitely interested in the solution with the tedious paperwork and maximum accountability. Let’s get this all in writing.” It’s worth pursuing help from them just to see what’s out there, and you will probably be pleasantly surprised by what they do. But this is why you write down their names and what they told you: “Hello, Kind Journalist Doing A Report on Worst Campuses For Harassment! Hello, Attorney! On date, Firstname Lastname, Job Title of Very Important Things told me quote I should just try to be less sensitive and that it was not his job to intervene in petty girlfights endquote. He refused to let me move into more secure campus housing and discouraged me from calling the cops to report her numerous assaults. He is partly to blame for creating a hostile learning environment.

That’s right, ASSAULTS. You have to realize that knocking into you & pouring a drink on you is assault. She has assaulted you repeatedly. You do not have to just take it.If she comes too close to you, threatens you (after a history of assault, coming too close IS a threat), or touches you, you get to treat it like the assault that it is. Scream for help. Ask bystanders to call the cops. If she throws a drink on you, stay wet until after you’ve called the cops. Make a big giant scene. Dial 911. Not campus security – you want THE COPS. If campus security comes, insist that you also want the real police and to fill out a formal police report. If they stonewall you, add the security officer to your List of Future Defendants Unhelpful People Who Chose Not To Help You.

You don’t have to scream or be “powerful” or react in any correct way to be in the right and deserve to be free of this bullshit. I don’t want to give you more pressure that you have to be some idealized woman warrior. Screaming at someone and making a spectacle doesn’t come easily to we laid-back, well-behaved people. To do it means overcoming a ton of socialization, fear, and shame in a crisis situation where you’re not your best and have to think on your feet. The tendency is to freeze like a deer in headlights. But if you want, the skill can be learned.  Self-defense classes can help you with this. Role-playing with friends can help you with this. Your therapist or school counselor can help you do this. The way little kids have “stranger danger” drills, practice what you’ll do before you need to do it. What I want to give you is not pressure but permission. You CAN scream at her if you want. You are allowed to be really angry and ask for help. Your rich and brilliant imagination is currently absorbed with ways it could go wrong. You are allowed to start turning it towards things that could go right.

For example, a friend of mine lives in fear of a violent ex showing up at events where she will be. She has talked through scenarios with trusted friends, and I believe there is a plan where if he comes anywhere near her all of us will surround her facing outward like Roman soldiers and shout “YOU RAPED MY FRIEND! YOU RAPED MY FRIEND! YOU ARE A RAPIST! GO AWAY GO AWAY!” at the top of our lungs. We will then march him backwards out the nearest exit while one of us spirits her to a safe location. Be it a symphony, a graduation, a wedding, or a funeral. Be it a moment of silent prayer led by the Dalai Lama on national TV at UN headquarters. Be it in the first class cabin of the Concorde or the grand ballroom of the QE2 while QE2 is in that ballroom. Be it during the National Spelling Bee while some kid is in the middle of trying to spell “guetapens.” I could be on stage accepting an Academy Award and if that dude comes into the auditorium I will have to tell the audience “I’m sorry, I can’t talk now. I have to go kick the ass of the guy who raped my friend. Does anyone have an iPhone? :All five nominated cinematographers raise their hands: Ellen, you’re so nice. Meet me after and we’ll throw something up on the YouTube. We do not give one single fuck. We will not be embarrassed. She is our friend and he is a filthy rapist who has been told not to come near her.

I believe that fantasizing about this scenario has helped her go from dreading him showing up to dreading him showing up but secretly giggling at the prospect of seeing him flee before the Friend Phalanx when we chase him with the giant scissors we stole from the ribbon-cutting at the new office park or snatch the passing Olympic torch out of the runner’s hand and use it to set him on fire.

Back to your problem. Yes, if you make a scene you risk looking like the crazy one who started it all, and she will claim she did nothing and that it’s all in your head. This is a common move for stalkers. But she’s kind of doing that anyway no matter what you do. Right now there are no consequences to her. She is counting on you to just take it. Start making there be consequences. Start the paper trail.

If bystanders see you screaming and her being quiet they might in fact think you are the instigator. Compose yourself. Say “I know it looks like I am the one out of line, but she has been stalking and harassing me, and she came too close to my personal space for me to feel safe. I am frightened of her. Please stay with me until help comes.”

She is counting on some stuff from you and your boyfriend. She is counting on you to tell your boyfriend, and for your boyfriend to respond with stuff like “I am not going to talk to you until you apologize.” Negative attention is still attention. She is also counting on ruining your next romantic evening because instead of having wild sex and making your grandmother’s 87-step lasagna recipe for each other you’re having another bitch/strategy session on how to deal with her. You need your boyfriend on your side 100%, and that means he does not interact with her at all ever again for any reason. I’m sure he feels guilty, powerless, and responsible for what’s happening to you and the temptation to act like a big damn hero will be strong. Big damn heroes in this case keep their cool and bide their time.

You said “she continues to harass us through insisting our mutual friends cut us off and insulting/verbally attacking me to my roommate (who is a member of her organization).” Here’s the good news: You don’t have any mutual friends anymore. Here’s the bad news: You don’t have any mutual friends anymore. Any people you know in common are split into Safe People and Unsafe People aka, people you don’t care to know anymore. They don’t necessarily have to be informed of this split in some kind of ceremony – it can be a secret designation.

