Comment: How it feels to be text-stalked

By Annemarie Quill -
As part of NZME’s week-long campaign against cyberbullying, #StopTheHate, columnist Annemarie Quill shares her story of being text-stalked on her mobile phone
Bay of Plenty Times writer Annemarie Quill. Photo/file
Bay of Plenty Times writer Annemarie Quill. Photo/file

My text alert pinged early Sunday morning. I keep my phone on a table next to my bed. It is the only time I'm any distance away from it. Friends joke it is an extension of my hand. Colleagues know it's just part of the job. It is not unusual to get texts at all hours. News doesn't toe the 9-to-5 line. Still, first thing on a Sunday - "better be fire or blood" I thought.

"You're getting a bit on the heavy side Annemarie," signed "a citizen in Tauranga".

I thought "that's a bit bloody rude". I didn't recognise the number. But it wouldn't be unusual to get calls from all sorts of people about stories or tips. That people in the community know how to contact us is essential.

So what? Some punter is calling me fat. Rude but who cares? I went back to sleep.

I got a few more texts that day, all along the lines of how I needed to start an exercise programme.

Presuming it was related to business, (even if it did have a strange way of getting our attention) I texted that they could contact our advertising department. The texter seemed to get angry. My phone kept pinging. He said he wanted to get fit. I asked who he was.

Strange texts kept coming and coming. All about how I needed to get in shape. Each text would include my name, Annemarie. He wouldn't identify himself. He said he was a Bay of Plenty Times reader. This went on and on. He would start texting on Fridays and continued all weekend. Sometimes he'd say sorry. He said he had to put pressure on me, that diamonds are made from pressure. He said he would stop. Then the next morning my text would ring ordering me to get up and do 10,000 push-ups.

He'd text on several numbers. He would quote men's first names saying he was with them, and that they called me the English Rose. He said he had taken lots of punches for me. Once late at night he asked me to meet him in the Devonport Hotel. Another time he asked if we could Skype. He would tell me his movements - that he was going to Hamilton or Rotorua. He would comment in detail on stuff I wrote about in the paper, as if he knew me.

It started to get creepy. One Saturday my daughter and I had lunch at a downtown cafe. I had coffee and a bliss ball. As we were getting in the car my phone beeped. He told me he was disappointed in me for eating bliss balls. That night I poured myself a large glass of wine. My phone beeped. It asked if I was having wine. I called the police.

At Tauranga police station one of the officers took screenshots of the texts. I had brought my daughter with me, who Snapchatted her 'friend group' "Guess what, my mum has a stalker."

The police asked if he had threatened to harm me. Apart from trying to kill me by star jumps, no. I felt silly. The police took it seriously. I have nothing but praise for the Tauranga cops.

They recorded it as a crime - criminal harassment - although that made me officially a victim, the fact that they took it so seriously ironically made me feel less of a victim. I was in control.

Someone was text stalking me or harassing me, but I was doing something about it. That's why I took my daughter - this was a real example of cyberbullying. The cop didn't think it was silly. But we did laugh. When the cop read the texts about how I needed to get into shape she joked, "He's a charmer isn't he? He doesn't quite get the stalking lark does he, that they are supposed to compliment you."

The hardest part was not knowing who it was. Was it someone I knew? At school? At work? Someone who lived near me? I started to suspect everyone.

A year on, I still jump when the phone rings. I only ever say "newsroom", not my name, when I answer the phone, which some find unusual when it is the kids' teacher calling or the drycleaners to say my jumpsuit is ready.
Annemarie Quill

When a guy phoned to meet for coffee to discuss an event in Tauranga, I got someone else to go. When my phone rang with an unknown number and a faraway voice asked "Is that Annemarie?" I snapped back, "Why do you want to know is this Annemarie? Who are you?"

He was taken aback - said he got my number from our website and was just trying to contact the magazine editor, Annemarie. Turns out he was just a music promoter calling from overseas to promote a Tauranga gig. He must have thought I was on crack.

My colleagues were a great source of support. I could laugh about it at work. But it came to be no laughing matter. One night I popped in to get a piece of paper from the office. My phone pinged, "Was that you in the Bay of Plenty Times". It started to affect me. I would jump out of my skin when the phone rang. If someone even just came up to my desk I would startle.

I was getting my eyebrows waxed in town and my phone pinged. It said "Morning Annemarie". The beautician thought the waxing was making tears on my cheeks. I had meant to go shopping afterwards, but I just went to my car. I saw a man looking at me from another car and he put his window down to say something. I started shaking with terror. He said "Are you going to move from that park or just sit there on your phone?" He was just an everyday guy looking for a parking spot, nothing to do with me. The obvious thing to do would have been to change my number. I refused to do that. All my contacts had my number. Friends and family had my number. It was my life. Why should I change that just because of this annoying man? I was angry and defiant. Maybe stupid.

Everyone would give me advice. "Set up a meeting with him then we will all jump out," suggested one colleague. "No don't - he might be armed with a knife or gun," said another. I said, "Gee you know how to make me feel better".

