*The names in this story have been changed to protect the innocent, and guilty.* TW: Stalking, harassment, anxiety, PTSD, language. Proceed with caution.
It's a gut feeling. It's an instinct. It's a horrible feeling that you're being watched or that danger is nearby. That primal instinct feeling when you know that you're being watched isn't just 'in your head'. In fact, the scientific word is 'Gaze Perception or Gaze Detection'. Some people feel it's a sort of extra-sensory perception where you can literally FEEL someone watching you.
"Gaze perception originates from a system in the brain that's devoted just to detecting where others are looking. This "gaze detection" system is especially sensitive to whether someone's looking directly at you (for example, whether someone's staring at you or at the clock just over your shoulder). Studies that record the activity of single brain cells find that particular cells fire when someone is staring right at you, but—amazingly—not when the observer's gaze is averted just a few degrees to the left or right of you (then different cells fire instead)."** Gaze perception can also be felt when a camera, a sight, or a viewfinder is on you. After all, the prey instinct comes in and you either want to fight or flee from this feeling.
This brings us to our first story. Please keep in mind that all stories submitted to STSA have changed the victim and perpetrators' names to protect both the innocent and guilty (see our terms here).
Hi, my name is Nic. My story starts in my freshman year of college when I was living on campus. Our school was a large state university, and we were required to live onsite the first year. This is the first time that I had ever lived away from my family (they lived in a town about 2 hours away) and I was looking forward to spreading my wings to fly the coop. I've always been a very chatty chick and make friends easily, so I was looking forward to creating a new circle to hang with. Our dorm was mixed, so one floor housed all girls, and the next housed all guys. Every other floor type of thing. This both excited me and gave me a bit of the jitters. I grew up watching rom-com's that had mixed living on one floor and was really relieved that Polly Shore wasn't going to be my RA that I might possibly fall in love with. The first semester was really normal, I quickly became friends with a few girls in my major and had regular late-night "study" groups. In one specific class, we were assigned to become a family unit, and here enters Jackson. From the moment I met Jackson, he gave me a bit of the creeps, but I chalked it up to the fact that he just took on the role of my "husband" a bit too seriously for the sake of a good grade, I shook off that feeling. In hopes of nailing the assignment, Jackson and I started walking back to the dorms together. He'd usually head into the main entry with me, I'd scan my key card, and then we'd chat in the foyer for a bit before we headed to our separate floors. This would happen after every class, and I didn't think much of it since he lived in my same hall. The more I was around Jackson, I felt a bit more at ease since he was such a sweet guy.
One night after working out at the rec, I felt like I was being watched. That weird feeling that someone is looking at you but you're just not sure from where. At that point, I decided to go into a jog to head back to my hall, and before I knew it, I heard footsteps running behind me. Once I got to the 'fish bowl' to scan my key in, I shut the door, only to see Jackson right behind me. "Hey, Nic! Wait, can you let me in!? I accidentally left my keys upstairs and needed to run back to get them."
WHEW. It was just him, so I let him in and we got in the elevator together to head up. I hit my button, and he hit his. I didn't realize that he had lived on the floor above me"Dude! I had no idea that you were on the floor above me!?" "Oh, yeah. I didn't want to creep you out. I'm in Room 1202." Crazy, he was legit in the room right above us... How at this time I was so stupid to not start putting puzzle pieces together. As the semester rolled on, Jackson and I would engage in texts back and forth. I thought it was kind of cute he really took the husband role so seriously for this class. I was pretty fond of him, he was nice, but just not my type. I'm sure you see where this was going by now, although I wish I wasn't an 18-year-old idiot like I was. One night after a football game, I decided to head out with some of my friends and "met' Matt. Matt was also in my major, and we've had a few gen classes together but hadn't really chatted with him up until now. Alcohol is one hell of an ice breaker. The more we drank, the more I like talking with him. As the night went on, he asked where my boyfriend was. "Boyfriend, I don't have a boyfriend. I'm single as a pringle, dude!" "Oh, I thought you were with that Jason dude, my bad." Yeah, no. Not with Jackson, I made it very clear to him I wasn't dating but I wouldn't mind going on a date. *wink wink* This is where things got a bit fuzzy, but I was with my girls and felt safe walking back to the dorm. We had a fun night of partying, and I had Matt's number in my phone. WINNING.