Safe People: Don’t have to necessarily “cut her off,” especially if they work in the same organization, but they do have to answer her threats, insults, and smear campaigns with “Wow, obsessed much? You don’t have to like LW, but have you listened to yourself lately?” and changing the subject. Safe people will believe you if you say “She makes me feel unsafe and I have to leave this party right now, will you walk me home?” They will not pressure you to “just work something out” so they don’t have to feel shitty about being acquainted with a stalker.

Unsafe People: Are close to her. Will pass every slight and insult she says onto you and watch for your reaction because they like drama and gossip. Will tell you you are overreacting. Will badger you to “just lighten up” and try to push you to make peace – not for YOUR safety or comfort, but for their own. Will treat “conflict” or “drama” as some kind of generalized problem that’s in the ether and not something that she’s deliberately causing. If they see something shady go down, they will try to talk you (and themselves) into deciding that it wasn’t that bad.

She’s a clever one, but no one is so clever that they can hide their true colors from everyone all the time, and the way she is fixated on you and this guy HAS to be bleeding into some other aspects of her life. From the Safe People, little by little, your Future Friend Phalanx will be formed.

I have one more kind of crazy suggestion. Feel free to disregard it – it is truly ridiculous and unfair and you shouldn’t have to do it, but somewhere back there when I was writing about unlikely Friend Phalanx it jumped into my head. What would happen if you and your boyfriend fake-broke up for a little while he studies abroad? Hide/change Facebook relationship statuses, put it out that you’re “taking a break” while he goes abroad but still remaining close friends, etc.?

The reason I suggest this is that she is currently suffering from the fallacy that it’s your fault they’re not together anymore. If she thought he was free, she might turn the energy she spends on you (local, on campus, accessible) to him (in another country, far away, inaccessible). “I can’t, I have a girlfriend” becomes “I don’t want to, I don’t love you.”  What do you think, you guys? Maybe explore it as a fantasy scenario with a counselor and see?

The good news is that with him out of the country and inaccessible, the whole thing might become less real to her and she might back off of her own accord.

Most of all, I want to say to you:

  • This isn’t your fault.
  • You have nothing to be ashamed of. You deserve to pursue your education free of harassment.
  • You don’t have to be stoic and handle this alone. Seek every possible resource and support system. Two good mantras to keep in mind if you get disbelief or reluctance to intervene from people:  1)”I’d rather seek help and find out I don’t need it than need help and not get it because I was afraid of feeling or looking stupid.” 2) “I know you are having a hard time believing me, but say for a second you did believe me. What would you do or advise me to do about this if you believed me?
  • You’re the best expert on your own safety – go with your gut. If you feel danger, believe the danger.
  • Read The Gift of Fear if you haven’t already.
  • Seek out and obtain: Counseling, self-defense training, excellent self-care and stress-relief.
  • If mutual friends, even potentially Safe People, balk at “drama” because they don’t want to believe anyone really acts like this, stand your ground. “I know how it sounds, but she is making me feel unsafe. That’s not us having ‘drama,’ that’s her trying to ruin my life because she’s jealous. I know it sounds like some soap opera, but it is real and I am scared. Please don’t downplay that.” 
  • Be really nice to yourself.

Fortunately the commenters here are the best people on the Internet. Someone is going to have a relevant experience and more fully baked solutions.

Much love to you.

56 thoughts on “#281: Oh goody. More stalking.

  1. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this, LW. I’d add to your to-do list (and I know it’s a lot of stuff you have to do, but this one’s fun!) finding some new activities and new friends that do not involve this woman. That’s something you should do in any event since your boyfriend and most of your social circle won’t be around next year, but it is also something that will contribute to Team You and to having support in place if this woman continues to harass you.

    (And to the Captain: I like to think that QE2 would be supportive of you marching that rapist right out of her ballroom, because the Queen does not take shit from anyone and she doesn’t think that you should either.)

  2. I think all this advice is fantastic and I have nothing to add but this:


  3. Sorry to hear what you’re going through!

    I’ve never commented before, so excuse me if I don’t get the tone quite right – but your experiences resonate. And, while I do not know how your campus operates in these regards, I can tell what helped me. A while ago, I was assaulted at uni (no witnesses) and the guy tried (well, succeeded) in isolating me in our shared group of acquaintances by spreading lies (all the usual stereotypes about crazy, vengeful, and (allegedly) rejected women (never fancied him)) to the extent that his friends threatened me. So, from this experience:

    First, you’re clearly amazing. Instead of suffering in silence you have already started taking action. You started building Team You. You spoke to her campus organisation. (If they keep records, that’s already part of you paper trail). You wrote Captain Awkward. And, through all this stress you make your relationship work.

    In practical terms, do try and take up the issue with somebody you trust and who holds some kind of official, preferably somewhat senior position at campus. Do choose somebody who knows you, somebody you trust. And, do not be shy about it: As somebody whose lecturing herself now, I consider this part of our pastoral duty towards our students. So, do that even if you do not want to officially involve school authorities (yet). Its part of assembling Team You. Do talk to them in confidence. – My lecturer kept a dated record of our meetings including the state I was in (in tears and shaking) and the events I had described in his files. Eventually, this formed part of my paper trail. He was able to advice me on the options that my campus offered me. He also anonymously sought further advice. Again, he kept a record and that was part of my paper trail. Once, the school authorities became officially involved, he advocated on my behalf.


