This story exists because I listened to two women. The three of us were chatting on my lunch break, and one of them started telling me about her recent experience dealing with a stalker. It was creepy and scary, but she insisted that she refuses to live in fear. When she was done, the other women immediately shared her own equally frightening experience with a stalker.
I wondered how common these experiences were. “Ask other women you know,” one of them said. “I think you’ll be surprised.”
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 15 percent of women and six percent of men have been stalked at some point in their lifetimes. This seems low, especially given that the Justice Department defines stalking so broadly, as “engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of others or suffer substantial emotional distress.”
While researching why stalking happens, I kept running into the same word: Entitlement.
“Although stalkers say they do it because they feel so helpless that they have to resort to those desperate measures, it’s also because they feel entitled to, as if the woman is ‘his,’ and he has the right to know every little thing she does,” Michael Kaufman and Michael Kimmel wrote in their 2011 book The Guy’s Guide to Feminism.
Six years later, Kate Manne addressed this in her book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. “When men are privileged, or long have been, they may proceed with a sense of not only legal impunity but also moral entitlement–secure in the idea that what they seize is theirs for the taking, and sometimes trying to wreak revenge on women who fail to uphold their end of history’s bad gendered bargain,”she wrote.
That Manne is currently working on a new book on misogyny, simply titled Entitlement, is a big tip-off here. Entitlement–a feeling that a woman’s attention or even body is a possession of a man’s–is everything.
It’s thus no surprise that women are, as researchers H. Colleen Sinclair and Irene Hanson Frieze wrote in a 2002 paper, “far more likely than men to report that the stalking behaviors had caused them fear.” Further, Sinclair and Frieze found a variety of studies showing that “women are more likely to experience intimate violence and to notice violence generally in close relationships.” What’s more, Sinclair and Frieze noted that research showed that women reported more stalking behavior than men did. “As men’s actions are more threatening to women than vice versa, women may report higher frequencies because one tends to attend to information that is potentially threatening to one’s survival,” the researchers wrote.
It doesn’t help that so many popular movies romanticize stalking. Movies like Say Anything, The Notebook, Love Actually, High Fidelity, Wedding Crashers and There’s Something About Mary all include male characters who exhibit stalking behavior towards women, but are portrayed in a positive light.
“These male characters all refuse to respect women’s boundaries, women’s personal space, or women’s privacy,” Jonathan McIntosh says in the YouTube channel Pop Culture Detective. “They don’t listen to women’s words, and they ignore all signals of disinterest or rejection. In short, they refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
The South African writer Tauriq Moosa went even further in a 2017 op-ed for The Guardian. “Instead of teaching men to respect women’s boundaries, however painful rejection may be, the media teach us that our feelings, our sense of entitlement, matter more,” Moosa wrote. “As men, we’re told to disregard women as people and view them instead as goals to pursue, view rejection as an obstacle to overcome, view boundaries as fences to wear down.”
Taking my friend’s advice, I asked women I know around Orange County and Long Beach if they’ve ever dealt with a stalker. Some said yes immediately; others said no, then a few minutes later came back to me and said my question had jogged an old memory. Very few said they’d never had a stalker.
Here are 10 of their accounts, all given anonymously, with all identifying details removed, save the city they live in. Though each woman’s experiences are different, the accounts all share one stark commonality: they happened because a man felt entitled to a woman’s body, affection and attention.
I won a beauty pageant a few years ago. The first time I saw him, I didn’t know he had already been following me. I was with my sister at CVS, and we were in the beauty aisle. He approached me, then said I looked familiar, that maybe he saw me in the newspaper. I didn’t think anything of it because I had done so many appearances and had been in the papers.
The second time I saw him I was running, in the late morning. He started following me in his car. He tried to get my attention, to talk to me, but I ran home. That scared me. The third time I saw him I called the cops, because I knew something was up. But since he hadn’t threatened me, they said there was nothing they do, beyond talk to him–tell him to leave me alone–which apparently they did.
