In the “Follow Me” series, you can read different stories about online stalking: from the personal stories of the victims to a guide to what to do if you are stalked.
In 2020, six percent of people over the age of 16 reported being stalked by an ex-partner. Two percent said they had been stalked within the past 12 months. It may not sound impressive, but when you consider that this is about 190,000 Dutch per year, it seems like a very pressing issue.
Iris (23) *She was also stalked by her ex-husband. She told VICE how it went like this, why it was so difficult to take action against her, and how she finally worked.
“It’s now been three months since I last received a message from Paavo*. At least, I think it was Paavo. The message came from an anonymous account, but it matches the way I’ve been harassed all week: chains of incoherent messages, often in the middle of the night.” Sometimes it was messages with random characters or just my name, sometimes I got hundreds of calls in a row or I got dozens of follow 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. They might not These messages seem threatening, but to me the feeling I get with such a message in the middle of the night is comparable to an unexpected punch in the stomach. Paavo, who is sending messages, has been chasing me for months. Being solicited my attention in the middle of the night is proof to me that I am not completely free .
Pavo and I were just friends at first. At least that’s what I thought. It was more than that for him at the time. The first time I made progress, I didn’t respond. He responded by blocking me on social media. Looking back now, it was a sign of how explosive it was. But at that moment I thought it was especially pathetic. When he wanted to talk to me again, we arranged to meet. I started loving him more and more, and eventually fell in love with him. We got into a relationship.
“Because I was afraid of pissing off Pavo, I unfollowed friends on Instagram and avoided people who ‘don’t think they’re right for me’. Meanwhile, my friends kept insisting on ending the relationship, but after a while they lost their patience.”
It didn’t last long. Pavo was very controlling and jealous. He was always mad at me no matter what I did. If I didn’t answer his messages because I was asleep, I was immediately bombarded with a hundred phone calls and incoherent messages. Then he scolds me and says he hates me. He told me other people were laughing at me behind my back. He was aware of my psychological problems: I suffer from an eating disorder that stems from feelings of depression. He used that against me when he was angry with me. After that tantrum, he just ignored me, sometimes for an entire day. And when we saw each other again, we argued for hours. Those fights were fierce: in his anger he threatened to destroy my things or spread lies about me and my friends, or threaten physical violence. Sometimes he would push me against the wall or throw me on the floor. Sometimes he would stand in front of the door so I couldn’t get out or he would threaten to kill me. This violence made me doubt myself – maybe he was right, I guess. It usually doesn’t end until I lay hysterically crying on the couch. Then he calmed down again. We often had sex after this argument.
In half a year completely changed. Because I was afraid of pissing off Paavo, I unfollowed friends on Instagram and avoided people who I “don’t think are a good fit for me”. In the meantime, my friends repeatedly insisted that I should end the relationship, but after a while they lost their patience. I felt very lonely, and I was convinced that no one would believe me if I said what had happened. I didn’t see any way out. In retrospect, I also think it brainwashed me: He told me I couldn’t trust anyone. He also insisted that almost every woman loved him, to stoke my jealousy. When my friends invited me for a night out, he said they did it just to get his attention. I thought he was the most desirable man in town, and that I should consider myself lucky to have him. I was afraid of losing him. Now I see how unhealthy that is, but at the time I thought this extreme and obsessive behavior was a sign of love.
This went on for about a year, until with great effort I managed to put an end to our relationship. At first I felt very sad and I miss him very much. But the situation soon turned bleak. Paavo called me to beg to return him, showered me with gifts and sent me long emails saying he had “changed and will finally go to therapy”. That sounded fine by itself, but one time I didn’t feel like letting him in and not opening the door, he started screaming. I immediately saw again how creepy it can be. Meanwhile, I heard from our mutual friends that he was doing his best to portray me as a psychopath ex. One time my roommate called the police. Then it was decided to stop talking to him: the police visited him to indicate that he was harassing me, that he had to stop.
“Sometimes it was silent for weeks at a time, until all of a sudden I got a huge number of message requests from unknown accounts.”