    “She’s a clever one, but no one is so clever that they can hide their true colors from everyone all the time, and the way she is fixated on you and this guy HAS to be bleeding into some other aspects of her life.”

    For what its worth, this probably will also apply to her interactions with the school if and when you decide to get them officially involved – and it will discredit her and increase your chances of getting the protection and support you need. (Despite his initial politeness in official communications, my attacker’s refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing on his part and his vengefulness (extending to all Team Me) eventually discredited him.)

  4. A girl in my high school who didn’t like me used to do the intentionally knocking into me thing. She stopped after I made a big scene about it (which involved shoving her and yelling at her in front of a lot of people, although just yelling would probably work as well). So I definitely agree on the making a scene-advice about that particular problem. It’s a lot harder to discreetly harass someone if they won’t be discreet about it.

  5. Speaking from my own less-extreme but unpleasant run-in with a stalker who I could not avoid being forced to see (and at work, no less!), as well as a TERRIBLE and borderline emotionally abusive roommate in college, I am seconding the Captain’s excellent advice and adding a few things.

    First is going to be that if there’s any particular time/location that you run into this girl the most frequently, see if you can get a friend to be your sort of point person on Team You for those instances. If you can develop a short-hand with this Sergeant at Arms of Team You, it’ll give you a good fallback signal or script or whatever if you feel cornered and panic (I say this not because I think you’re weak or whatever, LW, but because I’ve been there and your brain, UNDERSTANDABLY, can sort of shut down when you feel unsafe). Being able to wave to a friend from across the room or say “I really need froyo RIGHT NOW” and have them know it means that crap is going down can might make your life a little easier. This person can also be someone that, even if they’re not in earshot for whatever reason, you immediately go to and tell any creepy/unsafe-feeling-making/threatening/etc. things she does or says to you. Not only do you get to vent and maybe feel a tiny bit better as a result, it also means that if you need to, you have someone you can both refer to if your own memory falters but also that you can refer other people (like school officials and police) to to corroborate your reporting of events.

    Second thing, in that vein, is to DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. Not just saving copies of messages or whatever, but noting date/time/location of any run-ins you have with her and exactly (to the best of your ability) what was said/done. Keep a tiny moleskine notebook just for this in your bag, start a note on your phone that’s a running list, whatever is going to be the most convenient for you to note things down as soon as possible.

    Third and last thing is to go, as soon as you can, to the student life or residential life office at your school and talk to someone about the situation. What they most likely are going to want to offer you is some sort of mediation or something, which you very likely may want to go along with. I know it sounds weird, because there’s no real mediation to be had other than her no longer acting like a hose beast, but what you want to find out is what the consequences for not following through with the agreed upon behavior from the mediation are. In the case of my awful roommate, we went through the mediation and it basically just meant that she agreed to stop hijacking our already tiny room by having her skeezy boyfriend there all the damn time but that she agreed to it in front of a counselor from residential life and signed a statement agreeing to the terms of the mediation, as well as outlining the consequences if she didn’t. Now, I had no delusions that she was going to actually shape up, but it started the process of officially putting her on notice and getting the consequence train in motion. Eventually it meant that she moved into a different room and had her guest privileges taken away for the rest of the year because I came home from class one day, on a weekend when she had agreed she would be quiet and there would be no visitors because it was STRESS CRAZY AWFUL WEEKEND for me, and her boyfriend was parked on his butt watching TV in our room. Rather than just being mad and freaking out at this and ending up sleeping on a friend’s couch or something, I marched straight over to Res Life, explained very matter of factly what happened, and the system took care of it from there. I’m not saying that your situation will be quite so clean, because it’s a lot more insidious kind of behavior that you’re dealing with, but if you can get the process started, you stand a chance of being able to let the system work for you if you’re lucky.

    Sorry this got so long, but I hope some of it helped. Jedi hugs and love and light to you, LW.

  6. Document, document, document. It’s far too easy for everyone to dismiss you or paint you as the crazy one simply because it’s easier. If you feel like you can, and that you would be safe and comfortable doing so, consider keeping track audiovisually. If you have a phone or camera that records video or audio, keep it accessibly in your pocket and know how to switch it on without looking at it or doing anything obvious with your hands. (Also know how to dial emergency numbers, security, cops without being too obvious – it’s ALWAYS useful to program these numbers into speed dial, and it’s a good technique to practice accessing your speed dial from inside a jacket pocket without drawing attention to yourself.) If she accosts you when you’re alone, you will feel more secure just for knowing that help is in your pocket; you should not travel your own campus in fear. If you feel safe and comfortable – do not provoke or prolong a conversation – then try recording her. If you’re feeling very Nancy Drew, you could even set up a sting operation where you have a friend shoot video of her at the next social event you’re at, but again, only you know your comfort and safety. (STAY SAFE AND COMFORTABLE, SHE IS BATSHIT CRAZY, OH MY GOD.) If your friends get footage of her shoving you at a party, then it will be hard for admins to ignore. If a Safe Mutual Friend gets a recording of her badmouthing you, it’s more evidence.

    The only occasion I felt the need to do this for was during my own college experience; a young TA who taught one of my labs had a kind of verbal diarrhea that made me uncomfortable, and my complaints were of little interest to the admins, who didn’t want to listen to students’ whining or do any work. I brought a small mp3 recording device that I occasionally used to record lectures. It only had one button and was quite subtle. I placed it under my notebook, collected half an hour of weird-talking, and that was evidence that couldn’t be faked or ignored. Especially since I obviously had no compunction about making it public, either.
    (A caveat: Recording people without their permission can be a gray area, but in the university environment I was in, it was perfectly acceptable to record lectures and, I think, against policy for anyone to ask you to stop taking notes in the matter that best suits you.)

