By Ashley Kavanaugh
We live in a world today of technology, where we often find ourselves in close quarters with the same people whether it be at school or work. It’s a world where stalking laws are falling behind, stating that a person must be explicitly followed, when they can merely be tracked online, or every other day at a mutual location such as place of employment. Worse yet, like the legal definitions of rape available, stalking laws also focus on the victim. Terror or fear must be felt, but when one can hide behind texting, or Facebook, or blatant lies, sometimes that is not always the case until it is too late. A few years back, I spent a summer researching stalking laws, and found myself disappointed by the restrictive use of the term. Why?
I was stalked, but not by the legal definition, and I was left unable to file charges or seek legal protection in any way. In fact, I didn’t even talk about it, for fear of my stalker seeking me out again, violently, for turning him in. But I’m 20 now, and he’s 2,000 miles away, and if I’m truly honest with myself, part of me wants him to know I turned him in, to know I filed police reports, and had his house searched. Part of me wants him to know I wasn’t as naïve in the end as I was in the beginning. This is the story of how was stalked. This is the story of L.
The summer prior to my junior year of high school, I moved from Phoenix, Arizona to the tiny town of Sellersburg, located a dozen or so miles from the Ohio River in Southern Indiana. Having grown up in Phoenix, it was a bit of a culture shock to suddenly be attending high school in small town Midwest USA, but all in all it was a good experience. That is, except for… well, let’s just call him L.
Due to differences in state requirements for high school, my Junior year’s Spring semester in Indiana I found myself in a freshman/sophomore Physical Education class. Actually, I found myself in two of them, one where I was considered a freshman and one where I was a sophomore, but only the latter is important in this case. I was the first out-of-state transfer student my high school had seen in something like five years. Additionally, I am far from the most athletic person in the world. Thus, in a scene straight out of Twilight, I walked into my last class of the day and, in a gym full of freshmen and sophomores, discovered two very important facts:
1.) I was still new, I wasn’t from there, and everyone was watching me fail horrifically at jumping rope.
2.) Beyond my own klutziness, it turned out I could blame a significant part of my failure on the jump rope, as, apparently, compared to the general population of Sellersburg, Indiana, I was really, really tall.
Point is, I stood out like a sore thumb, especially in gym. It was there that L found me.
My first conversation with L was odd, but friendly. He tried to guess my age (not uncommon for me), and we chatted for a bit about music. I learned that despite he himself looking older, he was only a freshman. My first clue that something wasn’t right should have been the second time we talked, when he gave me a mixed CD of aforementioned music, but I was new, I was out of my element, and I am embarrassed to admit I was still somewhat desperate to make friends. We continued to talk throughout our gym classes.
Eventually, I fell into L‘s group of friends, and I made a few of my own. There were five of us, three girls, two guys; three freshmen, a sophomore, and me. The school year progressed. We all exchanged phone numbers, we texted, and we became good friends, but I was concerned for L.
To put it bluntly, L was a victim of abuse. His father, an alcoholic, subjected his son to near-constant verbal abuse, coupled with occasional violence and outright psychological warfare. The image most prominent in my mind is the time L showed up to school in jeans and a t-shirt, when there was snow on the ground and the high for the day was in the low teens. I remember getting out of the car that morning – it was 2. I asked him about it, and he told me that his jacket, a hoodie sweatshirt with a tattoo-esque design of a skull on it, had been the victim of his dad’s latest rampage. He’d gotten upset about something, and in taking it out on L, decided he didn’t like the “violent” imagery featured on the sweatshirt, and destroyed it. Not only had L purchased the sweatshirt himself, but it was the only jacket he owned.
As the situation at home progressed in this matter – and I heard more and more stories of things being destroyed – I urged L to speak out. I offered to go with him to the police, or the school counselor, or anyone, really. And, I urged him to stand up for himself.
After months of this, he finally took my advice, it seemed. In literally the worst way possible. Meanwhile, I had started dating the sophomore boy from our group of friends, J.
It was about midnight, and as usual, L and I were texting. Things were winding down at my house, and I was getting ready to go to bed, when he dropped the bomb on me.
L was finally going to stand up to his father, and he’d bought a gun with which to do it. Naturally, I was freaked out by his statement, and my first thought was to call the police. My second thought was that L was only fifteen, so, did he really have a gun? I started asking questions, which he willingly answered:
– He’d skipped football practice after school to buy the gun from an older friend.
– It was a semi-automatic pistol, an (I believe, but I’ve since lost record of the original texts) AR-15.
– After buying it, he’d brought it home and hidden it in the back of his closet amongst his paintball and pellet guns, and painted the tip of the barrel orange so that at first glance it appeared to be just another in his collection.
– His plan next time his father tried something? To, and I quote: “Empty a clip into his father”.
Understandably, I was terrified, and scared for my friend, and a little lost as far as a plan of action was concerned. In the past I’d begged L to go to the police and report his father. He’d told me he couldn’t, it was a small town (and naturally I didn’t understand, because I wasn’t from there), and all the officers knew L’s father. They were friends with his father – they had BBQs together. I wondered what would happen if I called, then? Would they ignore it, and have someone end up dead, or would they come down hard on L in order to protect their friend, essentially destroying the rest of this kid’s life?
