My Story, & The Unfortunate Legality Of Modern Stalking

By Ashley Kavanaugh

We live in a world today of technology, where we often find ourselves in close quarters with the same people whether it be at school or work. It’s a world where stalking laws are falling behind, stating that a person must be explicitly followed, when they can merely be tracked online, or every other day at a mutual location such as place of employment. Worse yet, like the legal definitions of rape available, stalking laws also focus on the victim. Terror or fear must be felt, but when one can hide behind texting, or Facebook, or blatant lies, sometimes that is not always the case until it is too late. A few years back, I spent a summer researching stalking laws, and found myself disappointed by the restrictive use of the term. Why?

I was stalked, but not by the legal definition, and I was left unable to file charges or seek legal protection in any way. In fact, I didn’t even talk about it, for fear of my stalker seeking me out again, violently, for turning him in. But I’m 20 now, and he’s 2,000 miles away, and if I’m truly honest with myself, part of me wants him to know I turned him in, to know I filed police reports, and had his house searched. Part of me wants him to know I wasn’t as naïve in the end as I was in the beginning. This is the story of how was stalked. This is the story of L.

The summer prior to my junior year of high school, I moved from Phoenix, Arizona to the tiny town of Sellersburg, located a dozen or so miles from the Ohio River in Southern Indiana. Having grown up in Phoenix, it was a bit of a culture shock to suddenly be attending high school in small town Midwest USA, but all in all it was a good experience. That is, except for… well, let’s just call him L.

Due to differences in state requirements for high school, my Junior year’s Spring semester in Indiana I found myself in a freshman/sophomore Physical Education class. Actually, I found myself in two of them, one where I was considered a freshman and one where I was a sophomore, but only the latter is important in this case. I was the first out-of-state transfer student my high school had seen in something like five years. Additionally, I am far from the most athletic person in the world. Thus, in a scene straight out of Twilight, I walked into my last class of the day and, in a gym full of freshmen and sophomores, discovered two very important facts:

1.) I was still new, I wasn’t from there, and everyone was watching me fail horrifically at jumping rope.

2.) Beyond my own klutziness, it turned out I could blame a significant part of my failure on the jump rope, as, apparently, compared to the general population of Sellersburg, Indiana, I was really, really tall.

Point is, I stood out like a sore thumb, especially in gym. It was there that L found me.

My first conversation with L was odd, but friendly. He tried to guess my age (not uncommon for me), and we chatted for a bit about music. I learned that despite he himself looking older, he was only a freshman. My first clue that something wasn’t right should have been the second time we talked, when he gave me a mixed CD of aforementioned music, but I was new, I was out of my element, and I am embarrassed to admit I was still somewhat desperate to make friends. We continued to talk throughout our gym classes.

Eventually, I fell into L‘s group of friends, and I made a few of my own. There were five of us, three girls, two guys; three freshmen, a sophomore, and me. The school year progressed. We all exchanged phone numbers, we texted, and we became good friends, but I was concerned for L.

To put it bluntly, L was a victim of abuse. His father, an alcoholic, subjected his son to near-constant verbal abuse, coupled with occasional violence and outright psychological warfare. The image most prominent in my mind is the time L showed up to school in jeans and a t-shirt, when there was snow on the ground and the high for the day was in the low teens. I remember getting out of the car that morning – it was 2. I asked him about it, and he told me that his jacket, a hoodie sweatshirt with a tattoo-esque design of a skull on it, had been the victim of his dad’s latest rampage. He’d gotten upset about something, and in taking it out on L, decided he didn’t like the “violent” imagery featured on the sweatshirt, and destroyed it. Not only had L purchased the sweatshirt himself, but it was the only jacket he owned.

As the situation at home progressed in this matter – and I heard more and more stories of things being destroyed – I urged L to speak out. I offered to go with him to the police, or the school counselor, or anyone, really. And, I urged him to stand up for himself.

After months of this, he finally took my advice, it seemed. In literally the worst way possible. Meanwhile, I had started dating the sophomore boy from our group of friends, J.