    This kind of behavior is like fungus, or mold, or other damp infections: it thrives in the dark, feeding on secrecy and the stress it causes you and your loved ones. It thrives on your second-guessing yourself. It wants to bring you into a dark place too. Fuck that! Bring it into the sun – it’ll shrivel up and die.

    1. This is what I was going to suggest, to take things out of the realm of she said/she said.

      No, you’re not overreacting, making a big deal out of nothing.

      Dating someone does not give you dibs on them forever and the right to be nasty to whoever they go out with after you two break up. Yeah, most of us get a twinge when our ex moves on before we have. We may think hatey, voodoo dollish thoughts, even if the new person had nothing to do with the demise of our relationship. But we DON’T make harassing our successor our new hobby, expect everyone we know to join in, and seek campus funding for our new club. That she is behaving this way marks her as a self-centered, unstable banshee who has no respect for the social contract — and people like that are scary.

      As for her telling mutual friends they have to cut you off, I assume they’re telling you this? I think I’d probably say something like this: “Well, I guess you have a decision to make: the woman who, whatever her better qualities, is obsessed with her ex-boyfriend’s current girlfriend and dumping her drama about that on everyone she knows, or the woman who just had the good-and-bad luck to be that next girlfriend. I mean, personally, someone over the age of thirteen telling me who I can be friends with would be a bit of a red flag… make me wonder who the toxic one was in this dynamic… but the decision is ultimately yours to make.” Seriously. Anyone who would get that kind of ultimatum and choose *her* is no great loss to your friendship circle.

    2. I just want to second the caveat here — depending on your country (and within the U.S., your state), recording someone without their knowledge can be a crime. University lectures may well be a different situation, legally speaking, but you definitely need to know your jurisdiction’s laws before secretly recording private conversations.

      1. This. In the US state where I live, it can be a felony to record a private conversation without the other party’s knowledge. Since you’re on a school campus, there may be exceptions or other rules that apply (privacy law is complicated). Ask first!

        1. This could totally be a great way to keep her away though! Just ask her if you can record what she’s about to say or do when she comes up to; show it to her. My bet is she’ll be freaked out and walk away. Phasers on stun time! You can just flash the recorder at her after that if you like.

        2. Holy source citation, Batman! ❤

          Yep, YMMV with this suggestion; it definitely wouldn't work for some people, and laws vary depending on country, state an even property type. Of course, battery and assault are much less of a gray area.

          If the option is attractive to the LW she could try to be on the phone while walking alone. Walking with a friend or escort is preferable if possible, but speaking to a friend or family member while walking may help. it's a witness if Stalker interrupts or pushes her, and people are less likely to pester a person on a phone call. (I've forestalled conversations with creepers by pretending to talk to a fictional boyfriend.)

          1. University policies vary by university. At mine, you had to have permission of the professor (or lecturer but we didn’t have many TAs) to record lectures. It should be in your student handbook or syllabi.

            Also, with calling 911, check what your campus police policy is on that. Our campus police became part of the city police my senior year, so they would have responded to any on-campus police emergencies (presumably – I never tried). Also, our campus layout was very confusing to navigate and wasn’t street-based, so the campus police had a naming system set up for emergencies and for that reason asked that calls came through them rather than to 911 (They would contact 911 and direct to the emergency.)

            I think the summary is to know your university’s policies, which are probably all in your handbook.

  7. I had this *exact* problem in my first semester of uni… With one of the girls I was sharing an flat with.

    When I complained to my Resident Assistant that she’d made death threats and was making me feel unsafe, I was told that I was ‘overreacting’ and to ‘calm down’ and that ‘she obviously didn’t mean it’.

    That guy sucked.

    I’m sorry that this is happening to you LW, but please know you’re not alone.

    1. Wow. I work in Res Life, and if an RA *ever* reacted that way to a resident who says she’s getting death threats, he’d be fired.

  8. All of the advice here is excellent. I would also add that it could help to talk to the people she’s slagging you off to. Are they in your corner? Do they think she’s out of line? Would they back you up by signing affadavits/statements about how she’s obsessively slagging off on you and generally acting like a bully? A couple of statements like that (and you need to keep copies of them for yourself as well–keep all copies of your documentation) will bolster your credibility.

  9. Oh–also–your BF. Make sure he’s writing statements about her behaviors/attempts at contact from her, as well as her treatment of you and her slagging you off.

  10. Can I say, those calming pictures are so helpful. Manatees!

    Good luck to all the stalked- the advice given seems sound.

  11. I’m not a lawyer, but I believe what the stalker did to LW counts as battery. Assault is the threat: a (criminal) act “causing a victim to apprehend violence”, battery is the “unlawful contact”.

    Assault: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assault
    Battery: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battery_(crime)

    Pouring a liquid on your head counts as battery, I believe, as does intentionally bumping into you.

    Also, I would go beyond the suggestion to “document, document, document.”

    Hopefully, the people at the appropriate level (counselling, resident life office, campus security) will take your situation seriously.

    But, if they don’t, or whatever they do isn’t enough, send letters (and keep copies.) You know, those things on paper that the Post Office delivers. 🙂 You may want to get a friend who has some experience with burocracies to review the letter. Letters, especially ones with a stamp and a postmark, get people’s attention the way oral reports, their internal reports, phone calls, and E-mails don’t.