Photo / iStock
Photo / iStock

Others thought the cops could trace a number. Those people watch too much telly. This is not CSI Tauranga. Pay-as-you-go phones are off the radar and he would use different phones. As the texts went on I started to freak out just walking down the street thinking he could be there. I stopped going to the gym. I stopped going to events. I felt fat. The police told me not to be alone in the house. They asked if I had a secure fence and locked gate. Who has a locked gate? They told me if I felt in danger to call 111. I felt in danger.

I put on a brave face for the kids. My daughter told me "You're not anyone till you have had a stalker." At night I'd read stories of how people were stalked for years. Or their stalker turned up under their bed. My son tried to get me to laugh, one morning saying, "Look Mum someone's looking through the window," and then saying "boo" and laughing. My daughter told him that wasn't funny. Though we did all laugh.

Although the police had advised never to text back, one morning after getting another "Morning", I was so exasperated I texted again asking him to tell me his name. He asked why. I said because that is what normal people do when they talk to people, they say who they are. He texted back "LOL". Who knew that "LOL" could be so sinister?

Eventually a breakthrough. He called from a landline. My colleague took the call and said she would take a message for me. If you are going to stalk someone, don't stalk a journalist. Now we had a number, we could easily trace an address and get a name.

The cop contacted him. He said he was just a fan. She warned him to stop. I thought that was the end of that. For the first time in ages I could relax.

My heart sank. This was scary, that this man wasn't even going to stop when the police were on to him and knew who he was? Everyone was flabbergasted.
Annemarie Quill

Wrong. My text pinged. "What's that police lady's name Annemarie, is she going to stop me reading the Bay of Plenty Times?"

My heart sank. This was scary, that this man wasn't even going to stop when the police were on to him and knew who he was? Everyone was flabbergasted.

The texts became more frequent. Stranger. He asked if he could have just one chance to be my friend he'd give it his best. He said the friends I had were no good. Sometimes he said he loved what I wrote. Sometimes he said I should go and stand in a corner. Sometimes he would text a joke, "What do you call a ... ?" then text me the punchline. Sometimes he ordered more squats.

The police visited him to give him another warning not to text again. He sent me a text saying he wouldn't. He did. Joking about it kept my spirits up. Was he going to turn up at my door? Did he want to murder me? If that happened I told my colleagues to make sure they used a nice photo of me on the front page - at least we would get the exclusive. In our profession we have a black sense of humour. We have to, to cope with some stories. But I am supposed to write the stories, not be in them.

This story has a happy ending. When he continued to text, invited me for drinks, texted me jokes, he didn't know that each text was immediately forwarded to the cop looking after my case, as she had asked me to do. I knew how irritating each ping from him was. Now he was irritating her too. I had had enough. So had she.

I got a call late one night from an unmarked number. I picked up without speaking and was relieved to hear the cop's voice. "I have just arrested our friend. He is in a cell in Tauranga police station."

He pleaded guilty. He was convicted of criminal harassment. He requested restorative justice meetings. I was told he wanted to meet me to explain. The journalist in me was curious to know why.
I said no.

A year on, I still jump when the phone rings. I only ever say "newsroom", not my name, when I answer the phone, which some find unusual when it is the kids' teacher calling or the drycleaners to say my jumpsuit is ready.

The good thing out of this is that now I know and, more importantly, my kids know, that if someone is sending you unwanted messages online or by text or Facebook, and they don't stop when you ask them to, then that is not just wrong, it is a crime. My kids saw me tell someone about it. They saw something done. I fought the bully and the law won.

It is important we get this message to our kids that cyberbullying is wrong. It is a crime and if it happens to them they have to tell someone. If it was hard for me as an adult, surrounded by my family, friends, colleagues and resources, imagine how stressful and lonely it must be for a child or teenager at school to get bullying messages or constant harassment.

The most chilling part of this week's NZME cyberbullying series was reading Coroner Wallace Bain's comments. Think about that for a while, let it sink in - a coroner is commenting on the impact of cyberbullying on our kids.

I don't want to share this story for any sympathy. It was okay. I had support from everyone. Thank you everyone and thank you Tauranga police.

I am sharing it just because I want kids in the same position to please tell someone. If that someone doesn't take it seriously then keep telling someone until they do take it seriously. I told everyone - my family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, my hairdresser, and now I am telling you.

If you get cyberbullied tell your family, tell your teachers. Tell those numbers listed in the box. Tell us at the Bay of Plenty Times. Tell the police. You do not have to put up with it. Don't feel bad. Don't suffer. You are not alone. The bullies can be stopped.

#StopTheHate.


Where to get help


In an emergency: call 111
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633, or text 234 (available 24/7) or talk@youthline.co.nz or live chat (between 7pm and 11pm) http://livechat.youthline.co.nz/mibew/chat?locale=en&style=youthline
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155 (weekdays 11am to 5pm)
NetSafe: 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723), www.theorb.org.nz
Bay of Plenty Times: 0800 253 253

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