By PETE CASHMORE
PUBLISHED: 23:11 GMT, 6 February 2013
My home, my relationship, my peace of mind. I have lost all three in the past few years through no fault of my own. But if I admit the reason, I have no doubt your reactions will vary from incredulity to derision.
This is part of the difficulty of being the male victim of a female stalker: people find it amusing. How can a 6ft 3in, 39-year-old man fear a woman? Surely, I should be flattered by the attention?
I’ve even had similar jibes from the police.
But there’s nothing funny about the continuing campaign that is gradually erasing all that is good from my life.
I first told my story in this newspaper nearly two years ago, thinking it would act as a cathartic full stop.
But this month — Thursday, February 21, to be precise — it will be four years since it all began and my stalker is still going strong.
Now I find myself wondering, pleading: when will it stop? No matter what kind of ‘revenge’ my stalker intended to wreak, she has achieved it tenfold. If it was to keep me from seeing other women, it has certainly worked. I am a self-conscious shell of my former self, always looking over my shoulder and unable to trust anyone.
If it was to make me miserable, that has worked, too. I am jittery and suffer from nightmares. In short, the misery she has caused me is indelibly marked on my character. Her campaign changed me from a confident individual into someone who feels frightened if a cat miaows at night.
I first met my stalker, Karen, a not unattractive woman in her 40s, at my local pub in the summer of 2008. She had recognised me as being a member of the same dating website as her.
The second time was after I had split up with my then girlfriend. I had gone to the same pub to drown my sorrows. We went back to my house and she stayed the night.
I have never regretted a one-night stand — or my typically male response — more.
The next morning, I knew something was wrong when Karen woke me to say that she loved me. Rather than nipping these unreciprocated feelings in the bud, I ignored her emails and texts. Cue her thirst for revenge.
A week later, she turned up drunk at my home on the first of about 30 occasions I’m aware of. It was around closing time, she was slurring and begging entry.
After this, she would ring my mobile and hammer on my front door. This was followed by abusive voicemails and hand-delivered letters begging for forgiveness.
At this point, my friends were still finding the whole episode hilarious and I reluctantly joined in the joke.
‘I am a self-conscious shell of my former self, always looking over my shoulder and unable to trust anyone’
That was until Karen’s onslaught turned particularly nasty in May 2010. She forced her way through the door of my flat to shout abuse in my face, and I felt I had no choice but to involve the police.
Karen’s response was to tell them that I had drugged and sexually assaulted her. Nothing compares to the anxiety of having a fictitious allegation of sexual assault against you. Not to mention the impotent rage at the injustice.
I dreaded ending up in court and losing my job as a magazine editor.
Three months later, Karen received a harassment warning prohibiting her from contacting me.
It wasn’t until December that the police phoned to say no more action would be taken against me over the alleged assault because, unsurprisingly, Karen’s statement hadn’t made sense.
Still, the matter wasn’t over. Her campaign began again in earnest after I wrote my first piece for this newspaper two years ago.
I received many positive responses but — and perhaps I should have expected this — Karen’s was not one of them.
The article seemed to crystallise her desire for revenge. What had previously been a cycle of late-night visits, texts and phone calls every few weeks turned into a barrage every few days.
By now, I knew that the best approach was to bide my time and collect evidence against her. Then, in July 2011, I embarked on a relationship with someone I had admired from afar for five years.
Thankfully, this meant I spent less time at my home in Tulse Hill, south London, because I stayed with my girlfriend instead. It wasn’t easy, though. A few times, when I woke to find a woman lying next to me, I leapt out of bed in fright.
On other occasions my girlfriend had to soothe me when I woke a shivering, sweaty mass and gasping for breath. She was always calm and understanding, but it can’t have been a comfortable experience sleeping next to me.
As for Karen, the tipping point came one Thursday evening in August. She turned up on my doorstep again and I was able to film her on my mobile phone.
She hurled the usual abuse, but this time mentioned my newspaper article, calling it a ‘rant’ — which she seemed to know off by heart.