    If the letter to the first level doesn’t get a reasonable response, write another letter to the next person up in the food chain, with a copy of the previous letter. If necessary, write to the governing body of the college/university. If it goes on long enough, you’ll want to start mailing your letters certified mail with return receipt (if you’re in the USA), in case they try to pretend they never got your letters. If simple human decency isn’t enough reason for them to Do The Right Thing, maybe the knowledge that they won’t be able to weasle out by claiming they didn’t know about it will do the trick.

    We had to do this when our son was getting bullied on the school bus and nobody would pay any attention. The letter to the school board, with the hint that we were considering legal action, is the point at which we got their attention.

    1. LW, as your well-wisher with experience with bureaucracies and law firms, I would hold off on the letters until you’ve exhausted less oppositional policies. Written letters are hard to respond to, and people trying to help you will be delayed just figuring out what to do with it (my guess: look up your university-affiliated email address and respond in an email anyway.) And if you mention a lawsuit, only lawyers will respond – no administrator is going to go out and say something that could get them sued, and that will prevent anyone from offering you help. I think this is a step 3 or 4 to have in reserve if you get multiple brush-offs in person or over the phone.

      1. I wasn’t suggesting she start writing demand letters right off the bat. But dealing with campus security, counselling offices, dean’s offices, etc., requires a certain level of — let’s say: confidence — if you’re going to get anywhere, and, speaking for myself, I feel a lot more confident when trying to get people to do something for me if I know that I have a backup plan if they don’t do what I need them to do. Based on my own experience and the experience of a number of commenters in this thread, it’s a realistic possibility that they won’t.

        Also, I don’t see letters as confrontational. LW shouldn’t be sending confrontational letters at any stage (if, God forbid, she reaches the point of needing confrontation, she needs a lawyer to do it for her.) The point of letters should be to make sure that nothing important has been overlooked or misunderstood or forgotten, as so often happens in conversations. (That’s why it’s a good idea at work to send a letter or E-mail after any important conversation to make sure that the person/people you spoke to have the same understanding of what was said as you do.)

        I also agree that one should never threaten a lawsuit. (That’s another thing better left to the lawyers.) But you can, if it becomes necessary, intimate that if you get a brush-off, you will take further steps, without saying what those steps would be.

        1. On a college campus, I vote for starting with email to set up in-person meetings and then following up those meetings by email.

          Start friendly, keep legal options + postal mail in reserve. “I’m having a problem and I want your help clearing it up, what do you suggest?” is the right tone to begin with. It puts the person on your side. It puts them in the position of thinking about and describing how they see your options to you. You document what they say and see if some of those options might work for you.

          Do not lead with a mailed letter with the gist of “You will help me or else there will be VAGUE FUTURE ACTION.” Even if the person wants to help you you’re not doing a good job making an ally of them.

        2. Your university will offer student support internally, but there are also student bodies that should be able to offer support. I don’t know the structure of your campus but a Student Union or Student Representative Council almost always has some kind of advocacy role within campus. Sometimes this is by employing a paid liaison officer or student welfare officer – sometimes it is a more informal service offered through the student president, where another student activist is able to help you navigate the university system.

          Incidentally, in my university, the student clubs and societies were funded by the student association which had a charter of inclusion. A complaint to the clubs and societies officer regarding bullying (and the fact the club wouldn’t let you join) would have resulted in a membership audit. The club would then have been required to develop a plan for compliance or face defunding.

          1. Seconded – get an SU advocate’s help if possible. I was bullied in my first year and when I complained, the bully got an SU advocate (which had never occurred to me – I had documentation, + was in the right!) and the advocate argued her case (which was all LIES) so well that the only ‘punishment’ was that the two of us should never live together again. It was a week before the end of the year and I was so scared and fed up that I’d arranged to go home right after the mediation.

            I am still a little bitter about this, but my point is: if available, get help from the Student Union!

  12. I don’t really have any helpful advice to add. This sort of person may well be the house with the missing step that everyone just sort of hops over instead of fixing with the problem (thank you Cliff Pervocracy!). People may well recognize that she’s the problem, but do not want to deal with the giant shitstorm of confronting her about her dysfunction, so just try to avoid those stairs. Of course, you don’t have that luxury, since the house of evil bees keeps parking itself right in front of you over and over again.

    My partner’s ex is pretty much that broken step. They’d not been a couple for many years, and their relationship had morphed into sorta siblings–fights, long conversations, button-pushing, and the first person to call when there’s trouble and help is needed. My partner was completely surprised at the cold reaction to the news that we were dating. I wasn’t and figured it would take time to adjust. But after two years, I was done being patient and started to get angry by year 3, and vocally obstreperous by year 4. It’s now 6 years, and we seem to have reached some sort of tolerable equilibrium.

    I didn’t have to deal with the harassment, because the ex was always polite to me directly and even downright supportive during my cancer phase, so it kinda felt like reverse-gaslighting because others would make sure to let me know that she thought I was the antichrist. And my partner was always trying to avoid the drama and recriminations, so zie would leave me out of social gatherings where the ex might be present. Or others would exclude me for the same reason. Since there was nothing that happened directly to me, there was nothing I could really confront her about. And people kept telling me, “Oh, it’s not you. You’re not the problem.” No shit, I’m not the problem. I’m just the one bearing the social cost for everyone else’s unwillingness to deal. I finally made enough noise about fuck her reaction, it’s her problem, not mine, and I am not going to miss out because everyone else is afraid of her reaction/feelings, and it’s wrong to cater to her at my expense. She’s had years to get over this.

