Jordan: Hey, it’s Jordan. If you live in Toronto or Vancouver, and I see stats so I know a lot of you do, you are probably familiar with the feeling of never being caught up on local news. Fortunately, we have a way to sift out the noise. It’s the AM need to know newsletter, and it comes from 680 News in Toronto, and from News 1130 in Vancouver. And these are our all news stations, and they get you set for the day with weather, and traffic, and the stories everybody’s going to be talking about, and they do it in your inbox first thing every morning for free. You can get the Toronto version at 680news.com/needtoknow, and the Vancouver version at Citynews1130.com/needtoknow.
Jordan: You may have missed the details of this story unless you spend a lot of time online. A young woman, an Instagram influencer named Bianca Devins was murdered in Utica, New York this week.
News Clip: Police tell me that they believe that the suspect left this graffiti message on the ground, saying, may you never forget me. Photos were taken of her, and were posted on social media or chat platforms. They were posted on there which led people to become concerned, and to contact the Utica police.
Jordan: Bianca was allegedly killed by Brandon Clark, a man she had met online, and that’s also where her murder was posted in gruesome fashion, and when the incident was first reported because of some of those details, it was reported that she was stalked, and stocking is an interesting and potentially accurate term for what allegedly happened, but not according to police. One of the other rumors were hearing is that there was a stalking incident, a police spokesperson said, she met with him willingly, and that raises an interesting question. If the victim met with her killer willingly, does that mean it can’t be stalking? How do we define that kind of crime? The story of Bianca’s murder landed the same day as a thread on Twitter, which asked victims to share their experiences with their stalkers. You’ll probably not be shocked to hear that many of them had in fact met with their stalkers willingly at some point, most of them were sharing stories like that very vaguely, and for the first time. So what qualifies an incident? The kind of incident that we clearly know can and does, and in murder, as stocking? What options do victims have, and how are these crimes treated when they are reported, if they are reported? And what are the signs that all of us, police, most of all, should be recognizing to help stalking victims before we all learn their story for the first time in a really ugly way.
Jordan: I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is The Big Story. Julie Lalonde is an activist, and an educator around sexual violence and criminal harassment. She is also the creator of a project called Outside of the Shadows, a project on criminal harassment in Canada. Hi Julie.
Jordan: So the first thing I want to ask you, because of the incredibly disturbing story that made the rounds this week is when you see a story like the one out of New York that I just described, what’s the first thing that goes through your head as someone who lives this every day?
Julie: Well, for me, the reason why this story was so upsetting was because it combined two of the things that I have deep personal and professional connection to which is stalking, and criminal harassment, and incels, and men’s rights activists ,and kind of misogynous activists online. And so to see both of those pieces come together is really horrifying.
Jordan: What do you think happens in the media in sort of the hours and days after a story like this breaks? Because there’s a ton of discussion around it, and immediately come sort of the editorials in the discussion of incels and etc.
Julie: I’m really tired of people having hot takes about incels, or hot takes about even on Long Island stocking, as though this is a new phenomenon, and then it very quickly becomes sensationalized. It very quickly has ya all of these sort of think pieces about it. We’re talking about something as old as time, the assumption that women can’t be trusted, the assumption that women are telling you that they want something but in fact they just want to be friends, that women are using you, that women are shifty. I mean, these are, like imbued in most religious texts, for example, right? Like this is an old story, and when it comes to stalking, this is also something that women have been experiencing for a very long time, and there’s this real trend lately to act as though there’s been some sort of uptake in it, when in fact we know that technology apps, different kinds of of things that are coming out are just new tools for an old form of violence, and that most people who are being stalked even when most of it is online, there’s still a kind of IRL component to it. There’s still someone following them physically, showing up at their house, showing up at their place of work, and so I get really frustrated when people act like oh my god, like people, like the Internet is like; No, it’s just another tool that we’ve given stalkers’s to use but this stuff has been going on forever.
Jordan: So why don’t you lay out what is covered by stalking? Because this is one of the things that; There was case in point in this recent story is that the woman who was murdered had a relationship with the alleged killer, and maybe that means it wasn’t stalking after all, because the initial story said it was.
