In the series ‘Unfollow Me’ you can read different stories about online stalking: from personal stories about victims to a guide to what to do if you get stalked.
By 2020, six percent of people over the age of 16 indicated they had been persecuted by a former partner. Two percent said they had been persecuted within the past 12 months. It may not sound impressive, but when you consider that this concerns about 190,000 Dutch people a year, it seems like a pretty pressing problem.
Iris (23) * was also persecuted by her ex. She tells VICE how it went, why it is so difficult to intervene against it, and how it eventually succeeded.
“It is now three months since I received the last message from Bavo *. I think at least it was Bavo. The message came from an anonymous account, but it matched the way I had been harassed all week: strings of incoherent messages, often in the middle of the night. Sometimes it was messages with random letters or just my name, sometimes I got hundreds of calls in a row, or I got dozens of follow-up requests from anonymous accounts. If I did a simple check, I could see that all of these accounts were linked to the same email address. Those messages may not seem threatening, but to me, the feeling I get with such a message in the middle of the night can be compared to an unexpected blow to the stomach. My ex Bavo, who sends the messages, has been stalking me for several months. That he seeks my attention in the middle of the night is proof to me that I am never completely free.
Bavo and I were just friends in the beginning. At least I thought so. It was more than that for him then. The first time he made progress, I did not answer. He responded by blocking me on social media. Looking back on it now, it was a sign of how explosive he can be. But at that moment, I thought he was particularly pathetic. When he wanted to talk to me again, we agreed to meet. I started liking him more and more, and eventually I even fell in love. We got into a relationship.
“Because I was afraid to piss Bavo off, I stopped following friends on Instagram and avoided the people he” did not think were right for me. “My friends, meanwhile, kept insisting that I quit relationship, but after a while they lost their patience. ”
It did not last long. Bavo was very controlling and jealous. He was constantly mad at me no matter what I did. If I did not respond to his messages because I was asleep, I was immediately bombarded with hundreds of phone calls and incoherent messages. Then he would scold me and say he hated me. He told me other people are laughing at me behind my back. He knew about my mental problems: I had an eating disorder that occurred due to feelings of depression. He used it against me when he was mad at me. After such a tantrum, he ignored me, sometimes for an entire day. And when we saw each other again, we quarreled for hours. These fights were fierce: in his anger he threatened to destroy my things or spread lies about me and my friends, or he threatened physical violence. Sometimes he pushed me against the wall or threw me on the floor. Sometimes he stood in front of the door so I could not go out, otherwise he threatened to take his own life. That violence made me doubt myself – maybe he’s right, I thought. It usually did not end until I lay hysterically and cried on the couch. Then he calmed down again. We often had sex after such an argument.
In half a year, I changed completely. Because I was afraid to make Bavo angry, I stopped following friends on Instagram and avoided the people he “did not think were right for me”. My friends meanwhile insisted again and again that I should end the relationship, but after a while, they lost their patience. I felt very alone and I was convinced that no one would believe me if I told what had happened. I saw no way out. In hindsight, I also think he brainwashed me: He told me I could not trust anyone. He also insisted that almost all women were in love with him, to arouse my jealousy. When my friends invited me out for a night on the town, he said they were doing it just to get his attention. I thought he was the most coveted man in town and that I should consider myself lucky to have him. I was afraid of losing him. Now I can see how unhealthy this is, but at the time, I thought this extreme and compulsive behavior was a sign of love.
This lasted for almost a year until with great effort I managed to put a line under our relationship. At first, I felt heartbroken and missed him terribly. But the situation quickly became gloomy. Bavo called me to ask me to take him back, showered me with gifts and sent me long emails saying he had “changed and was finally going into therapy”. It sounded good in itself, but once I did not feel like shutting him in and did not open the door, he started screaming. I immediately saw again how creepy he could be. Meanwhile, I heard from our mutual friends that he was doing his best to portray me as a psychopathic ex. At one point, my roommate called the police. Then it was decided to have a ‘stop-talk’ with him: the police visited him to indicate that he was harassing me and that he had to stop.
“Sometimes it went completely quiet for weeks at a time until I suddenly got a lot of messaging requests from anonymous accounts.”