Nothing happened for two years, and I thought that was it. But then I was out running, and I saw him start following me. I freaked out and ran home. I locked the doors, closed the blinds and called the cops. Again, they said they would talk to him. At that point, I was just trying to create a paper trail.
We got his address–which was in my neighborhood–and my boyfriend at the time wanted to confront him. He went over to the guy’s house and knocked on the door, but there was no answer.
He left me alone after that, until about three years ago, when I was out voting in my neighborhood. He wasn’t there when I got to the polling place, but he just happened to be leaving at the same time I was. Again, he tried to get my attention. I just got in my car and drove away.
Another time I was out walking my dog, and he drove up to me and again tried to get my attention. By this point, I just cursed him–I told him to leave me the f*** alone at the top of my lungs. I wanted everyone in the neighborhood to hear me. He looked shocked, and then drove away.
I was leaving work in early October and saw him again–I was on a main street, waiting to make a left turn, and he pulled up next to me. I was terrified–now he knows where I work, I thought. This was also the first time he ever approached me at night, and it was a main street.
I went home, and once again closed the blinds and locked myself inside. Now I carry a Taser and pepper spray. Years ago I stopped running at night, but now I never run at sunset either. And when I do go running, I vary the times I leave so there isn’t a pattern. And I never run near the street where he lives.
Santa Ana (I)
I was in high school color guard with the marching band. There was this boy who was really into me. One night after a tournament we were sitting on the bus. We made out, but then he thought we were to be together. I didn’t really feel that way about him.
He would follow me around school, and wait for me after class. He also wrote me a bunch of letters, and would send poems to me. But he was passing off poems that he found on the internet as his own. I called him out on it. He said he was sorry. I also told him gently that I wasn’t interested in him, and didn’t want a relationship. He said okay, but he continued to follow me to classes. He would follow behind where I wouldn’t notice him, but my friends saw him and told me about it. This went on I think for a whole school year.
It finally fizzled out because he latched onto another girl and got her pregnant. They have babies now.
I was officially his supervisor, and he somehow got fixated on me, even though I’d only met him once and he didn’t work in my building. He started sending emails to me. At first they were creepy, but they got more threatening as time went on.
I made my employer hire a threat assessor. The assessment came back that yes, he was a threat, but the way to deal with him was to not deal with him, in hopes that he would just go away. This felt wrong to me–by staying silent, I didn’t feel empowered. And, as it turned out, he didn’t go away.
He started contacting other people about me. He sent emails to my co-workers, and to others. Then he started going into my social media, and sending notes to my friends and followers. He was especially nasty to women.
Everyone was getting upset, but I had to tell them not to respond. I started to feel really bad, because not only did I have to relive this each time, but now these women–some of whom had their own sexual harassment and stalking experiences–were dealing with this.
The organization later separated from this man, but he got a great deal of money to go away. They didn’t do anything to protect me, except tell him that he couldn’t come to work anymore.
I ended up stepping down as supervisor. I felt that one of the reasons he was targeting me so aggressively was because I was his boss. I also worried that I was putting my kids at risk. It just wasn’t worth it.
I still resent that. I was good at my job, and was the first woman in the organization to hold that position. Now, a man has it again. I don’t like that just because there’s a woman in authority, a man can threaten her and the organization won’t protect her.
The anger just doesn’t go away. I did everything I was supposed to do, and he still got to do what he wanted.
I was 20, working at a mortgage company in Utah. He was 40, working IT. He was just the IT guy at work, 20 years older than me. There was no other reason for him to be in my life. I would only talk with him when my computer crashed. Then I moved to California. That’s when he started following me on Instagram. For five years, he kept hitting me up on Instagram, sending me messages. I never replied. Then one day he said he was flying to San Diego. Soon after, he drove all the way to the bar where I worked. I was washing dishes when he walked in. I saw him, then asked a regular to distract him while I left out the back. I haven’t seen him since.
