Two young Canberra dancers are set to join Justin Bieber onstage at his Sydney Purpose concert…
Trigger warning: this item deals with abuse and may be distressing for some readers or triggering for survivors of abuse.
I always wanted a stalker when I was young. It seemed sexy. It seemed mysterious and dangerous and almost rebellious. I’m sure the 1996 box office bomb ‘Fear’ had something to do with this, amongst many of my hair-brained adolescent ponderings. Perhaps it was the way the film eroticised themes of controlled and possessive lust, and of course, Marky Mark’s bare abs. God bless that six pack…
It’s crazy now to think of how I used to romanticise being harassed and controlled by a socially inept, woman-hating creep. I live the reality of that every day now, and I can tell you: the experience is anything but sexy.
I met Nigel* properly when I was 23. I had just finished my uni degrees, travelled a bit through Europe and, much to my parents’ dismay, had taken a job tending bar at my local, in the small country town I had grown up in.
Now you may be expecting this next sentence to involve some kind of small town, post-qualification fling but you’ll be sadly disappointed. I never had a romantic relationship with Nigel.
I never shagged him. I never kissed him. I never even flirted with him.
These are the facts I would recount in years to come to many a colleague, friend and family member when they would ask me, sometimes with a naive but expectant look on their face, what on earth I had done to provoke Nigel’s fanatical behaviour.
When I officially met Nigel, he was known to me as the town creep. This was the label he carried almost with pride. He was renowned throughout the town and its surrounding suburbs as a pest. An outsider with an eerie, peculiar manner and the uncanny ability to make even the most generous of heart deeply uncomfortable.
He took pleasure out of rumour-mongering and injecting himself into the private affairs of those he envied. He was supercilious and arrogant. He considered himself an intellectual.
I had heard about Nigel’s unwelcomed advances and obsessive behaviours towards numerous young girls and women. He would strut around town wearing his tweed flat cap with his ear phones in, leering at whatever poor unsuspecting mother and daughter had the misfortune of coming across him.
He considered himself a hopeless romantic. A poet. The kind of man who would write a strange haiku professing his undying love for an acquaintance. The kind of man who would label himself a “nice guy” in the same breath as calling a 15 year old school girl a c**t for dismissing his revolting romantic advances.
Nigel approached the world as though every woman he met was: a) Rose from Titanic (the object of his infantile fantasies), and b) “gagging for it”.
This behaviour went on for years without anyone intervening because Nigel was cunning enough to know what kind of behaviour would draw the attention of the police and what would merely get him a reputation.
He didn’t mind the reputation – it was probably the only thing which set him apart from the pack, and he enjoyed the notoriety.
While I knew all this and disliked Nigel, being the ‘nice girl’ that I was, I ignored my gut instinct and I didn’t immediately dismiss him. Despite my boss telling me that bar tending was, in fact, the only service job wherein the customer was often wrong, my obedient nature led me to entertaining Nigel’s constant unwelcome advances with “hellos” and “what can I get yous” and “how has your day beens”.
Little did I know that these post-uni-poverty induced niceties were perceived by Nigel to be an invitation to ruin my life. Because I didn’t understand how woman-haters think.
It started off small.
I thought Nigel was just a bit socially awkward when he continually ignored my negative responses to his asking me out. I thought he was just a bit persistent when he continued to ask my colleagues whether I had a boyfriend.
I even accepted his Facebook friend request to avoid ‘making a scene’ and any consequent awkwardness during my next shift. I thought that surely he would see some photos of me with male friends and presume that there was a relationship; that I was in a place that he should respect.
Then I realised that I was inventing fake boyfriends to put him off the scent.
That, and watching my back when I left the pub early on a Sunday morning after packing up for the night…and then declining his requests to help me move house once he discovered that I was relocating to Sydney. And then deleting and blocking him on Facebook when his online behaviour became almost as bizarre as his interpersonal presence.
It occurred to me at this point that Nigel’s behaviour wouldn’t stop simply because I had moved out of his vicinity. In fact, now he had social media, an even more insidious and wide-reaching method for harassing me which no amount of deleting, blocking or reporting could contain.
When I eventually moved interstate once more, Nigel called me on my mobile phone.