Once we got back to the dorm, I saw Jackson in the foyer of our hall. I yelled 'Hey Jack!' and instead of his usual upbeat mood he just flipped me off and walked out of the opposite exit in the hall. Whatever dude, I'm going to heat up some hot pockets and head to bed...
The next morning I woke up to 26 messages from Jackson. Apparently, after he left he began texting me after I put my phone down and passed out.
-Hey. Sorry I flipped you off, I just FUCKING HATE being called Jack.
-Hey. You up? I'm heading to Taco Bell if you want anything.
-Nic? You there?
-FUCK, what is your fucking problem?
-Oh, and thanks for the invite to the party. You really are a bitch. I heard you were but hoped it wasn't true... -Sorry. That was rude, you're not a bitch. I'm just really tired.
-So, are you mad at me now? WTF Nic. I'm sorry. It's just when I saw you at that party talking to that Blond dude and it really pissed me off. I thought we have a good thing going here. But whatever.
-Which again, thanks for the invite. I wish I wouldn't have gone now, I should just leave forever.
-Obvi you don't care. Fuck you Nic.
-You're probably busy fucking him right now, so I'll leave you to it. Have fun whoring around.
YOU GET IT. It went on and on. At that point, I was a bit freaked out and told my roommate Maddie. Maddie is a no-nonsense girl. She's the mom of the group and demanded I tell our RA about it.
The last thing I wanted to do was to be on the RA's radar. Once we told her what was happening, she asked what he looked like and his name. She was going to talk to his RA and get a feeling of what Jackson is about.
That next Monday I went to class, and Jackson- who I never replied to- gave me the cold shoulder. I was my normal bubbly self and kept prodding him to be his normal self. I hate that about myself, I need to be liked. Jackson informed me he wanted a 'separation' (LOL) and that he's going to ask the instructor if that was possible in this assignment. I was legit shocked. I left the class feeling hurt, and mad, and I don't know, something in my gut was just off about this whole thing. It's not like we were actually in a relationship. This was a simulation of one. God, he takes shit too seriously.
The next few weeks went by, as usual, Jackson was detached and a rude asshole one day and super nice the next. But it seemed like I'd run into him everywhere I was. At times when I was with my girls, he'd be nice, but just weird. The consensus became that he was just a clingy creep and to move on.
I couldn't shake the feeling of being watched all the time though. I started doing things differently than I would normally. I'd canceled plans, I even canceled dates with Matt (which ended up NOT being a bad thing). I started staying in my room more, and when the girls went out I made sure to walk with my keys between my fingers (wolverine style) and even asked my mom to buy me some pepper spray. I never told my parents why, but they were happy to help keep me safe. Looking back now, I should have been open with them about what was going on... but I didn't think this was a big deal.
As we got a few weeks into the semester I got sick of moping around my dorm and decided to start playing in an Intramural volleyball league with some of my friends. Most of our games were at weird times of night, so I'd play and head back to the res hall to study and go to bed. During the first game, I felt like I was being watched, like eyes boring into me watched, but I figured it was the guys on the catwalk watching us bounce around the court in our stupid shorty shorts. That night when I got back I had a note on my door board to see my RA...
She talked to the upstairs RA and said this was a bit of a concern. Jackson didn't live on that floor. He didn't live in that room. And the more she looked into it, HE DIDN'T LIVE IN THE HALL. She said that she'd contacted the University Security to see what we could do next, but for now not to be stupid and go out doing things on my own.
This freaked the ever-loving shit out of me. This is when I called my parents to tell them what happened, and this is where Jackson really lost his shit. Because of everything, the Uni Security (Police? But they were like rent a cop) found him and talked to him. When I saw him at my next class he went off in front of everyone. Calling me a whore, filling me in on everything he was doing, and everywhere he was watching me. In his anger, he accidentally told me AND our entire jaw-dropped class, how much he was actually following me. That day, I decided enough was enough. I decided to protect myself and talked to the campus security, who helped me fill out a form for a restraining order. But, I didn't feel like this was enough. Either I was going to drop out, or he was. I didn't feel safe walking the campus with this creep and NO girl should. He was a serious threat, and I felt like if I didn't do anything- he would keep messing with other people.