It was about midnight, and as usual, L and I were texting. Things were winding down at my house, and I was getting ready to go to bed, when he dropped the bomb on me.

L was finally going to stand up to his father, and he’d bought a gun with which to do it. Naturally, I was freaked out by his statement, and my first thought was to call the police. My second thought was that L was only fifteen, so, did he really have a gun? I started asking questions, which he willingly answered:

–         He’d skipped football practice after school to buy the gun from an older friend.

–         It was a semi-automatic pistol, an (I believe, but I’ve since lost record of the original texts) AR-15.

–         After buying it, he’d brought it home and hidden it in the back of his closet amongst his paintball and pellet guns, and painted the tip of the barrel orange so that at first glance it appeared to be just another in his collection.

–         His plan next time his father tried something? To, and I quote: “Empty a clip into his father”.

Understandably, I was terrified, and scared for my friend, and a little lost as far as a plan of action was concerned. In the past I’d begged L to go to the police and report his father. He’d told me he couldn’t, it was a small town (and naturally I didn’t understand, because I wasn’t from there), and all the officers knew L’s father. They were friends with his father – they had BBQs together. I wondered what would happen if I called, then? Would they ignore it, and have someone end up dead, or would they come down hard on L in order to protect their friend, essentially destroying the rest of this kid’s life?

I decided then, with the input of both my parents and J, to leave that decision out of my hands. He and I – but honestly for the most part just I – spent the following day in the principal’s office. We showed up an hour before classes began, half an hour before the first busses (including L’s) arrived, and I handed over my phone. We explained to the principal that L had a history of interest of violence – mostly WWII and Nazis – so we believed that this was a legitimate threat. We talked about the history of abuse, all the incidents L had told us about in class, and about how frequently I’d tried to get him to seek help.

We gave police statements to the campus officer. We told the principal where L lived, and another officer was called in because it was a different town. J and I went to class, leaving my phone behind with the principal, and I was immediately called back out from first block. I stepped outside, and the Principal was waiting for me, to lead me back to his office via a seemingly convoluted route around campus. I asked what we were doing.

L’s parents are coming in.” he told me, “We don’t want them to see you if they walk in while we’re heading to my office.”

Well, that was certainly odd. I responded: “I don’t know his parents. They’ve never met me.”

“Well, they certainly know you. You’re apparently all he talks about.”

The next few hours were a blur, rereading the texts, recounting L’s tales of Nazi weaponry and fatherly abuse, giving statements to police and begging to remain anonymous. I couldn’t, because as soon as they’d confronted L about the gun, he’d blurted out “Ashley’s the only one who knows about that.”

It was my idea, but they ended up telling L that my phone had been confiscated for texting in class, and that’d been when my teacher had seen the texts and turned in my cell. As the day progressed, I learned more and more of the truth, and, frankly, I was horrified.

And, prior to being horrified, I’d apparently been incredibly naïve.

Police searched both the school and L’s home and found nothing. There was no gun, and there never had been. L was sent home after being extensively interviewed by the principal, vice principal, and police. His parents were also interviewed.

As it turns out, L, a freshman, had taken the opportunity to reinvent himself in high school entirely for a single purpose: to garner my attention and empathy. At some point early on in our friendship I must have shown him a little too much care and concern in regards to something his father had done, like ground him or take something away, and since that point he’d ran with it. Ran with it and lied.

His father was neither an alcoholic nor abusing L. Other lies, like his mother’s blatant favoritism of his sister over him were also false. L had gone so far as to intentionally strand himself at school via telling his parents he was at an event, so he could tell me he was stranded at school because his parents didn’t want him taking the bus anymore and had to drive his sister somewhere, so I could offer to drive him home, so he could fake a phone call to his mother asking if it was okay, to tell me she refused to allow it, so I could leave him there to wait an hour at school, so that he could call me later that night to inform me that his father had said and firmly believed that L and I had had sex in the school parking lot while he waited to get picked up.

All of this, because that first day in gym he’d decided that he liked me. All of this, because being grounded by his father had gained more of my attention than giving me a mixed CD. All of this, escalated exponentially, because I’d started dating J.