I answered the unidentified caller thinking that it would be someone RSVP-ing to an invitation to my sister’s hen’s night. I felt my blood chill from head to toe when I heard Nigel’s ominous tones on the other end. He had found my number on LinkedIn he said, and he was calling to tell me that he was in my city and to ask where he should go out for a drink. I told Nigel that I was not interested in seeing him, and he laughed.
Nigel started showing up at my place of work. He had cyber-stalked me once again and found my contact details attached to an article issued by my office. He turned up reeking of alcohol and accosted one of my unknowing colleagues with a long-winded story about how he needed to speak to me for “tax purposes”.
I was called out of a staff meeting into the General Manager’s office and it was there, in front of four of my close male colleagues, that I broke down in tears because the reality had hit me: Nigel’s behaviour was escalating, and it wasn’t going to stop.
I had always prided myself on being unemotional at work and this bastard had reduced me to tears. Despite the tremendous support I was shown by some of the most empathetic and compassionate men I have been lucky enough to work with, I felt completely disempowered and humiliated. I called the police and they told me that my options were limited.
Only a few days later, Nigel showed up again, escorted by the police to my place of work. I was alerted by a colleague that a police officer had arrived and wanted to speak with me. I felt my cheeks redden as he walked through the office asking my name. I explained who I was and then in response he pointed to the foyer and asked me “do you know this man?”
I looked across to see Nigel waving at me, with a Cheshire cat smile wide upon his face. “She does work here” I imagined him saying to himself. I was advised by police to obtain a protection order and so that’s what I did.
The order went unserved (and therefore ineffective) for four agonising months.
I would get calls from Nigel telling me where he was. I would see Facebook posts tagging his location. Often these were from just across the road from my place of work (which happens to be smack dab next to a police training school), or at a pub located directly across the road from one of my city’s largest police stations.
I would desperately call the police and ask them to attend these locations and serve Nigel, to no avail. I was ignored, placated and patronised. On one occasion I had a Sergeant yell down the phone: “we’ve got people in flipped cars…do you want me to call jobs off jobs like that to attend to your every need?”
And then Nigel went quiet.
Out of frustration and the desire to simply leave the whole mess behind me, I attended court with my brother-in-law to terminate the order. It was never going to be served, and Nigel had backed off. It was only towards the end of the proceeding that I was informed that even though Nigel had never been served with the order and was so far unaware that I had even taken it out, under the legislation, the court was required to notify him of my ceasing the action.
Within a week of this proceeding, Nigel reappeared and continued to call me, email me, and harass me and my friends and family online. “I knew it: she wants me” I imagined him saying to himself. He would post insistent requests for me to go out with him against photos which included our mutual ‘friends’.
He would send group messages to my friends and family, comparing my physical appearance to other women, detailing our ‘profound love story’ and speculating about my sexual proclivities and prowess. All fun things to recount to male police officers/your boss/your Dad.
I obtained another order, and then Nigel showed up to my work again with it in his hand. I called the police, but after an hour and half of waiting and the office on lock-down so that none of my colleagues could enter or leave, they hadn’t dispatched a job.
Nigel heard the siren of another nearby patrol car (six of which I saw traversing the street outside my office while I waited) and made a beeline for the nearest bus. I asked a member from police operations why they hadn’t sent someone to help me, as I held grave fears for my safety. I was told, point blank, that next time I should cry and scream and tell the operator that Nigel was holding a weapon.
I felt about an inch tall. I felt like a burden. A wailing, hysterical woman.
As I wasn’t getting anywhere with the police, my wonderfully supportive bosses and colleagues took it upon themselves to keep me safe. They invested thousands of dollars in window frosting, CCTV surveillance and peep holes. They trained all the front office staff to handle any calls or appearances from Nigel. They circulated images of Nigel to all staff, and informed them never to give him information about me or my whereabouts.They held regular security briefings to discuss how they would deal with Nigel showing up armed. They escorted me to and from my car each day and patrolled the building regularly.
It wasn’t until what I still consider to be a stroke of pure luck that the police took meaningful action to help me.
After viewing CCTV footage of one of Nigel’s visits to the office, one particularly sympathetic and contentious officer took, what I assume was, pity on me and pursued Nigel. He took statements and investigated Nigel’s considerable criminal history. He discovered that there were warrants outstanding for Nigel’s arrest in relation to other stalking matters. He took note of each and every time Nigel breached my protection order. And he waited…
Nigel was arrested by this particular police officer whilst strolling happily around a local shopping centre.