    I know that this is nothing like what you’re dealing with. I am sorry that you have this ugliness interfering with your education and simply going about your life. I hope that the Captain’s advice gives you strength and purpose to overcome this terrible situation. Best of luck.


    Sign me up!!! Brilliant and empowering. Right on Captain Awkward (and friends)!

  14. I could be wrong (and maybe the Captain has some experiences I don’t, that make her more sure of this as a possible solution?), but I think that the fake breakup is a TERRIBLE idea. The boyfriend can still employ “I don’t want to, I don’t love you” without a fake breakup, and he should, if it’s appropriate to his next interaction with the stalker. He should absolutely be making it clear to her that not interacting with her is NOT about LW, but a choice he’s making for himself because he wants it.

    But I the thing about the fake breakup is, you’d only be doing it a) for appearances b) for the stalker’s benefit. Maybe it’s my pride talking, but it seems like a bad idea to add extra changes and deceit to your life in response to a stalker. It seems like that would raise the level of “drama” and could end up feeding her inappropriate behavior in the long run. It seems like that’s allowing her too much power over your life.

    Obviously, it’s not LW’s fault the stalker is stalking, and no choice that LW makes will ever make anyone but the stalker responsible for the stalker’s behavior. But my instinct — and a refrain on this blog in times of “drama” and crazymakers — is DO NOT ENGAGE. And the fake breakup ploy seems like engaging to me.

  15. This is DEFINITELY a matter for the Dean of Students. They are not the police or a court of law, and they don’t need definitive proof to start helping you. They will probably not bring disciplinary action against this girl without more evidence, but there are so many resources available to students. At the very least they can help you document her behavior. I bet your school has a safe walk program, where you can be escorted around campus. At a lot of schools, football or other sports teams volunteer to staff safe walks so you will have someone burly but unobtrusive with you. They may also call her in to talk about what she’s been doing – they don’t need a subpoena to make your drunk-ass friend meet with someone after he spends the night in the health center, and they don’t need a subpoena to tell this girl they’ve heard she’s been attacking people. They have a million other resources they can connect you with, because helping students in situations like yours is their job.

    Most importantly, the people in Dean’s office is not going to judge you or think you’re crazy. If you’re afraid they don’t want to deal with you, remember that your safety and education are important. And Even if you don’t have proof of what’s been going on and you don’t know exactly what help you need, I guarantee you are being less bizarre and demanding than 9/10 of the faculty members that come in there.

    (back to livestream of kittens)

    1. Ooh, the safe walk program is a *great* idea. My school only advertised it as an after-dark thing, but I bet if you explained the situation they would set you up with people for the times of day you’re most likely to encounter this girl. And even if the school administration isn’t particularly helpful, the people at safe walk services are generally very receptive to student concerns about safety and likely have fewer bureaucratic hoops to jump through.

    2. Also, the “I am considering leaving this school over this” sentiment you expressed in your letter are words you want to use with the school officials. It’s not just a statement illustrating the severity of the situation, but it’s something that your school would like to avoid. There are often teams of people devoted to making sure that they don’t lose students in various ways. It may help put you over whatever bar is in administrators’ heads from “not a big deal” to “serious situation.”

    3. So in my final year of Uni when two guys on my corridor lit the posters on my dorm room door on fire while I was out and then later said respectively, “I’m so sorry—we did it for a laugh and it was stupid and out of control and I’m SO sorry” and “You’re overreacting, I won’t apologise”. I went to my college Dean the next day. He told me 1) “I take this very seriously”, 2) “do you have any proof I can use in my discussion with *them*” and 3) “We’ve had lots of complaints about the second guy from other people who are unwilling to come forward publicly.” The Dean told me both faced expulsion. Because the first guy apologised sincerely and was contrite, I asked the dean not to expel them. He immediately moved them out of the building to opposite ends of our college.

      The first guy said nothing bad about me. We remain Facebook friends. The second guy—who a year before had hit on me unsuccessfully repeatedly while I was dating his housemate and the housemate was away—bad-mouthed me to everyone. (I believe a year earlier he broke me and his housemate up by telling him lies about me as well). He made everyone take sides. Most acquaintances would not say hello. Many “friends” said I overreacted. Not friends for long!

      My crush said, “Hello” to me on his way to the shower one day though as a sign of solidarity and that was enough for me. I thought, “if he thinks his mates were out of line then it *isn’t* just me, I am *not* overreacting”. 6 years later, I have NEVER regretted my decision to go nuclear. Prepare for some fallout. The radioactivity will make you a fucking superhero.

      1. I just want to clarify: what I mean to say to you is this, just go all out and don’t regret a single bit of it. Don’t pull punches and escalate what you’re already doing like a BOSS like people here say. You’ll always be proud of rebounding at her with the full force of litigious academic bureaucracy. Turn your fear of her into anger at her behaviour, and break her nose (figuratively speaking, of course!). Ezekiel 25:17!

    4. “They are not the police or a court of law, and they don’t need definitive proof to start helping you.”

      Indeed. I harassed a guy in my dorm my freshman year of college and I was disciplined (correctly) for it despite there being no concrete evidence of anything, just grapevine stuff and conflicting accounts.