He was off-the-books suspended for the rest of the school year, so that nothing permanent ended up on his record, and I was left to figure out my own story for when he inevitably attempted to talk to me again.

That summer, I started looking up stalking laws, and was disappointed. Indiana classified criminal stalking as the following:

IC 35-45-10-1
“Stalk” defined
Sec. 1. As used in this chapter, “stalk” means a knowing or an intentional course of conduct involving repeated or continuing harassment of another person that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, or threatened and that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, or threatened. The term does not include statutorily or constitutionally protected activity.

Criminal stalking

Note: This version of section effective until 7-1-2014. See also following version of this section, effective 7-1-2014.

Sec. 5. (a) A person who stalks another person commits stalking, a Class D felony.
(b) The offense is a Class C felony if at least one (1) of the following applies:

(1) A person:

(A) stalks a victim; and

(B) makes an explicit or an implicit threat with the intent to place the victim in reasonable fear of:

(i) sexual battery (as defined in IC 35-42-4-8)

(ii) serious bodily injury; or

(iii) death.

L hadn’t harassed me, he’d lied to me. I did not feel terrorized or intimidated prior to the gun incident, but I now felt violated on a criminal level all the same. Yet, according to the law, I had no rights in this regard. I had no proof of intent with which to file an order of protection, despite now feeling definitively endangered.

My research continued. Maybe this was considered something else other than stalking? After all, he hadn’t been following me around, he didn’t have a car. Beyond that, he didn’t have to follow me. We had a class together, a guaranteed every-other-day encounter, with bonus crossing paths in the hall. He knew where my locker was, and where I sat during lunch, and at the time, none of that was creepy, because we were friends. His constant texting, discussing my whereabouts and actions nearly every waking hour wasn’t creepy, because we were friends. At some point towards the end of summer, he texted me, with another lie about losing his phone charger and being in Florida for the last ten days of school (the days he was ‘suspended’). I responded with a novel of a text message, stating that I’d realized during his ‘trip’ that I was better off without him in my life, and to never contact me again. He emailed me a month or so later, and I called his mother, threatening to call the police for harassment. It was a bluff, of course, I knew the laws, but it worked, and the rest of the summer passed in peace.

Senior year, while fantastic, was also terrifying because of L. Having no marks on his permanent record, he returned to school as a sophomore as if nothing had happened the prior year. Passing by him in between classes was a test of willpower: to not look at him to see if he was looking at me, to not make it obvious I was frightened. Our friends, his friends, begged me to talk to him again, to tell them why I’d decided to cut contact, but I’d refused, and ended up losing them too. I had other friends, though, and beyond those few daily moments of panic, and the ‘miraculous’ return of L‘s skull-design jacket, life went on. J and I went to prom, I graduated with honors, and I moved back home to Phoenix to attend the college I’d always wanted to. J and I broke up, and L hasn’t contacted me in over three years.

He’ll be graduating this year, though, and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t worry me.

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6 Responses to My Story, & The Unfortunate Legality Of Modern Stalking

  1. eifiguer says:

    This is not uncommon but it is incredibly uncomfortable, It happened to me in high school as well. This person would follow me home, until my dad, who stands at 6 feet 4 inches tall caught him at church one time and had a quick talk with him. He apologized a number of times and I never saw him again. I had a whole unit on this subject in my gender crime & criminal justice class. It is unfortunate that there is not much that people can do when when being stalked but it is only after they are in someway threatened that they can pursue any sort of legal help.

    • amkavana says:

      From what I gathered while this was happening to me, its difficult to pursue a stalking charge against someone after the fact. Instead, one must be reporting stalking events constantly as they go on, so that when they inevitably escalate, reports are already on file to provide legitimacy to the claim. This is where I got hurt, as there even were things I could have reported. I could have reported his memorizing my class schedule and always showing up between them. I could have reported how he’d lean against my locker for sometimes up to half an hour waiting for me to come to it after school. I could have reported the time he’d threatened to kill my (now-ex) boyfriend if he ever hurt me.