After that conversation, I did not receive any more messages from Bavo. I had set up my social media accounts for private and deleted him as a friend. But not long after that, I started getting friend requests from anonymous accounts. If I did not accept it, I got strange messages, like my name dozens of times. Sometimes the messages were already deleted when I tried to open them. Or such an account started calling me very often in a row. The messages also became more and more threatening. I had once told Bavo about a traumatic event from my childhood, and suddenly I was tagged in posts from an anonymous account that told that story. Sometimes it went completely quiet for weeks until I suddenly got a lot of messaging requests from anonymous accounts. People told me they saw fake profiles with my name and picture on dating apps. I’ve never been able to prove it, but I’m sure Bavo was behind this. Sometimes I also got notifications that someone was trying to access my accounts. When we were still together, Bavo told me he hacked me and could track everything I did. Such sometimes I was afraid it was true. I felt constantly monitored.
I was already dead that I would encounter Bavo, so I avoided the places where he could be. I also felt compelled to delete all my social media. I could not handle all messages, tags and phone calls anymore. My therapist diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTTS). The relationship had affected me more than I first realized. I was trying to become invisible on the internet, to escape Bavo that way. On websites with information about stalking, it is recommended that you remove your social media, and friends advised me to do the same.
“I found it more and more annoying that my life was still dictated by Bavo’s whims. But when I reactivated my account, the messages started pouring in right away.”
I kept it up for a few months, but I quickly noticed that it is not a matter of course to live freely from social media these days. I missed having an account. Of course I have a phone number for my best friends, but on Instagram I had contact with a much larger group of people in a very accessible and accessible way. Suddenly I was no longer aware of fun parties and concerts, I did not know when friends had birthdays, and I missed the little updates from people I do not have daily contact with, but who I am engaged in.
Academically, it was also difficult without social media. I work in the creative sector, where it is important to also have a portfolio online. Customers no longer found me and I no longer had a place to show my work. I found it more and more annoying that my life was still dictated by Bavo’s whims. But when I reactivated my account, the messages started pouring in right away. I was still on Bavo’s radar.
Not long after the end of our relationship, I contacted the Victim Support. I had done this on the advice of my friends because they feared for my safety and wanted me to seek professional help to protect me from Bavo.
Victim Support offered to guide me in filing a complaint against Bavo. Together with a lawyer, I then charged Bavo with stalking. I was hoping he would get a hold and then leave me alone. After filing my complaint, the prosecution remained silent for several months. My contact with the police did its best but was often unable to help me. Meanwhile, Bavo happily moved on.
At one point I was told that they were going to interrogate Bavo, and a few days before I was told that a hearing would be held. After a few weeks, the verdict came: Bavo was found guilty.
According to my lawyer, we won the case because I did some things right. For example, I had gathered enough evidence. I did not know in advance that I would ever sue Bavo, but I still began to gather everything out of intuition. First, I did it primarily because I wanted to prove to my friends that I was telling the truth when I told him he was dangerous. Every time I got a call from an anonymous account or was tagged or made a request, I took a screenshot. I also had a trick: if you are being followed by an anonymous account, you can see the first two letters of the email address associated with that account, using the username and the ‘forgot password’ option. And when I did, I saw Bavo’s initials. I also took screenshots of it.
According to my lawyer, it was also good that I had already made a report to the police. That report and my collected evidence were enough to convict him of his stalking behavior.
I actually felt sorry for him at first. I did not necessarily want him to have a criminal record, I just wanted him to leave me alone. Still, it’s nice to have paperwork on what he’s done to me. Bavo has spread many hateful lies about me and he takes absolutely no responsibility for his behavior. He now has a contact ban, even though it does not matter to me. If he starts writing to me again, I have to go to court to report that he is violating the restraining order. I do not have the time or energy for it anymore, I just want to move on with my life.
It does not change that I am very happy that I won the case against him. There are plenty of victims who cannot gather enough evidence or who do not have the energy to go through such an administrative and legal frenzy.
Not only do you have to talk about your trauma over and over again, it’s also scary to show your stalker that you’re ready for battle. There have been cases where someone sued a stalker and the situation escalated as a result. I do not know if Bavo will ever send me messages again. There is a good chance it will happen, but I’m glad I no longer feel like his victim. ”
* Iris name and age have been changed for safety reasons. The real name of Iris is known by the editors.