Julie: First of all it’s really important for folks to know that the vast majority of victims of stalking are women, the vast majority of stalkers are men, even when the victim itself is a man, men are more likely to be stalked by a man than by a woman, and women are far more likely to be stalked by someone that they know, and so the idea that it can’t be stalking if it’s someone that you consented to meet with date, sleep with, marry is absolutely false. Criminal harassment in Canada is an umbrella term that covers a whole array of behavior but the real root of it is repeated, and unwanted monitoring of some way, shape, or form, of both the person, the person’s whereabouts, so wandering their home, their place of work or monitoring folks around them. So trying, you know, badgering their friends and family to find out where that person is, and the goal is really to…. that surveillance, that monitoring, that idea that you can’t take a breath or take a step without me knowing where you are, and without you knowing that I’m watching you.
Jordan: How does that start in a typical case without asking you to point to one?
Julie: Often times, especially when the two people know each other it starts with some semblance of conflict, and that could be someone breaks up with you, someone rejects you, you know, maybe they fired you from their place of work. So there’s really some semblance of a break in some way, shape or form where the person says, even politely, this isn’t working out. You know, I think we should go separate ways, and then that person just doesn’t let it go. Often times it can also be in the context of I have a crush on this person, I really like this person, and they’re being nice to me, and I’m taking it as an indication that they’re interested in me, and so I’m going to escalate the behavior. Oftentimes, like intimate partner violence, for example, starts in a seemingly kind of small way where the person might think, am I reading too much into this? Maybe they just happened to be there? Maybe they’re just really invested in my social media content, and that’s why they like all my posts, and they’re the first person to comment on my photos, and then oftentimes it slowly escalates from there, which is what contributes to the victim of feeling like…. maybe I’m just being dramatic and like this person’s just being nice, or maybe they’re just awkward and I’m reading too much into it, and oftentimes by the time they realize the full breath of what’s going on, it’s actually been going on significantly longer than they thought.
Jordan: Well one of the other reasons we wanted to talk to you is because there was a huge threat on Twitter this week that I think probably was not surprising at all to a lot of people, and then extremely surprising to some. Can you tell me about it, and maybe sort of read me the first post and a couple of examples?
Julie: So, a Twitter user named Michelle Guido asked women: “Dear women, if you are comfortable please share your stalker stories below on this thread. The idea that this is rare needs to stop. Retweet to help spread awareness, enough is enough.” and similar to the Me Too hashtag, similar to been raped, never reported hashtag, women flooded the thread with their stories, and what was so interesting to me, but devastating was how tweet, after tweet, after tweet was a classic case of stalking, both from an emotional standpoint, but also from a criminal standpoint like these are things that meet the legal threshold in this country anyway, and women had imbued self doubt into the tweet itself. So this idea of like, I don’t know if this is really considered stalking, but I had this guy in high school, or I don’t know if this really counts, and that is so heartbreaking to me but so unbelievably common that women have these experiences that until someone puts a label on it, you hadn’t really thought of it in that light, you just thought this kind of crappy thing that happened to you in high school or maybe this weird experience you had at this particular job, and so often times it’s only in hearing other people’s stories that they start to kind of put the pieces together and realize, whoa, I have every right to have really strong feelings about this experience because it really was a criminal act.
Jordan: You mentioned been raped, never reported. How often is stalking reported, like the incidents described in that threat?
