Issue: Cyberstalking has been characterised as a threatening behaviour or unwanted advances directed at another, fuelled by contemporary communications technology (such as mobile phones and email) and ready-to-access information about victims such as online profiles. A large majority of victims are females who are often subjected to sexual harassment through the use of such technology, and the technology enables cyberstalkers to use anonymous methods of harassment. Cyberstalking also induces psychological trauma on the victims, which typically range from intense anxiety, hyper vigilance, a sense of helplessness, and changes in sleeping and eating patterns. Many cyberstalking incidents are also unreported, as a result of the psychological influence, which cyberstalkers hold over victims, or the anonymity of the cyberstalkers, despite the drastic lifestyle changes that victims are often forced to make, such as changing residence and employment.
She huddles on the cold plastic chair, emaciated fingers clenched around the worn material of her leather duffel.
Her head suddenly jerks up, eyes wide and pupils dilated. There is no other sound, just the monotonous whir of the fan overhead, and the abbreviated tap-tap heartbeat of the analogue clock on the wall. Then she forces out a shaky breath.
For a moment she thinks that she might be safe – free from harm – and the thick band of black and white chequered squares, on the walls, surrounds her, bringing a cruel sense of comfort. Until the electronic doors slide open to a muted ring. And she shakes her head, clearing her mind of all false realities that she will be protected.
Report it, the tiny, sane, atom of her mind had said. Tell the police, the service provider. Tell anyone.
It will not change a thing, and she knows. The figure will always find another way to ensnare her, bringing her back in. She cannot free herself from the figure, with its web sticky and invisible. Every time she breaks free of one string, he throws out another string, another net, and once again, another trap, bringing her back to the fear. The fear of the figure, fear of what the figure can do, and what the figure does to her, and her alone.
Even now, her family remains sitting around the long wooden table every night, peacefully and naively saying Grace, before methodically breaking the bread, systematically tucking in the napkins, and neatly eating the pasta or pie or steak that she knows her mother always makes.
Her father, her mother, her brother, and her sister. They sit there, under the large yellow lights, so innocently and so perfectly, and talk, right next to the windows – the large glass windows.
Close the blinds, she always tells her mother. That way no one can see through the windows.
Crazy, her mother had called her.
No. Not crazy. Wary. Smart. Safe.
You're going to get what you deserve, the figure had said. You're going to get that and more.
She sees that tall looming figure everywhere now, its skeletal fingers twitching in anticipation with every breath she takes, every step she makes, and every turn she fakes. She shrinks even more into the old, stringy, sweater she wears, her once healthy and rounded arms and shoulders now barely more than lines and shadows, supporting the pale grey strands.
She does not know why she sits there, waiting for the next available sergeant, or constable. Why she waits for a copper to turn up so she can finally tell someone; share her horror, share her fear. The figure had specifically told her not to.
I'll find you if you tell, you know. I know exactly what you're doing.
The black text on her screen terrifies her. That is all she knows. She cannot think past trying to run, trying to escape, trying to disappear from the nightmares. She remembers the lifetime when she used her previously beloved computer and phone with abandon, obsessing over new messages and notifications every minute of the day. Caressing and holding those two items as though they were the last bottles of alcohol, and she, an alcoholic amongst many.
Now, she hates and fears the half hourly appointments with them and the perfectly timed sounding of the two machines as she receives a new message, a new instruction, a new command.
You will do as I say, the figure had told her. No. Blackmailed her. The images of the crudely taken photos of her still smoulder in her mind, a constant reminder of what would happen should she forego the choice of being good, obedient, and quiet.
She gnaws on her colourless lip, and begins to rock herself gently on the edge of the seat, and her bare feet curl on the cool grey flooring. She jolts as a sharp vibration shocks her leg. She reaches towards the pocket of her thin sweatpants, and eases out the compact object.
One new e-message, the screen reads.
She closes her eyes and swallows, before tapping on the screen.
Leave the station now. Do not report anything.
Her hands shake. Abruptly, she stands, and her duffel tumbles out of her lap and onto the floor. Her eyes dart around the room, just waiting for the tall, spidery silhouette to step out of a shadow and into the light. Again, she jerks as her phone vibrates a second time.
Everything you think you know will be different, if you talk. Should you leave now, I will refrain from further contact for now. Do not report anything.
She collapses back into the seat, stumbling slightly over her discarded bag.
She freezes, the rough, papery timbre so different from the velvety but slimy tone she knows the person, behind all this, must possess. She glances up and almost screams until she registers the cheerily light blue material of his uniform and the black stripes which mark him as a copper.
"Miss Rochford? You applied to file a report of harassment?"
"I..." She falters.
Do not report anything.
"Nevermind. I must be going."
She cannot stand fast enough. She cannot leave fast enough. But at last she escapes the cold blue room with the dim lights, and into the strangely comforting embrace of the darkness outside.
Foolish, the tiny, sane, atom of her mind says. Foolish.
She knows that the shadow who lurks at the back of her mind will return. She knows that it has not released its stranglehold on her, but instead, has just loosened enough for her to breathe, to stretch. But not to run.
Even so as he has promised, she will be left alone. She needs not suffer the humiliation – the embarrassment – of being caught and marked as a weak and gullible being. She needs not endure the pitying glances and derisive stares.
She will be safe. At least for now.