After that conversation, I did not receive any further messages from Pavo. I have set my social media accounts to privacy and deleted them as a friend. But soon after that, I started getting friend requests from unknown accounts. If I didn’t accept it, I got weird messages, like my name dozens of times. Sometimes the messages were already deleted when I tried to open them. Or this account started calling me a lot in a row. The messages are also becoming increasingly dangerous. I once told Pavo about a traumatic event from my childhood, and suddenly I was tagged in posts from an anonymous account telling that story. Sometimes it just went silent for weeks on end, until I suddenly got a ton of message requests from anonymous accounts. People told me they saw fake profiles with my name and photo on dating apps. I’ve never been able to prove it, but I’m sure Paavo was behind it. Sometimes I also get notifications that someone was trying to access my accounts. When we were still together, Pavo told me he hacked me and could track everything I did. At times like this I was afraid this might be true. I felt constantly being watched.
I was already dead because I was going to face Pavo, so I avoided places where he might be. I also felt compelled to delete all my social media. I couldn’t deal with all the messages, signs, and phone calls anymore. My therapist diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTTS). The relationship affected me more than I first realized. I tried to become invisible online, and to escape from Pavo this way. On websites with information about stalking, it is recommended to remove your social media, and my friends also advised me to do so.
“I found it increasingly disturbing that my life was still dictated by Paavo’s whims. But when I reactivated my account, the messages immediately started pouring in.”
I did this for a few months, but soon I noticed that it’s not so counterintuitive to live without social media these days. I missed an account. Of course I have a phone number for my close friends, but on Instagram I contacted a much larger group of people in a very accessible and accessible way. Suddenly I’m no longer aware of fun parties and concerts, I don’t know when friends celebrate their birthday, and I miss small updates from people I don’t communicate with daily, but with whom I stick.
Professionally, it was also difficult without social media. I work in the creative sector where it is also important to have an online portfolio. Clients no longer find me, and I no longer have a place to display my work. I found it more and more disturbing that my life was still dictated by Pavo’s whims. But when I reactivated my account the messages started pouring in immediately. I was still on Pavo’s radar.
Soon after our relationship ended, I called victim support. I did this on the advice of my friends, because they fear for my safety and want me to seek professional help to protect me from Pavo.
Victim Support offered to guide me in filing a complaint against Paavo. Then, along with a lawyer, I charged Pavo with stalking. I was hoping he would get a restraining order and then leave me alone. After submitting my complaint, the Public Prosecution office remained silent for months. My police contact did her best, but was often unable to help me. Meanwhile, Paavo follows happily.
I was once told that they would interrogate Pavo, and a few days before I was told that a hearing would be held. A few weeks later the verdict was issued: Paavo was found guilty.
According to my attorney, we won the case because I did some things right. For example, you collected enough evidence. I didn’t know beforehand that I would sue Paavo, but I still collected everything out of intuition. At first, I mainly did it 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 flagged or placed a request, I took a screenshot. I also have a trick: if an anonymous account follows you, 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 Pavo’s initials. I also took screenshots of it.
According to my lawyer, it was also a good thing that I actually filed a police report. This report and the evidence she gathered was enough to convict him of his stalking behavior.
In fact, I felt sorry for him at first. I didn’t necessarily want him to have a criminal record, I just wanted him to leave me alone. However, it would be nice if you have paper proof of what he did to me. Pavo has spread so many hateful lies about me, and takes absolutely no responsibility for his behaviour. He is now forbidden from calling, although that doesn’t matter to me. If he starts texting me again, I’ll go to court to report his violation of the restraining order. I don’t have the time or energy for that anymore, I just want to move on with my life.
That doesn’t change the fact that I’m very glad I won the case against him. There are many victims who cannot gather enough evidence, or who do not have the energy to go through such administrative and legal frenzy.
Not only do you have to talk about your trauma over and over, but it’s also scary to show your stalker that you’re ready to fight. There were cases where someone sued a stalker and the situation escalated as a result. I don’t know if Paavo will text me again. There’s a good chance it could happen, but I’m glad I no longer feel like a victim of it.”
*Iris’s name and age have been changed for security reasons. The real name of Iris is known to the editors.