Julie: Stalking, like all forms of gender based violence in this country is incredibly under reported. It’s often times reported in the context of other crimes. So this person vandalized my home, which means they were watching my home, which means a criminal harassment charge is added on. Even when you’re looking at policing, criminal harassment charges rarely stand on their own, they’re oftentimes attached to an intimate partner violence charge. So you know, battery, and stalking, vandalizing something and stalking impersonation, hacking into their computer, like all of those kinds of things. So it’s oftentimes that’s how women will sort of tell that story, and again in Canada because it’s referred to as criminal harassment and not stalking oftentimes women are like, I don’t even know what criminal harassment is, I don’t even know what the threshold is, so they just sort of tell the story and if you’re lucky, you have a detective or a 911 dispatcher who can read between the lines and figure out okay, this is actually the root of what’s happening here. But it’s really often seen a sort of adjacent to a more serious crime, and that’s something that I am personally trying to advocate to change is that criminal harassment in of itself is a form of terrorism, like you’re terrorizing another human being, it’s psychologically damaging and I don’t I need to, and I shouldn’t have to physically assault you for that criminal harassment to be taken seriously.
Jordan: What is the threshold for people who don’t know, or might have a story that they question whether or not it reaches it?
Julie: Well I wish I could tell you what the threshold is, but it’s very vague in the criminal code, and so often times it really is up to the 911 dispatch, or the detective that’s working on your case to see the terror in your eyes. I mean, there’s a case in Montreal right now with Sue Montgomery, who’s a mayor of one of the outlying suburbs in Montreal who, by her definition has been stalked by a man for over 20 years, he started stalking her when she was a journalist, and then when she became elected he had other opportunities to harass her. Just this month, the judge concluded that what he was doing was absolutely stalking, and absolutely was criminal harassment. But because Sue did not show fear when she confronted him, and there’s video evidence of her confronting him at one of her events because she did not look afraid, it did not meet the threshold of criminal harassment.
Jordan: That’s insane.
Julie: It’s absolutely insane, and it enrages me to my core because what are women supposed to do? If I show that I’m upset, visibly, then I’m dismissed as an unreliable witness, I’m dismissed as hysterical, I’m and dismissed as like oh my god, like get over yourself. And then additionally, in this culture that we’re in right now, so much of the response around Me Too, is like women just got to stand up for themselves. These men don’t know what they’re doing, they’re not reading your signals, there’s a miscommunication, unless you put your foot down how is he gonna know? Okay, cool. Put my foot down and now you’re saying, well, I didn’t look scared, and being scared is the threshold. That is not ok, like what are women supposed to do? Like who is the right person to be taken seriously when it comes to criminal harassment? And so what happened to Sue is horrifying, but it’s incredibly common, and so criminal harassment is on one case, you know, repeated, unwanted, you know all of those kinds of things. Contact, contact with the other person’s family, surveillance but you also need to meet this criteria of showing fear, and reasonably had a reason to be afraid of this person. Well, who decides that? And if it’s a judge, what are they using to decide that? Well often time some pretty archaic stereotypes of what fear looks like, particularly in women, and so you have women who are going through the process, are putting themselves out there and are being, you know, shut down by the legal system because you just didn’t look afraid enough. Like we should be outraged by that.
Jordan: You mentioned a few minutes ago that it depends on whether or not you get a good detective who understands it. How much education is there left to be done, and how variable I guess, is the police response when this is reported?
Julie: The police response to gender based violence writ large is horrifying, it’s terrible. I mean, it’s just like it makes me inarticulate, like it just makes me so angry about the response in general. But when it comes to criminal harassment, in my case, like, personally, I’ve contacted police on three separate occasions, for three separate people, who are harassing me in a way that met the criminal code. In all three cases, the police absolutely believed it was happening, but they didn’t really do anything about it. Um, and so, you know, okay on the surface, great you could see, you know, here are the messages, here are the tweets, here are the notes that were left on my car. So, like, okay, I can see the evidence in front of me, but well, you know, I think this person is just, like, really sad that you broke up with them so, like, you know, this is kind of scary, but, like, it’s probably gonna be short lived to well, you know, I I believe you, I absolutely believe you but they change their IP address so it looks like it’s somebody in Europe doing this, so I can’t prove that it’s him. I know it’s him, but I can’t prove it in a criminal system that it’s him so I’m sorry but there’s nothing I could do. Like that’s a best case scenario in so many cases in terms of at least well he believed you, and so again because it’s purposely vague to try to encompass as many things as possible it means there’s a lot of room for interpretation. And again, you need a detective that believes you, then you need a crown that believes you, then you need a judge that believes you and so there’s a lot of hoops to jump through even when you, you know, can present letters in front of you saying this person did something to me. In my case I received threats, but I was told that well these threats weren’t specific enough to be able to show that he was serious in saying those things. Like that’s how subjective this stuff is, and people want to believe the criminal system is sort of this objective, neutral system. It absolutely is not, its human beings interpreting what they see in front of them.