      Though you have no obligation to help this woman, keep in mind that by forcing to her to accept the consequences of her actions you are doing her a great service. People who are first out on their own often don’t know how to act and often experiment with various forms of behavior, some of which are extremely antisocial. The people who excuse and cover for her are in fact her worst enemies. She might as well be screaming “somebody please stop me.”

  16. Captain, I just wanted to thank you for writing about stalkers who are not former romantic partners. Reading this reminded me of a set of incidents just over a year ago in which a professor on campus was engaging in stalker-ish behavior towards me (not sure it had escalated towards stalking proper, but it was creepy, and other people in my lab noticed). I’m a postdoctoral researcher, not a student, so I went to my supervisor (a professor) and he went to our department chair, who got the department chair of the other prof’s program involved. You and commenters who have mentioned it are absolutely right: in an academic setting, “proof” isn’t necessary to get help. Document everything, of course, but know that you can get help.

    LW, Jedi hugs if you want them and best of luck with everything!

  17. Ugh. This woman sounds nasty. And sad. Does she really think her behavior will endear her to her ex? Does she really have nothing else in her life?

    The advice above is awesome. I would totally second the screaming thing. This woman thinks she can bully you and play nasty head games and nobody will know. I think when you call her on it, she will back the hell off.

    So here’s another maybe wishful thinking scenario: I’d be tempted, when she next gets her freaky assault thing on, to make a massive fuss. Shout, yell, exactly what she did. Like, HEY! YOU JUST SPILLED A DRINK ON ME AGAIN. BACK OFF!!!!

    Then tell her you recorded the incident on a hidden camera and the tape will be shown to the head of your school. Tell her she should back off because you’re taking legal action and you have proofof assault. Sure, she might bleat that you’re overreacting. But she’ll be scared. Inside. And worried. Because she thought the assault was secret and now it might come out.

    Otherwise, she wants your attention. Don’t give it. Block, ignore, if someone brings up the subject with you say, calmly, yeah, she is stalking me because I’m dating her ex and she’s obsessed with both of us, actually she’s kind of scary and I’m taking action against it.

    1. As someone else said: videotaping people without their consent may be illegal where she lives. Even if the LW only threatens to do it, it could reflect badly on her.
      To the rest: yes.

      1. Yeah, good point. In my country it’s legal to record a conversation without the other party’s knowledge as long as you are part of the conversation. Thanks for reminding me its not the same everywhere 🙂

      2. I suspect that, no matter where the LW lives, it is legal to claim to be recording the incident, even if actually doing so would require permission from both parties. And LW is under no legal or moral obligation not to lie to the stalker about something like that.

        1. That’s not what I meant. I think it’s a possibility that this could be held against her by authorities. Who knows what weird story the stalker lady can come up with that would paint the LW as a crazy crazy person who videotapes everything (or whatever)?

  18. So I rarely comment and I think your intentions are in the right place Captain, but I strongly recommend against any sort of fake break up. Engaging in any sort of deceit will be far more detrimental then any sort of relief, if it can even occur at all. It is not your responsibility to engage this other persons logical fallacies. If anything, by giving in you risk damaging yourself, your relationship with the boyfriend, and being viewed as a starter of drama because this other person is being very careful to not get caught. There is still the chance that this other person will create new logical fallacies to deal with the situation.

    The rest of the advice appears sound. Be firm, and find out who is on team you.

    1. Yeah, I agree with this. I think it puts the burden on the LW not to get “caught,” and will create huge drama if they do. Pretending a relationship doesn’t exist when it does is an elaborate charade requiring everyone in your life to either play along perfectly or be perfectly deceived. That could get messy, and become a big additional burden on the LW.

      I think the rest of the Captain’s advice is spot-on, though. I’m rereading The Gift Of Fear right now and I keep stopping and highlighting and going “oh hey I’ve met that person before.”

    2. You guys are right about the fake breakup – it is a terrible idea. Thanks! Just something that popped into my head as “What if….?”

  19. LW I wish I could add entirely original advice to this. I am so sorry you have this problem. Now the redundancy continues: You. Are.Not.Overreacting. Document everything. Document any response from college authorities who refuse to be helpful–They may be every bit as important as the incidents with the Alien Hive Queen (with apologies to all alien hives and their sovereigns everywhere.)

    And Yes yes yes, make a scene when this woman so much as looks at you. It won’t be comfortable and it will be embarassing. But all my job experience in museums–very public places, and my one run in with child abusers seems to back that advice up. Even if people decide later that your scene making was in the wrong the assaulter gets to deal with public exposure and humiliation and reputation branding that may never go away.

    All health and saftey to you.

  20. I would also recommend looking for an Ombudsperson and/or student advocate on campus. Each university seems to be different in terms of exactly what those roles are called and what they entail, but they can be good people to have on your side.

    I worked as student ombudsperson on a large university campus for a year, and if your campus has anyone in that kind of role, there are (at least) two ways they might be able to help. First is that they will have a really good idea of the power structures on campus, and of who you should be taking these complaints to; in other words, they will be able to take Captain Awkward\’s excellent advice and show you what it looks like in the actual context of the school that you go to. They\’ll also know about what kinds of counselling and other support services exist on your campus, which is important too.

