20 July 2015

When somebody’s watching you . . .

For a period of 18 months CyberShrink suffered the unwelcome attentions of a stalker. Here's his story.


There's a lot of stalking going on, but most of us are lucky enough never to experience it first-hand. CyberShrink, however, has been a victim of stalking, and shares his experience of “a fan who wouldn’t go away” with us.

Definition of stalking

According to The Free Dictionary, stalking isto follow or observe (a person) persistently, especially out of obsession or derangement”.

It usually takes a while before you realise it’s happening. You may get an uncanny feeling of being watched, and at first you think it’s just your imagination.

For a number of weeks there were odd things happening. I was sure that some of my post went missing and I also noticed that some objects in the garden had been moved. I’d for instance wonder, “Didn’t I leave that chair further down the stoep?” But then I found the rubbish bin right on the other side of the garden, and I knew I certainly hadn’t done that. “But why would someone invade my garden, move the bin and leave again?” I wondered. 

Read: Stalking victims under 'severe strain'

Then one afternoon I heard something move on the stoep. A bit later, I heard the sound of someone sweeping the path  and when I cautiously went outside to have a look I found a short black guy in a raincoat sweeping the garden path with an old broom I’d discarded. 

“Ah, good afternoon, Professor Simpson,” he said enthusiastically. When I mentioned that I hadn’t asked anyone to do any sweeping, he replied, “Don’t worry, there’s no charge,” and added, “I really like the stuff you write online, and the articles in those magazines.” 

'He's entirely harmless'

I must have looked puzzled, as he added, “Well, I’ve been taking your post, and reading the magazines they sent you. Would you like some of your post back?” I replied that I’d prefer to have all of it back. He went on sweeping, and I excused myself, went inside and called the security company. 

Two security guards arrived, greeted the sweeper cheerfully, and told me he had been setting off alarms all over our neighbourhood. “Don’t worry, he’s entirely harmless,” they said. I wasn’t convinced and told them about all the murderers who were described as such a nice chap and seemingly harmless by the neighbours.  

Read: Neighbourly trust good for health

Prospective burglars might explore your home as a prelude to breaking in. A stalker might indeed steal things, but with the purpose of obtaining a personal souvenir of you. My visitor gave his name as Moses, but couldn’t produce any ID. 

I told them to take him to the local police station as I wanted to follow up and lay charges. He went with the security guards quite happily, but they probably let him go a bit further down the road.

That night, as I was snoozing in the lounge, I looked up and saw a dark face pressed against the window, gazing in. He was back. Maybe he’d been doing this for a long time, but I hadn’t noticed.

Illegal alien from Ghana

That was the start of over a year of anxiety and harassment, during which the security company was ineffective, and the police were spectacularly useless. He was there almost every night, peering through the windows around the house, at all hours. Or I’d wake up when he fell over something during the course of his nightly meanderings.

He began stealing things he found. Once he broke off a piece of the downpipe from the gutters and another time he made off with part of the metal gate at the entrance to the driveway. He also left gifts of sorts – a handful of green peaches stolen from someone else’s garden or a large plastic bag filled with rubbish.

I talked to Moses on several occasions while waiting for the police to come and arrest him, which they did faithfully, just for the paperwork to disappear. During our chats I discovered three reasons why they should take legal action against him:  he was an illegal alien from Ghana, and needed to be deported; he committed crimes by trespassing, stealing and displaying threatening behaviour; and because he showed signs of being psychiatrically unwell.

I found it sinister that he also left items that could be used as weapons: rocks just the right shape; a slightly rusty box cutter; a solid metal pipe with a sharpened end.  I showed these to the security guards and the Police, who showed very little interest.

The experience changes you

In the meantime Moses was still peeping through windows, still trying the door, still stealing objects.  He had returned some of my missing post, but not all of it. I had organized the cutting back of a large bushy area in my garden and we had found his “lair”, a hollowed out area with blankets and pillows, and notepaper.

Then, finally, after nearly 18 months, Moses seemed to disappear. But the experience changes you. You never again feel free of it. Especially on windy nights, when there are noises, you have to wonder if he’s back?  Or maybe a fresh stalker?  Movements glimpsed through the window catch your attention. Is it him again, or just a pigeon? You can’t ever feel fully safe again.

Read: Feeling powerless leads to paranoia

I no longer feel able to work alone in my garden and before opening the front door I check that the coast is clear and that the gate is shut. When I return home, I glance at the front door, looking for that coat. When there’s been a false alarm while I’m out, there’s the unavoidable fear that he or someone like him might have broken in. 

And should anything go wrong, I’m not sure that calling the police would be of any use – after so many useless contacts with them  and so many failures on their side. 

Read more:

What's stalking you?

Most stalkers are known

Paranoia common after mugging

Reference: Psychiatrists' experiences of being stalked: a qualitative analysis. L Maclean, D Reiss, S Whyte, etc. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 2013; 41(2):193-9.

Image: Being stalked from Shutterstock

Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.


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