Jordan: So what needs to change? Do we need more education? Do we need a change to the criminal code? Does government have to get involved?
Julie: I think the change that needs to happen in the criminal code is around this piece that you have to show fear. And to me, that’s just way too subjective, and that sets women up to fail. Women in particular because of gender and expectations of what fear looks like, so that absolutely needs to change. But otherwise, I mean, stalking is a crime in Canada, sexual assault is a crime, physical assault is a crime, vandalization; Like there’s all of these things that we know are already on the books, they’re just not being enforced, and so some tweaks to the criminal code, absolutely, I support Rona Ambrose’s change for training of judges around sexual assault, and I think they need to have training around all gender based violence to understand that you as a judge, whether you want to acknowledge it or not, are bringing your own stereotypes and myths into the courtroom, and that you’re reading into things that aren’t there, or you’re not picking up on subtleties because you have these, you know, gender norms that you subscribe to. And then we absolutely need policing. We need changes to policing. We need police to understand that criminal harassment in and of itself is ruining someone’s life. It has long, long impacts on that person’s wellbeing, it’s a threat to their life. In the context of intimate partner violence stalking is often times the precursor to homicide, like stalking kills, and it kills a lot in this country. If a woman is murdered by a man that she used to date or was married to, chances are she was stalked by him before he killed her, and so if we took stalking seriously from the jump, then we would be saving a lot of people’s lives.
Jordan: If it’s such an indicator that an attack is going to escalate, why don’t we talk about it more? Because one of the things that struck me about that thread is how many women were sharing stories that they said that they hadn’t told publicly before. I mean, you told your story publicly, but there’s not many women that do. Why don’t we talk about it?
Julie: A huge reason why we’re never gonna have a Me Too conversation around stalking in the same way as we did around sexual violence, is that talking about stalking makes it worse. Unless your stalker is dead or in jail, you acknowledging it publicly feeds what they want. Stalkers want to know that they are getting to you, they want to know that you are picking up on the things that they’re doing, they want to know that they’re keeping you afraid or interested in them. And so the idea that we’re gonna have this uprising of women naming and shaming their stalkers, talking openly about their experience, it’s just not gonna happen, because the nature of stalking is I’m trying to get your attention, and you publicly acknowledging it means I’m either going to feel validated, or I’m gonna escalate the behavior and shut you up, which can include harming you, and killing you. And so there’s a silence around it for a reason, because women and men, anyone whose experience stalking knows why would I poke that bear? He’s been quiet for the last couple of months, I’m not gonna go there, and that’s why me in telling my story because my stalker died, my DM’s and inbox are full of women; And we’re talking women with platforms like I’ve been contacted by, you know, celebrities, members of Parliament, you know, people part of City Council’s, people with power who are saying I wish I could use my platform to talk about this but I can’t because it endangers me, my life, and my family. So thank you for doing that but like I am, I can’t talk about this, and it’s killing me because I’m outraged and so how can we, you know, how can I help you behind the scenes?
Jordan: So tell me then about what you were doing when you made Outside The Shadows?
