I escaped my attacker. He found me using my computer.

Susanna Hayward / Getty Images

Greg * and I had been acquaintances for almost a decade, but it wasn’t until February 2016 that we developed a romantic relationship. At first, he took me to fancy dinners and showered me with gifts, weaving into my life. Despite my instinct that something was wrong – the relationship was going so fast – I gave him the benefit of the doubt because I had known him for years. I wanted to believe that he was just the kind of person he was. I would find out soon, it wasn’t.

About four months later, I started to notice Greg’s erratic behavior. If I tried to answer an emotional problem, Greg would fly into an explosive rage. He threw a boot at me once; he hit a potted plant on the table next to me and shattered it into pieces. Another time he threw a 60-pound wooden artwork in my direction, narrowly missing my head. As these situations became more frequent, we began to sleep in separate rooms. (He punched a hole in a door once, trying to reach me.) If I tried to leave the house, he would threaten to hurt himself (once, even hiding my car keys so I couldn’t get there. to go). Then he asked for forgiveness and the cycle began again; when someone psychologically abuses you, it erodes your self-esteem. After about seven months we got engaged, but I was immediately nauseous and called off the engagement two weeks later. A month after her proposal, I found out I was pregnant, but I knew I was in a dangerous environment for a baby.

I was eight months old when Greg left on a business trip. I called a few close friends and finally talked about my fears. They encouraged me to leave. That night, I started packing. Soon after, I left our apartment in California and emailed Greg and his family to tell them that I didn’t feel safe and needed to be at peace to give birth. I didn’t tell them where I was going. Then I flew to New York, where my mother lives. Over the next few weeks, Greg contacted me about 350 times via email, calls, texts, and Facebook messages. He also slandered me publicly, posting on Facebook that I had quit because I had a psychiatric disorder or disappeared.

I was sitting at my mom’s house, with my due date approaching, when I opened an email that apparently came from Children’s Services in Los Angeles. In reality, the email was not from Children’s Services but from Greg. I believe this because within 20 minutes of it opening Greg sent me a Facebook message thanking me for confirming his case with Children’s Services and said he now knew I was was in New York. [Editor’s note: Marie Claire independently confirmed that the email address used is not associated with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family.] I suspect that by simply opening the email I must have inadvertently installed a tracking bug on my computer, allowing Greg to use my computer’s IP address to determine my exact location. Inside the email, there was an embedded link that said, “Please click for information on your case.” I was worried the link was a keylogger. If I had clicked on it (which I didn’t), there’s a chance it might have been watching everything I was typing. I was terrified.

It was then that I filed a criminal report for aggravated harassment with the police. I have reported his use of unauthorized technology to track my location and his ability to use it to harass me. It can be difficult to prove this type of case: in general, the cops will tell you that there is nothing they can do; technology is somewhat uncharted territory. Plus, it can become a case, he said, she said. I was referred to family court and told to apply for a protection order.

I went to the hospital two weeks before giving birth for a check-up. My fear was visible: I was thin and pale. I hadn’t slept. I was referred to a social worker who helps women in distress and told her what was going on. She advised me to turn off my location services on my phone; I access my email on my phone, so there was a possibility that Greg could track me and know when I was going to work. She also recommended that I file a restraining order.

When it comes to cyberstalking cases, the best thing to do is to document each case of harassment. The night before I gave birth, I stayed up until 4 a.m. printing everything Greg mailed or sent me. It was scary because I understood that he might know when I was opening these emails (the infected email I had opened might have the capability), but I had need proof. In the end, I had a stack the size of a college textbook.

I went to court 10 days after giving birth to my son and submitted a petition detailing the above-mentioned abusive behavior, including unauthorized follow-up. This convinced the judge, who granted me a temporary restraining order the same day. At that point, the restraining order was served on Greg, who accepted it, meaning he couldn’t approach me, contact me, or post about me on social media. . The full restraining order was granted and in effect until March 2018. He chose to leave the country. I haven’t seen him since. Find out vibrators

Rebuilding my life has been one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it is worth it. Today my son and I are doing well. I volunteer with Safe Horizon, the largest victim services organization in the United States, to educate people about abuse and cyberstalking. I encourage all who can to come forward; we need to hear more of these stories. The internet has become a tool that abusers can use against victims, but there are ways to protect yourself. I am now using a VPN server to hide my location from potential hackers. Personally, I have the impression that after three years, I am finally safe.

* The name has been changed.

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Marie Claire.

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