Stalked in Silicon Valley

Dear Sensible Midwesterner:

I’m not sure whether this fits in your purview or not, but I’m in an uncomfortable situation where I don’t know what to do – so I thought you might be able to help!

I’m a small business owner in Silicon Valley, and I have a stalker.

I have no hard, fast evidence, but I am certain (from context and intuition) that the stalker is a former employee. The person, let me call her Ms. Stalker, left my employment (voluntarily) two years ago, a few months after she quit I started receiving hostile, anonymous emails criticizing how I run my business.

Since then, I’ve continued to receive the emails intermittently, but lately Ms. Stalker has also started sending snail mail to my home and, creepiest, posting anonymous letters on the dashboard of my car, parked in front of my house. The messages have moved from being about my business to being about me, and they are mean: (e.g. your car is dirty, you should take etiquette lessons, your latest Facebook post was dumb). Most unsettlingly, lately they have started criticizing my child (e.g. Your child is ADHD and needs better discipline.)

I haven’t ever responded to Ms. Stalker. She scares me (obviously, she is angry and unpredictable) and she knows a lot about my personal and business life. She lives a few blocks away from my house. I’ve wracked my memory for specific incidents that caused this level of ongoing hostility from Ms. Stalker and come up with nothing; there were some (perceived) social slights involving coworkers that I wasn’t even involved in. I’m guessing that Ms. Stalker felt she wasn’t celebrated enough as an employee (she only worked a few hours a week, on an irregular schedule).

But this is making me unhappy; my tactic of waiting it out hasn’t worked, as the messages have gotten more frequent lately. Being silent about it makes me feel more the victim.

I’ve thought of going to the police, though that seems melodramatic. I’ve thought of confronting Ms. Stalker or talking to her husband. I’ve blocked her from my Facebook account but she still has access to my public-facing business.

Does a Sensible Midwesterner have any insight on what I should do?

Thanks for your help.

Sincerely,

Stalked in Silicon Valley

Dear Stalked in Silicon Valley,

How terribly unsettling. The Sensible Midwesterner understands your reluctance to involve the authorities. It does seem melodramatic.

And yet….

Waiting it out and ignoring her, the classic sensible Midwestern response, hasn’t worked. The Sensible Midwesterner’s mother (and life experience) taught her that no good comes from trying to reason with crazy people, so approaching Ms. Stalker directly will lead, I’m afraid, to no good. What response is likely? I doubt very much, no matter how you put it to her, that she would say, “Oh yes, I have been leaving creepy, threatening notes on your car, but I didn’t realize that wasn’t pleasing to you and shall stop forthwith!”

The Sensible Midwesterner has also observed that people tend to stick up for their spouse. To a fault, if necessary. It is difficult to imagine approaching the husband would lead to a better result.

It sounds like this woman isn’t simply being creepy, but is committing civil harassment according to California law under which harass means “engages in a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose.”

The first and absolute essential step: Log these events and save these creepy communiqués. Your position in Silicon Valley immediately brings to mind the possibility of using of technology to catch a creep. A webcam on the car, for example, comes to mind. But the main thing is to document what has happened and, importantly, your reaction. Fear? Annoyance? These elements, as noted in the definition above, are important in defining “harassment.”

One step the Sensible Midwesterner might be tempted to take before going to the police is public confusion. Draft an email as if you do not know who is doing this or why. In as cool and collected and neutral language as you can muster, explain that someone has been sending you anonymous notes (no need to go into specifics) and that because of their content you can only assume it is someone who once worked for you. Express complete bafflement and confusion at who could be doing this or why and ask the recipients for their help in getting this to stop if they happen to know who might be doing it because if it doesn’t stop you’re going to be forced to go to the police, and you really don’t want anyone who once worked for you to experience that hassle and shame. Send it (bcc, of course) to current and former employees.

There are many reasons you may not want to do that. In that case you need to go to your local police station and report your case. It pains the Sensible Midwesterner to give that advice. It seems that civilized people should be able to work out their differences without involving the authorities, but, alas, not everyone is sensible nor capable of respectful, civilized behavior, which is why we have authorities to turn to. Best of luck.

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