Julie: I was stalked by a former boyfriend for over a decade, and then he passed away a few years ago in an accident, and I had been doing work on violence against woman for years at that point, I was very privileged to have a platform to do that, and so I sort of came out about my story on social media now that it was safe to do so, and it really kind of started this conversation where people, one you know, disclose to me, but also thought oh my god like you have been talking about this for so long, you give talks, like you took on the military when they screwed you over at RMC, and like you were afraid of talking about your experience? What does that say about this problem? Like you’re somebody that I never would have expected to have this happen to them. And so I felt a real responsibility to kind of pivot my work, and really talk about what I went through because I know I’m speaking for a lot of people who can’t. And one of my frustrations is that there are very few resources about criminal harassment in terms of what your legal rights are, but even what the hell it looks like, and you know how it can impact you. And so I, you know, literally just ask people to donate to my PayPal, and I hired an incredible artist, her name is ambivalently yours, she’s based in Quebec, and we made a short five minute film talking about what criminal harassment looks like. Some tips for survivors, and also some tips for their allies, and my goal is to just continue that conversation and continue more resources creation because there is such a lack of understanding and even, you know, prior to the film if you put stalking Canada into Google, you got like Justice Canada statistics and like what the law says in some context, but like nothing on who do I call, where do I go? We don’t have a single organization in Canada dedicated to addressing stalking, like it’s a real gap, and it’s a problem because we’re seeing that like, oh my god this impacts a lot of people.
Jordan: What do you tell people who get in touch with you because they’ve seen that film, or because they’ve seen your work or your story? And they say, hey, I think this is happening to me, here’s my story. What do you do from there? What’s out there, and what’s available for you to help them, or for them to help themselves?
Julie: It really breaks my heart that I can’t refer people to a single organization or space. As I said there’s not a single organization in Canada dedicated to addressing stalking, I’m trying to change that. But you know, I am one person working off the side of my desk for free, so my advice is always to folks; Often times I hear from people in that intimate partner context. This is a former partner or, you know, like we hooked up once ,and he won’t let it go, so I really tried to let folks know that they’re not crazy, you’re not delusional, it sounds weird, but it’s very real, and I absolutely believe you, and that validation is really important, and to contact your local women’s shelter. There’s a real misconception that shelters are only there to provide housing, but in fact they do outreach around intimate partner violence, and so they can, you know, you can call up their support lines, you can get some information on what your local resources are, and then I really try to give them, you know, just really practical information. So I know it sucks, because you can’t use Uber, and you can’t get food delivered to your house but deactivating your GPS on your phone is a really small but important thing that folks should do if they’re, you know, feeling like they’re being stalked or monitored in some way. You know, letting your//// if you have roommates, letting your roommates know, letting your neighbours know. You know, if you live in an apartment building, don’t let him into the building. Really, you know your employees, your colleagues in Ontario in particular, there’s legislation that says that if you’re experiencing some form of intimate partner violence, that your employer is responsible to make sure that you’re safe at work. So notifying them, like really just trying to give people as many small tips as possible because it’s a really scary, isolating feeling but there are tangible things that we can do beyond just call the police and cross your fingers that they do something.
Jordan: Last question when you read through that thread and I guess when you saw the story that began this discussion, does seeing those stories out in the open even though they’re dangerous, does that mean that we’re getting better at this? Does it make you optimistic at all or where are we? I know we still have a long way to go.
Julie: I am optimistic. I mean, I get up every day, and fight in violence against women because I think people could change, and if I didn’t think the world could get better I would go and do something else with my life. Like core to the work I do is the belief that things can change, and I absolutely believe that this is a reflection of the power of Me Too, that we have opened up a box, you know, the genie’s out of the bottle, and we can’t stuff him back in. So even though we’re not gonna have the same breath, discussion that we did with Me Too, I absolutely believe that women are staking a claim and saying that we’re gonna talk about these things and to see people talking about it even in vague terms for the ignorant, whether it’s willful or otherwise, you can’t deny hundreds of stories is not a coincidence. And so I absolutely believe that we’re heading in the right direction, and I do feel optimistic that things are going to get better, I really do.
Jordan: Thanks Julie.
Julie: Thanks so much for having me.
Jordan: Julie Lalonde is an activist and an educator, and you can see some of her work at outsideoftheshadows.ca. That was The Big Story. For more find us at thebigstorypodcast.ca, or talk to us on Twitter @thebigstoryfpn, and of course, we want you to rate, and review, and subscribe for free wherever you get podcasts on Apple, on Google, on Stitcher, or on Spotify. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, we’ll talk tomorrow.
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