Nigel tried to run and shook like a child whilst being handcuffed. He told the police that this was a big old misunderstanding, and that I was just a vitriolic ex. He begged for understanding. He tried to appeal to them “man to man”.
Thankfully, as soon as most law enforcement officers came across Nigel they realised what a creep and danger he was. Nigel received one of the longest custodial sentences ever handed down for stalking and aggravated stalking charges in the jurisdiction. But unfortunately, Nigel slipped through the cracks whilst undergoing a pre-sentencing mental health check. “No mental health issues” they said, and so instead of being sent for appropriate treatment, he was sentenced to gaol where his delusional, obsessive thoughts could fester in the company of hardened criminals.
Nigel applied and reapplied for parole but was denied each time, on the basis of his continued bizarre attitude to his offending behaviour. “Our relationship just hit a rough patch” he’d say. “She’s overreacting”.
Nigel was released just over nine months ago, and he managed to refrain from harassing me for a good five of those. As I predicted, he has invaded my personal life once more, via social media. I don’t have a Facebook profile.
I’ve locked my Instagram and Twitter down to friends only. I’ve silenced all of my records. I’ve changed cars. I’ve moved house. And yet he continues to have a presence in my everyday life.
Friends, ex-boyfriends and colleagues all tell me about the ‘Pet’ Facebook pages Nigel continually recreates in my honour, despite them being relentlessly reported. They alert me to the 250+ chapters of a juvenile ‘romance novel’ he fanatically posts to his Twitter feed detailing my “desperate need for a husband”, and the fact that he’s posting them from my suburb.
He posts comments about wanting to “nail me all night long”. He plasters photos of me which I can’t remember taking or posing for all over these platforms. He even posted a photo of the third protection order I obtained against him, with comments next to it about how he would be sexually gratified seeing me in the court room trying to defend myself.
He describes with eerie accuracy how I dress for work and the type of shoes I wear.
Presumably in light of Nigel’s now obvious intentions, I have been lucky this time to receive the support and guidance of two particularly empathetic and diligent police officers, who have for the past few months worked tirelessly towards putting him away again. But they have encountered significant hurdles in attempting this.
When Nigel realised that he may be under police surveillance, he moved to Melbourne and commenced harassing me from behind his keyboard down there, as he knows that the Police can’t do anything about him until he resurfaces within their jurisdiction.
Nigel has the social and emotional intelligence of a gnat and the stones of a eunuch and yet he has managed to evade an entire police force by making his potential capture a bureaucratic nightmare and a burden on resources. Despite their best efforts, the police aren’t generally able to extradite sadistic creeps like Nigel unless they’re involved in drug trafficking or murder, so jumping the border for a while is a nice retreat for the opportunistic abuser.
While Nigel’s stunningly delusional behaviour is a deep and constant concern for me, what I’ve found most disturbing about the situation is the exasperating amount of obstacles I’ve come across in attempting to be heard and protected, as a victim of his violence.
I have been astounded by the justice system’s apparent lack of empathy for victims. I have literally had to beg magistrates to grant me protection orders, and this has been after five years of consistent, insidious stalking and harassment by a man who has learned nothing from the long term custodial sentence imposed upon him for that very behaviour.
When reporting what my friends have told me about Nigel’s bizarre online antics in an effort to warn and protect me (particularly when he has been in close vicinity), I have been told by police: “its best that you don’t know what he’s up to…your friends are harassing you by telling you about it”.
You’ve heard about Australia’s appalling track record when it comes to violence against women.
While only a small number of Australians believe that violence against women is justified, many display a lack of understanding about what violence really is, and use illegitimate gendered stereotypes to excuse or justify men’s behaviour. Nigel exhibits this latter behaviour on a daily basis.
Because I’m professional in tending bar, I’m asking for his revolting attention. Because I dress well, I’m attracting his affections. For Nigel, this is a passionate story of a once unrequited love which, with an ounce of luck and a few years of pressure, will end in a kiss on the stern of a large boat.
I should be accessible to Nigel at any time and under any circumstances he pleases. When I refuse or assert my own terms, I’m a withholding, over reactive bitch. He’s a “nice guy”, you guys!
While I’ve managed a number of instances in which Nigel invaded my space and life in person, the bulk of his abuse has been from behind a keyboard. This fact makes my experience of abuse difficult for most Australians to understand.