      I didn’t, though, because I thought I knew L, and the L I knew was abused, and hurt. The L I knew was insecure and spoke bluntly and in dramatic, unrealistic terms (“You know, if he ever hurts you, I’ll kill him.”). The L I knew was a little odd, but generally a caring, sympathetic person. And, after the fact, I couldn’t report the stalking, because legally, it didn’t matter that the L I knew was a fantasy.

  2. lgallar1 says:

    Wow, this is an intense story. Thank you for sharing! I am a cosplayer: which is wearing a costume and basically role playing as a character. I usually do Comic book heroes, Disney or anime, it is my passion and I love it. I have been doing this for about five years and so far I have not had this happen, but I have a couple of friends that have gone through stalking and sexual assault. When I attend events such as conventions or festivals with friends, sometimes people follow you or take pictures without your consent and possibly sexually assault you. It is very crazy and terrifying. Sometimes in conventions or festivals they do not take the “stalking” or even “sexual assault” seriously because some officials think it is part of the fandom experience or part of the cosplay; when it is not. I truly believe people should pay attention to stalking laws because it can happen to anyone and it can be very dangerous.

    • amkavana says:

      The primary issue I came across when researching stalking laws and any legal action I could take (which was none), was that the way the law is written, he wasn’t stalking me because 1.) He wasn’t following me home, and 2.) I wasn’t afraid.

      I went so far as to call suicide hotlines for teens, thinking that at least then I could be directed by people who knew about teen psychology, to someone else who had knowledge related to my specific situation. Unfortunately, that wasn’t helpful either, and it slowly but surely became clear that because up until the ‘big reveal’, as it were, it didn’t matter that he’d been psychologically manipulating me through a series of lies, because I hadn’t been at the time, scared. The fact that the friendship I considered us to have was based on his lying, something I to this day consider dangerous, didn’t matter, because I technically considered us friends.

      To be blunt, the message I got from this was that if you’re obvious, and if you’re creepy, you can be stalker, but if you’re manipulative and clever in your stalking, the law doesn’t apply to you.

  3. dakotalarson says:

    What a well-written and thoughtful post, Ashley, and I want to thank you for sharing your story. Reading this both made me feel proud that you took actions to do the right thing, but it mostly made me feel fired up that he got away without a scratch.

    Part of the reason I want to go into law is to seek justice, and it makes me extremely frustrated that this was not reached and instead, you had to leave Indiana still feeling uneasy.

    I firmly believe that every life experience shapes the person you are today, so despite being 2,000 miles away and this occurring years ago, L will always be in your memories. You had the best intentions of becoming friends with L, and you were taken advantage. Even when you decided to get the principal and police involved, not only did you do this for your safety, but for his as well.

    I find it a bit surprising that this situation was not taken more seriously, for the reason that it involved juveniles. Despite his actions being proven to be lies, I do not think that how he treated you should be okay by any means. I find his behavior atypical and a huge red-flag, and I wonder if his parents got involved at all by investigating his behavior any further, because this could have been the start to more serious behavioral issues.

    This is one of the many cases where the law gets in the way of victims being able to seek justice. I am all about laws being in place to provide structure and stability to the law process, but reflecting on this post makes me realize that the downside is that it can be limiting.

  4. azucenagonzalez598 says:

    Ashley, thank you for sharing with us. It is unfortunate to say that your story is one of many that portray the inadequacy of the jargon that is utilized for our justice system. I believe stories like these are a great way to keep a system of check and balances with terms that could ultimately help scenarios like yours.

    Going over the criminal stalking definition, is it possible that the definition was created to purposely exclude certain groups? What would be the reasons for intentional disregards of others? Why these groups of others?

    I believe that in some cases, words are chosen very carefully and it is this selection of choice that can display widely accepted assumptions. With that being said, I would like to bring to attention the notion of victim blaming. As can be derived from simply looking at the words, it is to blame the victim. I introduce this because I think it could be a reason why the event was not taken more seriously. I do not agree with this but it is a reality nonetheless. There are other potential reasons as to why it may have not been taken as heavily.

    Paraphrasing Aristotle, as citizens we should actively participate in ensuring that we exercise our power in upholding laws, to which I add, and changing them to best serve the citizen.

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