I Was Stalked – And Here’s The Impact Years Later

 
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I recently shared my reflections on watching the TV series You and why, at the end of watching season one, I wished I hadn’t. You, like so many other shows and movies, both normalizes and glamorizes violence against women, instead of presenting solutions to this insidious social issue. And for that reason alone, I wished I hadn’t spent hours taking in this content (you’ll remember me saying, what we consume matters)!

But watching You also brought back the vivid memory of my own personal experience with being stalked several years ago. As difficult as this is for me to do, I want to share my story with you because it’s important that we be vocal about how violence against women is a real thing (#MeToo! Which I’ve talked about before). But I also know that sharing our pain with others is important for healing. And I want to continue to heal in an authentic way.

So here’s what happened to me:

It all started when I was in my mid-twenties, living in downtown Toronto by myself for the first time. One early Saturday morning, my landline telephone rang (omg, remember the days of only having landlines!?). The loud bell startled me awake because everyone who knew me at the time knew not to call me before 10 am (so as to preserve my sleeping-in time after a night on the town!).

I picked up the phone with a very groggy, “Hello?”

*Silence*

At first all I could hear was heavy breathing over the phone, before a low, deep male voice said my name very slowly and in a sexual way, “Ritu…”

It was a voice I didn’t recognize. He then launched into a string of vile sexual comments about me that literally caused my body to freeze. I listened only for a few moments, before slamming down the phone. But hanging up on him didn’t matter – he called back repeatedly that morning and, every time I answered, it was a string of sexually vile sounds and comments. Because I didn’t have call display at the time, I tracked the calls (using *69, remember that?!) and knew instantly that he was calling from alternating pay phones. So I answered his calls in hopes that I could figure out who it was and to make him stop. But it didn’t work. The calls continued.

By then I was a young lawyer on Bay Street, and I had knowledge about what to do in this moment because of my past volunteer experiences with the Toronto Police’s Victim Services. I called the police and opened up a case file with an officer who was very helpful along my journey, because this officer ultimately had to caution the man who was harassing me.

While it helped to know that I had a direct line to a police officer, it didn’t help to take my fears away. I was 25 years old, living by myself in a slowly gentrifying area downtown. As a young lawyer, I worked long hours and often came home late. I was petrified.

The calls went on for months and months, and would come at the most random times, but mostly on weeknights and weekends when I was alone at home. As you can imagine, the experience took a toll on me. I was afraid to be alone, I was literally constantly checking over my shoulder, I was afraid to talk to anyone I didn’t know, I didn’t want to date any new men. I didn’t know who this person was, if I was being watched, or what they were capable of. I was living in fear and was even becoming afraid of my own shadow.

The breaking point came when this man showed up at my condo and, this time, I happened to be home. Long story short, I figured out who he was through the condo’s security video. It turned out that I knew him – he was dating one of my friends at the time and we had met very briefly before. Once I told the police, they took over. They called him in to question and caution him. I learned that he had a history of stalking women, and that not only had he been convicted of criminal harassment before, he had other charges pending. The police assured me that, in speaking to them, he would never bother me again, and it was borne out: I never heard from this man again.

There’s more, but this is all I want to share at this moment. But what I will say is that, even though the actual stalking stopped, the memory of this traumatic experience is still with me. It literally changed my life and how I live. I continue to be fearful of sexual violence and I fear for my safety, which causes me to be hyper-vigilant. I make many efforts to protect myself, but I still often feel vulnerable (for example, when I’m alone in a parking lot), and even being in the public eye as a professional global speaker and on social media, can sometimes feel uncomfortable. Even as I writing this blog has made me weepy, and I’m sniffling away in this moment.

As you’ll know from my videos and blogs on how to live better, I’m all about doing self-development and self-care work. I care deeply about my mental health, and I’m courageous about authentically sharing my truth. Even as a blogger, I never thought that one day I’d write about my experience with stalking. But I’m doing this now because I know how important it is for each of us to use our voices to interrupt gender violence and gender supremacy.

I hope that my story inspires you to use your voice to call out violence against women and to share your #MeToo stories. We must share our stories, when we feel safe to do so, in order to shed light on the prevalence of violence against women.

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