by LAUREN WESLEY-SMITH
When harassment starts in your own life, it can be imperceptible. Two years ago, I would never have dreamt that my new friend would become my stalker. Though I’m no professional, nor is my own case over yet, there were a number of red flags that have become clear in retrospect. Alone, these instances might not constitute harassment, but the more they pile up the more carefully you should consider your situation.
One of the first signs was the encroaching of space. It’s natural to see a lot of someone when they’re in your department, but when they’re always around you it can be a bit much – especially if they’re an ex-partner. There’s ALWAYS an excuse though. In my experience, he started attending my classes, waiting around my stuff, and would follow me around the department and to my locker.
A similar boundary problem can happen with friends. It’s not fun asking people to take sides, but it can be necessary. Even after we broke up, though I didn’t see much of his friends, he still felt entitled to all of mine: I had no-one to turn to without him being there. He became so dominant in conversations, often talking over me, that it became a choice of bickering with him about it, making everyone uncomfortable, or keeping silent and shrinking into myself.
The difficulty with establishing boundaries is that you can seem rude, and can feel like you’re overreacting or being controlling. Even if you discuss it with the person and their behavior improves slightly, it can still feel like your boundaries are constantly being pushed.
The major red flag was when he began using my friends against me. One day he told me a slew of damning things my friends had said: I was the toxic one, but he defended me against them ‒ but maybe they had a point and I should be nicer, or we shouldn’t be friends. I was gutted – it wasn’t easy being friends with an ex, but I had tried! It was only when talking to someone external that the situation became clearer – he was isolating me from my friends, positioning himself as my savior while using their words as a weapon.
Upon talking to these friends, I discovered he’d twisted or even fabricated their words. I realised I’d been the only one compromising while he invaded my life, so I took his advice and ended the friendship.
From there the toxicity began to manifest in an uglier, indirect manner. He made a scene about leaving the room if I entered, scrambling, running, leaping into bushes, and parkouring over Neelsie walls. From others, I heard about the name-calling and the mean things he said. He fretted loudly about not wanting me to hear, but it was just a tactic to shift the blame from him onto the friends who told me.
All of his misconduct against me and friends caught in the crossfire was blamed on the emotions I triggered in him, and yet any friend who put their foot down was treated to the same melodramatic exits.
Next, he began spreading malicious rumours. It was mortifying, and took me some time to start speaking about it – if I brought it up, surely it would create doubt that it was true? However, this was not the case at all – only by opening up did I begin to feel valid in my concerns, and with that support behind me I became confident to take it as a harassment case to the Equality Unit. The final incident solved my indecision between an informal or formal complaint. On a public desk, someone found his handwritten list detailing every time he’d seen me since I ended the friendship six months prior ‒ including the time, date, place, who I was with, and how it fitted into my schedule, along with a rating of how much trauma the sighting induced.
It also noted when I began seeing someone new, and on exactly which day I blocked him on social media, through which he’d already been cyber-stalking me. This convinced me to take it up as a formal harassment complaint.
My case isn’t over yet. However, I’ve learnt that the most important thing is not to stay silent ‒ it only gives them more power. Although not everyone may feel comfortable initially discussing it with the Equality Unit or their department, it’s vital to have a confidante you can talk to, whose judgement you can trust if they suggest you take it further.
As a final year student, I wanted nothing more than to ignore it and focus on graduating. But harassment is no small matter, and what could happen next? Don’t give them that power – speak out, and end the silence.
*Lauren is a fourth year BMus student, specialising in cello performance.