By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
Stalking is "a form of projection, but at a scary level," says a psychiatrist who has written extensively on obsession and hysteria (and who, like many of those contacted for this article, asked not to be identified). "But it's not a matter of 'Gee, the person I'm identified with is like me.' It's, rather, that the subject 'owns' some part of them that they can't bear to think about themselves."
In letters to her, Shona Barnett's stalker claimed to know her in a special way. He'd been sick, too, as a child. "He'd write and say that he understood what I went through, what I was going through, what I was thinking," says Barnett. "And, while I knew that it had absolutely nothing to do with me on an actual level, I began to feel that I had invited this in some way. I wracked my brain analyzing whether I'd psychically colluded with this person who maybe once on the street had asked me for the time."
It wasn't until the stalker began attempting to contact Barnett at work that she called the police. "And they were sympathetic," she explains, going so far as to dispatch a detective to the man's home. Parker's experience was notably different. "I'm walking home one day with my cleaning and I spot this woman on my stoop. Instinctively I realize it's her. So I go to a phone booth and call 911. When the cops come, I explain myself. They say, 'What's the big problem? She's got a crush. She's a fan.' " By this time, however, the fan had escalated her attentions to death threats. "It was obvious she was mentally ill," says Parker. "I felt some level of sympathy for her." Yet it was not clear what legal recourse he had. "I stopped answering the phone. I was skulking in and out of my apartment." This unknown woman had managed completely to disrupt his life.
"There's nothing out there called 'stalking' in penal law," explains Wayne Brison, a public information officer with the Manhattan D.A. Still, "if someone is communicating with another person, in mechanical or electrical or written form, making a lot of calls, say, it can be classified as harassment," which in certain cases is a felony charge. If the harassment takes the form of threats, the stalker can be charged with varying degrees of menace. All harassment complaints turn on the reasonable fear of personal injury. But it's not always easy to demonstrate that in court. Richard Edwards felt fairly certain that his "admirer" had no malicious intentions. Yet he "found the whole thing rather frightening," in part because the man's attentions seemed so randomly directed, and because the hysterical advances developed with unanticipated speed. "But how can you prepare yourself for something like that?"
And how do you break the connection? Barnett contacted a woman she knew with connections in Santeria. She was sent to a priestess who informed her that her "psychic portals" were open and that her spirit required a "gatekeeper" to ward off uninvited strangers. "I kind of got it, psychically," says Barnett. "I didn't do anything particularly, besides think about what she'd said. But it helped me to invoke a protective field." It may also have helped that she decided to press charges against the man.