Another time, I was working at Wal-Mart and my manager started messaging me on Instagram. He was just my manager–we never went out. He also looked up my address and started sending flowers and chocolate-covered strawberries to my house. Even today, he still sends me Instagram messages saying “Hey, I miss you” and “I love you.”
I met him at the end of 9th grade. He was a friend of a friend. I always knew he had a crush on my, but I never hung out with him one-on-one. He was on the water polo team, and he was tall. I’m tall, and I still had to look up to him. We went to different high schools, in completely different neighborhoods. He started spreading a rumor that I was his girlfriend, even though we never went out, and I never gave him my phone number.
I confronted him at a party and told him that I wasn’t his girlfriend, wasn’t interested in being his girlfriend, but he laughed it off, and still told his friends that I was “his girl.” Then one of my friends ended up giving him my phone number. He tried to call me, but I sent the messages to voicemail. Eventually, I just blocked his number.
Then it escalated to the point that he would drive up beside me as I was walking home from school. He asked if he could take me home. “No, you aren’t taking me home,” I told him. He must have been skipping school to do this, because I got out earlier than other students. Anyway, I stopped walking home, and had my dad pick me up after school.
This went on throughout high school. One time, he found out where I lived, and he started showing up outside my house. That’s when I went to the police, but they told me they couldn’t do anything unless he threatened me or our property. Plus, my dad wasn’t taking it seriously–he thought I was leading him on, even though I wasn’t.
One night during the winter of 12th grade, I was at home, reading in bed, and I heard tapping on my window. Soon it got louder, and then it turned into pounding. “I know you’re there,” he said. “I can see you reading.” I ran out and locked myself in another room. The pounding had gotten so loud that it woke up my dad, and he called the police. He ran away before they arrived, but at least I was able to file a report and get a restraining order against him.
I didn’t have any further contact with him until I was about 21, when he found me on Facebook. He said, “I miss you. How are you? I have a girlfriend now, but I can’t stop thinking of you.” I responded, and told him to leave me alone. But it so disgusted me that a week later I deleted my Facebook page.
Santa Ana (II)
In high school, there was a guy I’d hang out with. He wasn’t my boyfriend, and we were never intimate, but he was always asking me to hang out. It was all the time. At one point I told him that I didn’t want to hang out.
That’s when he started obsessively calling the house. Like nonstop. He would also show up places to see me, and he started asking my friends about me. What finally stopped it was that my dad got on the phone and put him in his place. I think my dad just got sick of his always calling.
It lasted about three weeks. At first it was just a nuisance, but then it became weird. Like I said, we weren’t intimate, and at the time I didn’t understand what he was after.
I knew this guy about seven years ago. We hung out in the same social groups. He wasn’t a close friend–more like an acquaintance. I’m very active on social media, posting what I’m doing, and then one day he just randomly showed up at a bar where I was hanging out with a friend. No warning. “How did you know we were here?” I asked him. “I saw your post,” he said.
That was a red flag. Then I started seeing him all the time. Once, at a bar, I got a little drunk, and he made a pass. It was too much, and I made him aware that I wanted to stop all contact. I blocked him on all social media. He tried to reach out, say he was sorry, but I blocked him. I’m still watchful, even kind of paranoid.
But there was another time, a one-off incident, that still shakes me. I was at the bar of a really packed club. There were tons of people around me. All of a sudden, this guy grabs my arm and starts pulling me. I have no idea who it is–I can’t even see his face because it’s so crowded. I start yelling at him to stop, but he keeps pulling me. He pulls me all the way to the door. I’m screaming at this point, but no one can hear me because it’s so loud.
He pulls me outside, where it’s a lot quieter. I’m still yelling. People are standing around looking at us, kind of wondering if they should do something, or he’s just my boyfriend. He starts trying to drag me down an escalator. I know if he does that, there’s just no hope for me. Then out of nowhere my friend who I was with shows up and starts asking what’s going on. The guy just disappears.