I decided then, with the input of both my parents and J, to leave that decision out of my hands. He and I – but honestly for the most part just I – spent the following day in the principal’s office. We showed up an hour before classes began, half an hour before the first busses (including L’s) arrived, and I handed over my phone. We explained to the principal that L had a history of interest of violence – mostly WWII and Nazis – so we believed that this was a legitimate threat. We talked about the history of abuse, all the incidents L had told us about in class, and about how frequently I’d tried to get him to seek help.
We gave police statements to the campus officer. We told the principal where L lived, and another officer was called in because it was a different town. J and I went to class, leaving my phone behind with the principal, and I was immediately called back out from first block. I stepped outside, and the Principal was waiting for me, to lead me back to his office via a seemingly convoluted route around campus. I asked what we were doing.
“L’s parents are coming in.” he told me, “We don’t want them to see you if they walk in while we’re heading to my office.”
Well, that was certainly odd. I responded: “I don’t know his parents. They’ve never met me.”
“Well, they certainly know you. You’re apparently all he talks about.”
The next few hours were a blur, rereading the texts, recounting L’s tales of Nazi weaponry and fatherly abuse, giving statements to police and begging to remain anonymous. I couldn’t, because as soon as they’d confronted L about the gun, he’d blurted out “Ashley’s the only one who knows about that.”
It was my idea, but they ended up telling L that my phone had been confiscated for texting in class, and that’d been when my teacher had seen the texts and turned in my cell. As the day progressed, I learned more and more of the truth, and, frankly, I was horrified.
And, prior to being horrified, I’d apparently been incredibly naïve.
Police searched both the school and L’s home and found nothing. There was no gun, and there never had been. L was sent home after being extensively interviewed by the principal, vice principal, and police. His parents were also interviewed.
As it turns out, L, a freshman, had taken the opportunity to reinvent himself in high school entirely for a single purpose: to garner my attention and empathy. At some point early on in our friendship I must have shown him a little too much care and concern in regards to something his father had done, like ground him or take something away, and since that point he’d ran with it. Ran with it and lied.
His father was neither an alcoholic nor abusing L. Other lies, like his mother’s blatant favoritism of his sister over him were also false. L had gone so far as to intentionally strand himself at school via telling his parents he was at an event, so he could tell me he was stranded at school because his parents didn’t want him taking the bus anymore and had to drive his sister somewhere, so I could offer to drive him home, so he could fake a phone call to his mother asking if it was okay, to tell me she refused to allow it, so I could leave him there to wait an hour at school, so that he could call me later that night to inform me that his father had said and firmly believed that L and I had had sex in the school parking lot while he waited to get picked up.
All of this, because that first day in gym he’d decided that he liked me. All of this, because being grounded by his father had gained more of my attention than giving me a mixed CD. All of this, escalated exponentially, because I’d started dating J.
He was off-the-books suspended for the rest of the school year, so that nothing permanent ended up on his record, and I was left to figure out my own story for when he inevitably attempted to talk to me again.
That summer, I started looking up stalking laws, and was disappointed. Indiana classified criminal stalking as the following:
Sec. 1. As used in this chapter, “stalk” means a knowing or an intentional course of conduct involving repeated or continuing harassment of another person that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, or threatened and that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, or threatened. The term does not include statutorily or constitutionally protected activity.
Note: This version of section effective until 7-1-2014. See also following version of this section, effective 7-1-2014.
Sec. 5. (a) A person who stalks another person commits stalking, a Class D felony.
(b) The offense is a Class C felony if at least one (1) of the following applies:
(1) A person:
(A) stalks a victim; and
(B) makes an explicit or an implicit threat with the intent to place the victim in reasonable fear of:
(i) sexual battery (as defined in IC 35-42-4-8)
(ii) serious bodily injury; or
L hadn’t harassed me, he’d lied to me. I did not feel terrorized or intimidated prior to the gun incident, but I now felt violated on a criminal level all the same. Yet, according to the law, I had no rights in this regard. I had no proof of intent with which to file an order of protection, despite now feeling definitively endangered.
My research continued. Maybe this was considered something else other than stalking? After all, he hadn’t been following me around, he didn’t have a car. Beyond that, he didn’t have to follow me. We had a class together, a guaranteed every-other-day encounter, with bonus crossing paths in the hall. He knew where my locker was, and where I sat during lunch, and at the time, none of that was creepy, because we were friends. His constant texting, discussing my whereabouts and actions nearly every waking hour wasn’t creepy, because we were friends. At some point towards the end of summer, he texted me, with another lie about losing his phone charger and being in Florida for the last ten days of school (the days he was ‘suspended’). I responded with a novel of a text message, stating that I’d realized during his ‘trip’ that I was better off without him in my life, and to never contact me again. He emailed me a month or so later, and I called his mother, threatening to call the police for harassment. It was a bluff, of course, I knew the laws, but it worked, and the rest of the summer passed in peace.
Senior year, while fantastic, was also terrifying because of L. Having no marks on his permanent record, he returned to school as a sophomore as if nothing had happened the prior year. Passing by him in between classes was a test of willpower: to not look at him to see if he was looking at me, to not make it obvious I was frightened. Our friends, his friends, begged me to talk to him again, to tell them why I’d decided to cut contact, but I’d refused, and ended up losing them too. I had other friends, though, and beyond those few daily moments of panic, and the ‘miraculous’ return of L‘s skull-design jacket, life went on. J and I went to prom, I graduated with honors, and I moved back home to Phoenix to attend the college I’d always wanted to. J and I broke up, and L hasn’t contacted me in over three years.
He’ll be graduating this year, though, and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t worry me.