‘A message flashed up on the screen: ‘Don’t get too drunk tomorrow night, you never know who might be watching’
Her mistake was confessing: saying ‘There’s a reason I’m stalking you’ while the camera was rolling.
The next day I returned to the police station. I was given my third case officer, who this time was very supportive (the first one I’d been given found the whole thing amusing). She assured me that I had gathered enough to prosecute.
As well as the video footage from my phone, there were six abusive text messages — complete with telltale mangled spelling, and four voicemails which included warbled singing.
Karen was arrested in October 2011 and I was given two options: either to proceed through the courts, or she would be cautioned instantly and all my evidence would be recorded as indisputable fact.
I thought long and hard and eventually opted for the second approach, on condition that the police make it clear to Karen that the matter stopped there. I was too weary to take it further.
For a while, Karen kept her side of the bargain. I began to reclaim composure as weeks passed without contact.
I began to think that my life was getting back on track. But I made the mistake of doing a favour for a friend by contributing to a television documentary he was making about stalking. For some reason it seemed to reactivate the trauma. The nightmares returned and I started to feel vulnerable again.Worse were the uncontrollable, out-of-character rages that came upon me without warning — often directed at my parents, my best friends and my girlfriend, who was growing increasingly exasperated.
One incident I remember happened when I was walking down the street and a cyclist nearly crashed into me.
Yes, it was an unnerving experience — dangerous, even — but it was an accident. It certainly didn’t merit the five-minute torrent of abuse I hurled at him.
By New Year, my girlfriend and I were rowing regularly, always at my instigation. Even though I went to see a therapist (the third since the stalking began), it wasn’t enough to save our relationship. In February 2012 I decided I had to go it alone.
Looking back, this was the latest in a series of baffling decisions and I’m not sure my girlfriend will ever understand. But I knew, deep down, that my anger and anguish were not safe for her. I was close to suicidal.
When I explained everything to my therapist, she said I was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.
She advised me that what I needed to recover from my ordeal were time and distance. The former would take care of itself, the latter would mean moving house.
Until that point I had always resisted because it felt like losing.Why should I be forced to leave the area I’d grown to love because of Karen? But I ended my rental contract and found another place in a different part of town.
If anything, my new flat is nicer than the old one, though it doesn’t have that intangible feeling of ‘home’. Yet I remained in limbo because on December 30 last year — 14 months after Karen received her caution — she reappeared.
I was sitting at home playing online Scrabble — you can play it with strangers on Facebook — when a message from a player flashed up on the screen: ‘Don’t get too drunk tomorrow night, you never know who might be watching.’
Around 120,000 people, are stalked each year, a 2012 parliamentary inquiry found
She was going under the name of ‘Sarah’ and went on to say that she was a friend of Karen’s who wasn’t happy about the trouble I’d caused her. She said she knew where I lived and worked, then threatened me with mention of a boyfriend: ‘Don’t add to his anger if you’re smart.’
I must admit my first reaction was of elation. I really thought this would be enough to put her in prison at last. But when I went to the police, I was told that Facebook is a law unto itself. There was nothing they could do.
The officer advised me to close my profile and stop playing the game.
‘Absolutely not,’ I said.
For me, it was a bridge too far. It might be hard for others to understand, but I’d already had to move flat and change all my contact details. I couldn’t let Karen take that away from me as well. I had to draw the line somewhere.
A month on, I still receive sporadic online messages which I have to ignore. The police have said that if she really did know where I lived, she would have paid a visit — and that undoubtedly she will trip herself up one day. This is reassuring and frustrating in equal measure.
As the four-year ‘anniversary’ approaches, I would like to tell my stalker that there will be no happy ending for her: I am not going to confess to something I didn’t do and neither will I suddenly whisk her off her feet.
The only possible conclusion, if she continues, is her winding up in jail. Surely, this will be enough to put a stop to it?
The name of the stalker has been changed.