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I never thought I would be a victim of cyberstalking, as a middle aged homemaker and mother – but that is exactly what happened, frightening me completely.
While on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, one can accept or reject someone who follows you, or befriends you, the same may not be entirely be possible on Twitter – you can block the person though. And if one has the option of ‘Direct Messages’ open on Twitter, all those who have access to the profile can send such messages to the profile holder unless that person is blocked.
As usual, this piece too is based on my personal experience. Being a writer, more so one who chooses to write on certain topics that have limited information online, I tend to interact with a few supposedly respectable strangers on Twitter and on LinkedIn and hence my DM is generally open.
One evening, I happened to receive a message from one such person.
Unsuspicious, I responded to the basic questions that were asked as part of a normal conversation, keeping the conversation safely impersonal barring the few basic questions about my city and family. Soon, I realized that there was something uncomfortable about the entire interaction, and I was to be proven right in due course of time.
The interactions became a regular affair for the next few days. What came as a rude shock to me was that the person had started becoming authoritative, obsessive and judgemental about me. Not only this, I was even expected to conform to a certain kind of behaviour which also involved revealing more personal information.
I am an educated middle aged home maker, a mother, living in a metro city and a freelance writer. Such audacious demands would obviously trigger an alarm for me and so it did.
I realized that it would not be sensible to continue my conversations with such a person.
Once I realized that I had gotten myself into trouble out of my doing, the first thing that came to my mind was that my family would hold me responsible for what I had gotten myself into – probably, that would be the reaction of any family.
I suffered from severe guilt. The guilt of befriending a stranger, of trusting someone as easily as I would trust a friend, and of also continuing my conversations despite knowing the person’s obsession. It was only sensible that I gave up interactions with this person. I could have ‘blocked’ the person or chosen to ignore his messages. I chose the latter. I had already let him know of my intentions of not letting the chats go beyond a certain limit and it hadn’t worked.
The whole episode lasted a few days and those were extremely traumatic for me.
Despite making my intentions clear about my unwillingness to partake in any special attention to this person, I was constantly nudged for the same. Despite me ignoring the messages, they still kept popping up in a bid to try to make me respond. Hence, every time I would hear the notification tone of my phone, I would hope that it was not him. The moment there was a message from him, for the next few minutes I would be extremely anxious with an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach and palpitations for a few seconds.
Once it so happened that a few minutes after receiving his message, I received a call from an unknown number, and for a split second I was scared as to what if it was him. While this may seem like an over reaction or a bit dramatized and hard to believe, this is exactly how I felt.
I thought of signing off from the said account, I wanted to be off all social media platforms for fear of being caught up with on another platform and being stalked all over again.
The fear of being stalked had driven all sanity away from an educated and stable person like me, who had been through many emergency situations in life. And here was this man who could drive me nuts even without being anywhere physically close to me, just through his online stalking. Thankfully, my husband has always been aware of my conversations with such strangers and he was extremely supportive, and convincing me that it was not my fault. It was just a wrong person who I had trusted in good faith
While I may be guilty of pursuing my conversations with some of my friends who may not be too keen on responding, I would like to believe that my persistence couldn’t have led to a panic attack. Simply because I was not insisting that the person owed me any attention. That is how I was being made to feel. Thankfully, I realized in good time that pursuance of a conversation with such a person would only mean more emotional hassle.
It has not been easy for me to write this. But I had to, to let our friends out there know that such things are possible with anyone. Of course, the safest bet is to not indulge in conversations with strangers on any social media platform. But what does one do when comes across obsessive people in real life?
First and foremost one needs to remember that stalking is a crime and it needs to be spoken about. It cannot be treated as something that needs to be kept as a secret. Even at the risk of someone judging the victim’s role in the stalking, the victim needs to speak about it to people around them.
It is advisable for the person being stalked to be alert about things happening in their daily life and be mindful of anything unusual.
Once the victim realises that they are being stalked, it is only sensible to stop all communication and not entertain any visits by the stalker.
In India cyber stalking is a crime. If the victim is certain of the stalker following them everywhere or intruding their privacy in more ways than one, or sending intrusive messages in a way that is affecting their day to day life, they should report it to the police. As mentioned earlier, the fear of people being judgemental about it cannot be a priority over one’s safety and security.
Whether one is being stalked online or in person, it is only safe to remove all personal information (if present) from social media where the stalker maybe able to access it. Another key thing could be changing one’s routine, be it time to and from work, going out to gyms or walks as also be vary of the places that one visits regularly.
Men or women, the trauma is still the same.
This incident was thought provoking for me. When someone can experience such behaviour in their 40’s and still be rattled by it, I am unsure how those in their 20’s deal with it. Or maybe they are more practical and reasonable about it than I am. I am unsure as to how long it will it take for me to start interacting with strangers again.
There have been many pleasant interactions in the past that have given me great insights to my writing, but as they say, one incident is enough to shake off the effect of all the others.
It makes me sad that in our current times too when Supreme Court gives a verdict to allow permanent commission to women in armed forces, some of us still have to deal with issues like stalking. A simple wish of not being interested in a relationship cannot be complied with by some. Maybe this is a one off case, or maybe not.
Having said so, it is imperative to mention that it is not only women who are stalked. I have heard cases where even the men get stalked. However, because the dangers for men as compared to women may be less, these incidents may not come out to the fore. Needless to say, social conditioning of our society may also add to it. So there is little choice for men, except to deal with it in their own respectable way and suffer in silence.
An article published by statista.com dated Feb 25, 2020 states that there were around 740 cases of cyber crime reported in 2020. These figures would have obviously risen by now.
Makes me wonder, how difficult is it for people to simply understand that a No is a No, and that forcible behaviour is definitely not going to convert it to a yes. While it pays for everyone to be safe than sorry, it would definitely be pleasant and easier if we all just understood this simple fact. Social media is a good means for connecting with people from different walks of life and enhancing one’s knowledge and experience. I wish people used it in a positive manner for the right reasons and not as a means to intimidate others.
Image source: shutterstock
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A homemaker, a freelance writer who loves to travel and has a passion for reading.
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