After the restraining order (which, btw is a bitch to fill out. 6 pages worth of crazy questions that in some cases I didn't know how to answer), he was no longer allowed on campus. Our campus, luckily, took this very seriously and kicked him out.
After he was kicked off campus, I'd get random texts and emails from random numbers and addresses. He started a 'F*ck Nic' page on Facebook where he posted pictures of me in different places he followed me to. It took what seemed like forever to get FB to take this down. He continued to try to ruin my life and haunt me, even after the fact. I had to change my phone number. I felt the need to constantly check in with my mom and dad. I started having nightmares about running into him. I felt like there were many times that I saw him in public places, only to turn around and not see him again when I'd try to get my phone out to take a picture. I felt like I was losing my mind.
A few months after graduation, I got curious and googled Jackson. Apparently, he not only did this to me but many other women following my incident. He had been arrested on multiple occasions for trespassing and peeping-tom incidents. His most recent arrest was a sexual assault on a girl he had gone on a dating app date with.
Because of this, I changed my major my freshman year from Elementary Education to Criminal Justice. This event truly changed my life, but I wouldn't be doing something I feel passionate about now. I'm proud of my friends at something to stalk about for helping others. I hope my story can help you. Here are some resources that helped me along the way: 1. Go to someone you trust and tell them that things don't seem right. Go to someone with some 'power' behind their name whether it is an RA, a boss, or a therapist. Go talk to a police officer, they're a good sounding board to see if you may be in danger.
2. Document things. This is something I wish I would have been better at.
3. Follow the "STEPS" plan that an amazing organization called Stalking Protection Order has put together. They are a GREAT resource! (www.stalkingprotectionorder.org)
If you think that you or someone you know is being stalked, we encourage you to follow the “STEPS” action plan created by stalking experts to engage in active and ongoing safety planning:
Threat Assessment- Do not minimize or downplay the level of risk involved with stalking behavior. Stalking can be a “red flag” for increased violence, psychological harm, or life sabotage. Risk can be increased if the stalker has a mental health issue or illness. Risk also increases if the stalker’s behavior involves firearms or other dangerous weapons. Plan ahead for your safety by thinking about the specific threats you may face and vulnerabilities you may have. Think ahead about what you can do in specific situations, particularly if the stalker shows up unexpectedly so that you can be prepared. Practice things you might say or do to avoid or escape a dangerous situation. Ask people you trust to watch out for you and help you stay safe.
Evidence Collection- Document the stalking behaviors and preserve evidence. If law enforcement or the courts were to ever get involved, documenting the stalking can help highlight the pattern of behavior, and show that the behavior is deliberate and intentional. Whether or not you choose to petition for a Stalking Protection Order, documenting the stalking behavior is strongly recommended.
Protection- People who are being stalked must be active and ongoing in their safety planning, which can sometimes mean making changes in lifestyle, daily routines or living situations. It is important to be clear with the stalker that the harassment and stalking is unwanted. Document how the stalker was notified that their contact is not wanted and should stop. Law enforcement may be able to help communicate this request, or a stalking protection order may be a helpful protective measure. Then avoid contact with the stalker as much as possible.
Support- It is really important to seek support. Telling trusted others like friends, family, teachers, employers, and neighbors what is happening can provide emotional support and help with thinking through safety measures. Consider notifying law enforcement to see what kind of support and assistance they can offer.
4. FOLLOW UP. Create a relationship with your local authorities, get protection, speak with a victim's right advocate (that can be found in your local police department). But follow up with them. If you feel like your perp is a true danger, keep tabs on where they might be.
5. This was already covered in 'Steps', but find support. Find a therapist who can help you deal with the trauma of being stalked. Most campuses, like mine, have a psychology unit on campus that can help give you free therapy services. This really helped me! If you need help finding a therapist if you're not on campus, I highly suggest going to Better Help- an online service that helps connect you with a certified professional.
You can also find a full list of resources that the STSA team has collected HERE.