Yes, I’ve told her to go to the local Domestic Violence Center. Yes, I’ve told her it’s not her fault. Yes, I’ve given her my cell phone number and told her to call me if she needs me. Yes, I’ve told her not to talk to the guy anymore, for any reason. Yes, I’ve told her not to be or live alone for awhile. I also told her not to get a restraining order.
“Say WHAT?!” you say. “A restraining order is the first thing you to do empower the stalking victim!”
Well, I was always taught that. And I’m no therapist or domestic violence expert, just a well informed feminist. Predictably, the very first thing the woman on the phone at the local Domestic Violence Center said when I called her for this person I know was that she needed to get into the Center and get a restraining order. Right there and then, I started debating with this woman on the phone. I was respectful, but I gave my two cents against restraining orders. She listened quietly, did not reply, and I quickly de-escalated. What was my point? Certainly, debating with the Domestic Violence Center receptionist won't help anyone. And the woman I’m trying to help did not need to hear me go on…but then, maybe she did.
A few years back, my husband and I read Gavin de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence. The author is a Los Angeles security consultant whose company protects celebrity clients from stalkers. The book, though, is more general, about how we’ve short-circuited our own “natural” ability to know when we’re really in danger (and should be afraid) and when we’re not, primarily because of media hype and bad information. He discusses issues including rape, mugging, stalking, and murder with amazing astuteness, with the plain and simple goal of keeping people alive.
He says there is more than enough evidence to prove that temporary restraining orders often fail. Some men may desire what they see as revenge more than they fear the law. And a restraining order may give a woman a false sense of security while further enraging the abusive man.
De Becker argues that, if there is a serious threat of violence, the woman must concentrate on making herself unavailable to the man stalking her. Period.
There can be a real conflict here if you’re a feminist. You want to empower the woman; you want to reassure her that this is what the police are here for; you want to tell her this is the abuser’s fault—and of course it is!
But, like de Becker, I have to feel the most important thing is that this woman stays alive. There’s no denying it: the stalker does have power over her life as long as he is either willing to or seems to be willing to stalk her, to threaten her, or to actually commit violence. Though it is wrong, offensive, disturbing, frustrating, aggravating, and horrifying, it is, as de Becker says, the woman herself, along with her friends and relatives, who must ensure her safety. She has to be protected, even if that means giving up some of her freedom and privacy for a while.
How long? That’s the worst of it. For as long as this guy is a threat. Until she isn’t worth stalking anymore as far as he’s concerned. Maybe he’s not really dangerous, just sexist and immature. Maybe he’ll get a whim to move on with his life. Maybe he’ll be arrested for something else and be taken out of her life. Maybe he’ll move to another city, state, country, planet, universe!
Why is this advice, which seems logical to me, in conflict with Domestic Violence Center discourse? I’m not sure, but the person I’m trying to help says she finds de Becker’s position persuasive, I’ve told her to read the book for herself, and I’ve also told her to talk to the Center and make sure she has as much information as possible. And then I reminded her to avoid him, feign calm around him if he shows up where she is, not be alone until this situation is resolved, document everything this guy does (every call, every email, every act against her or her property, etc.), and to treat herself with incredible patience and kindness—as she’d treat any friend of hers who came to her with the same problem.
Meanwhile, I’m going to make some phone calls soon to see if any Domestic Violence Centers have read de Becker and what they think about it. I wish whatever they say would make me feel better than I will--or can--knowing someone I know is being stalked and there's nothing I can do to fix it.
***9pm. Just spoke to her (the woman being stalked). The Center talked her into a restraining order when she went to see them. The police made clear they cannot "protect" her without it (e.g., if he harasses her verbally, for example, it's not a crime without the restraining order). She fears for people she hangs around with, especially other men, and the restraining order "protects" them. I told her there is no right or wrong answer and she must do what seems most wise to her. I hope this will work out.***