    They might also have a sense of which bodies on campus are the most likely to actually do their job and help you properly; for example, where I worked, the office of the Associate Dean for Students (or whatever it was called) of one faculty was totally useless and kind of anti-student. So for students in other faculties, I would recommend they talk to the Associate Dean for Students of their faculty or someone in their office (if that was a relevant office to deal with their specific problem), but for students in that one faculty, I knew we would need to look elsewhere, or at least have other backup. That\’s just an example (not saying that that\’s the office that you need in your case), but the point is that it can be helpful to talk to someone who knows not just whose job it is to help in theory, but actually who will (or won\’t) be able to help for real.

    And secondly, people in this kind of position should be able to actually walk through much of the process with you. For example, where I worked, I would help people write letters (usually emails), I accompanied them to meetings, I would contact other university admin people on campus, etc.

    I have no idea whether such a position exists on your campus or what their exact role is, but I think they can be a valuable person to have working with you and helping you navigate the structures of a university, which can sometimes be a little daunting…

    Good luck to you!

  21. The reason I suggest this is that she is currently suffering from the fallacy that it’s your fault they’re not together anymore. If she thought he was free, she might turn the energy she spends on you (local, on campus, accessible) to him (in another country, far away, inaccessible). “I can’t, I have a girlfriend” becomes “I don’t want to, I don’t love you.” What do you think, you guys? Maybe explore it as a fantasy scenario with a counselor and see?

    I am against the deceit as well. But I am strongly in favor of getting the boyfriend on board with making it abundantly clear that the reason he is no longer with her is not because he is with you, and he is never going to be with her ever again, regardless of whether he is with you. Although it is obviously not his fault that his ex-girlfriend is a harrassing stalker, I do think it is his responsibility to do what he can to divert her attention away from you.

  22. The underlying tone of some of this advice seems to be that your institution is going to fail you epically. But that may not be the case. Please don’t be too pessimistic until you’ve sought the help you need. Maybe the campus response will suck, in which case I am very sorry and that is unfair and I’m glad there are a number of other options given in the advice. But sometimes campuses can & do handle this kind of horrible nightmare better than the traditional legal system.

    Most important: you are NOT ALONE; this stuff does happen and chances are people on your campus have dealt with it before. Hopefully they have dealt with it well. For all you know this same person has done it before and her behavior is known to the people on campus.

    Ditto the above comment from someone on seeking an ombudsman on campus if needed. Ditto the advice on seeing the Dean of Students. There may be a formal code of student conduct that addresses this kind of behavior, and as someone else noted they can act more swiftly and with a different standard of evidence than the cops could.

    Also, depends on the campus, but don’t be too quick to dismiss campus security as an option. I know on some campuses they are seen as keystone cops or as step above rental-uniform mall security people. But on other campuses they are good, and decent, and helpful. In fact on my current campus (employer) they are actually sworn, gun-carrying, highly-trained law enforcement officers. And on my undergrad campus, the security staff were huge advocates for student safety on campus and they were marvelous. On some campuses, Housing may have its own security, separate from the regular force, and they may end up being a help too.

  23. “I could be on stage accepting an Academy Award and if that dude comes into the auditorium I will have to tell the audience “I’m sorry, I can’t talk now. I have to go kick the ass of the guy who raped my friend. Does anyone have an iPhone? :All five nominated cinematographers raise their hands: Ellen, you’re so nice. Meet me after and we’ll throw something up on the YouTube.“ We do not give one single fuck. We will not be embarrassed. She is our friend and he is a filthy rapist who has been told not to come near her.

    I believe that fantasizing about this scenario has helped her go from dreading him showing up to dreading him showing up but secretly giggling at the prospect of seeing him flee before the Friend Phalanx when we chase him with the giant scissors we stole from the ribbon-cutting at the new office park or snatch the passing Olympic torch out of the runner’s hand and use it to set him on fire.”

    I just want to say that this is ridiculously amazing and I would cry real tears of pure joy if such a scene somehow made it into a youtube video or other form of media.

  24. It doesn’t make any difference in terms of who is in the right (the letter writer is, for the record) but it may or may not suggest adjustments to the strategy: I wonder if Stalker is thinking “if I stay at the forefront of BF’s consciousness, I can win him back” and/or “BF is mine and isn’t allowed to not be thinking about me” and/or some other thing.

  25. A self defense teacher once told me that adrenaline needs to be combined with oxygen in order to work – without that, it’ll make you freeze up instead.

    So the first thing to remember when you think there’s about to be a confrontation: BREATHE! Focus on breathing, and the rest – screaming or running or whatever else you choose to do – will follow.

  26. I’m not going to lie- I did not read the entire response (sorry, CA!) because I was really pissed at the idea of the university not doing anything for LW. I’m a reformed RA at my school and have seen things like this played out countless times. Odds are, the uni will try to sweep it under the rug. In one case, two girls who were violent with each other were allowed to be in all the same classes because we were in the same major, but couldn’t interact in any way and the Higher Ups decided that the problem was solved.


    If one department tries to push you aside (ex, Residential Life), go to another (Uni Police). Go to all of the Higher Ups you can, armed with screenshots and witnesses and a Team behind you. Try the chain of command, but don’t be afraid to jump a few levels if you are not being heard. Let them know that you are Mad As Hell and you will get outside authorities involved if they won’t do anything about it internally. That usually scares the proverbial shit out of Higher Ups. I don’t know if you have been able to deal with this problem already, LW, but I hope this helps some. Be persistent and make sure you have a good support system. Good luck!

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