That really shook me up. I couldn’t go out after that. Even today I get super defensive about people touching me. I’ve been really shaken up since that incident.
I was 18 at the time. I was in college, eating in the dining hall. When I got up, I accidentally bumped into this guy. “It’s so funny,” I told him, “you look like Mac DeMarco.” We talked briefly about DeMarco’s music, and then I said, “It was nice meeting you” and left. I wasn’t expecting anything to happen after that. About an hour later, I got a Facebook friend request from the guy. I had no idea how he found me–we had no mutual friends–but I had been wearing a jacket that had my first name printed on the back.
I accepted the friend request, and then he sent me a link to Mac DeMarco’s new album, and links to MP3 files for his music. Then he asked me if I was free to hang out that night. I thanked him for the music, but said I already had plans to go to a Wes Anderson film festival at the school that night. I suggested that he should go, and that maybe we’d see each other.
He did show up, and ended up sitting next to me, but I spent the whole time watching the films. He walked me back to my dorm when it was done, and we talked about surface-level things. At my dorm, he asked me if I wanted to go out another time. I said I wasn’t interested. He said he understood, and left.
Five minutes later, he sent me the song “Friend Zone” by Thundercat. I think I thumbs-upped it. I didn’t talk to him again for a while, but then every week he started sending me songs. A lot of them were about breakups. I eventually blocked him, and I stopped wearing that jacket that had my name on it.
Long Beach (II)
When I was 13, I lived in a group of condos. My friends and I would walk through the neighborhood to go to the park. One day, this guy followed us in his car. He looked like he was lost, because he was just circling. Finally, he drove up to us. He pulled up and asked us where this store was.
We couldn’t hear him because he was still sitting in his car, so we moved closer. That’s when I saw that he was naked from the waist down, touching himself. Some days later, we saw his car again in our neighborhood. I didn’t even get the car’s license plate, because I was freaked out. I also didn’t think things like that actually happened in real life.
That scarred me for a long time. After the school bus dropped me off, I had to walk a few blocks to get home. I got scared, and super-vigilant about every man everywhere who came near me. I also forced myself not to look into cars that were near me. For a long time I thought that all men were disgusting, and it made me angry when I wondered if he had done that to my other friends.
I told my dad, and he gave me this tiny screwdriver and told me to carry it with me all the time, even put it in my bra if I had to, so I could grab it if I needed to. He was a single father, and he had to work–he couldn’t pick me up after school and take me home. I guess this was the best he could do at the time.
There was this guy who was a friend of a friend. We had one of the only apartments just out of high school, and he came to all our parties. There were three of us living there at the time. He had a red car, and he would drive by the apartment all the time. If the lights were on, he would stop and come up, and the front door was often unlocked.
He was creepy. It was his shyness, combined with the way he stared. I don’t know who’s friend he was. He never asked any of us out, but this went on a long time–over a year. He never hurt anybody, but he made me very uncomfortable. I was always afraid he would knock on the door when I was home by myself. What do you do then? You can’t say you’re not home. When I was home alone, I’d sometimes keep the lights off. He would drive by all the time. It became a fear of red cars–any time we’d see one, we’d stop.
There was another guy, a very tall, very strange guy. He found out I was acting in this particular theater and he’d come to the plays and stay after. I think he was schizophrenic, but he did pretty well. He came to at least three plays, which were months and months apart. He would just stare at me–again, never asked me out. He would just be there, not doing anything. He would also bring a joint and we’d pass it around. A friend admonished me for this–saying I was just using him for his marijuana, but he’d also smoke it.
I always wore sturdy shoes when I lived in the city, so I could run if I needed to.
If you feel you’re being stalked and need help, call Safe Horizons at 1-800-621-4673.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.