I have not been beaten. I have not been raped. Perhaps this is why my situation has been ranked at the lower end of the justice system’s list of priorities, and I think Nigel knows this.
The fact remains, however, that while Nigel’s abuse is less obvious and isn’t necessarily evidenced by trips to the emergency department or overnight stays at a friend’s place or a refuge, cyber-stalking – like stalking and other forms of abuse – renders victims powerless and violated.
In his submission to the now dissolved Parliamentary Joint Committee on Cyber-Safety, commentator Mark Newton aptly described what I now know to be the aim (and result) of stalking: “the aim of the stalker is to undermine the victim’s sense of personal security. A stalker will use any means available to carry out their task: physical presence, telephone calls, letters, text messages: anything that makes the victim think about the stalker…”
On the odd occasion when I’m in a dark place and I allow Nigel space in my mind, I imagine him laughing to himself about how clever he is and how defenceless his behaviour renders me. I’m sure deep down, he knows there’s no chance of a relationship between us – he’s now just relishing in the unaccountability. Nigel is lapping up the opportunity to disturb, pester and humiliate me. And soon, I have no doubt that he will become the next Adrian Bayley.
I can imagine the moral panic and the consequent ignorant questions: who would have thought that this man would attack or rape someone? Why wasn’t something done earlier to stop him?
The solutions seem to be so simple: just deactivate your accounts. Just change your email address and mobile phone number.
If I hadn’t had this experience, I’d probably be making the same suggestions because I too have been raised in a culture which expects women to ‘avoid’ or ‘prevent’ their own abuse.
The truth of the matter is that despite ‘being a smart girl’ and ‘taking preventative action’, Nigel will continue to harass me by creating and recreating social media accounts (last time I checked, he had over seven Facebook profiles alone). Nigel will continue to use social media to target me, without directly contacting me. He will continue to use Facebook, Twitter and blogs as obnoxious megaphones into the lives of my friends and family, over which he announces delusions and untruths. I can’t stop him because he’s a sick bastard. And it shouldn’t be my responsibility to do so.
I am acutely aware that the abuse I have suffered pales in comparison to the hell that many Australian women suffer daily.
There are countless victims in our communities who are challenged not only by their abusers and an unresponsive justice system, but before that, any number of other trials. The naivety of youth. A weak or non-existent support network. Disability. Limited English. Not enough money to buy their traumatised children food.
These women are most vulnerable to cretins like Nigel and most likely to be ignored by the system which should protect them.
Despite the fact that I am a well-educated, well-supported middle-class lawyer with the confidence to assert my needs, I have been rendered utterly powerless by a system which fails to inform itself about trauma that results from abuse. This can only spell suffering and disempowerment for women less fortunate than me.
I’d like to use this forum as my own megaphone. Part of me hopes that Nigel reads this story and feels embarrassed. More of me hopes that it teaches at least a handful of people a bit about the struggles female victims of violence encounter when crying out for help and the things I think we as a community can work towards to prevent those struggles, or at least to make them more bearable.
We need to stop relying on vulnerable, scared women to defend themselves and take ‘preventative’ action against abusive men.
Better yet, we have got to stop asking these same women to diminish their experience and rank other ‘real crimes’ and catastrophes above their own.
We have to equip our law enforcers with the capability and resources to act when a man demonstrates a history of violence towards and harassment of women. We need to insist that appropriate custodial sentences are handed down to these men and that part of their sentence involves mandatory mental health support.
We owe it to future Nigels – and to the Australian women they will abuse – to invest in these changes.
If you have experienced, or are at risk of domestic or family violence or sexual assault, you can receive help by contacting the following organisations:
FirstPoint: 1800 176 468 (1800 1 POINT)
Domestic Violence Crisis Line: 6280 0900 (24hours)
Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: 6247 2525 (24hours)
If you are in immediate danger, please call the police on 000.
* Names used in this item have been removed and/or changed for personal safety and legal reasons.
 Mamamia Team, A woman never ‘invites’ or ‘deserves’ violence. Despite what 1 in 5 Australians believe. 17 September 2014: http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/australian-domestic-violence-statistics/
 Mark Newton, Submission to the Joint Select Committee on Cyber Safety: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=jscc/report/fullreport.pdf. Input included in the Committee’s Interim Report: High-Wire Act, Cyber-Safety and the Young, June 2011.