‘My ex has been stalking me for 21 years’
AFTER going completely off-the-grid, Jessica McMaster* had almost made it to 12 years without hearing from her abusive ex-husband-turned-stalker. But when she woke to over 80 newly-sent emails last June, she knew instantly that her stalker of 21 years had found her.
Arriving at work, she discovered that he had emailed her entire professional network a naked photo of her, taken when she was just 17 years old. Along with the photograph, he sent dozens of messages warning her colleagues that she was "a manipulative bitch" and "lying slut".
"I cut off all contact and was really happy to go through almost 12 years of him not knowing where I was. It felt like at the end of a horror movie when someone's just about to escape and then the hand grabs the ankle," Jessica says.
Jessica was introduced to her ex-husband when she was just 17 years old. She describes him as "gorgeous" brick layer who she met soon after arriving in Australia. They fell in love almost instantly and just few years later, they were married and Jessica had given birth to a little girl.
Problems started to brew in their relationship when their daughter turned one and a half. Her ex became enraged when Jessica asked for a divorce. Wrapping his arms tightly around her neck, her former lover strangled her until she passed out.
In a bid to escape her obsessive, violent stalker, Jessica and her daughter have moved homes nine times. With NSW's maximum penalty for stalking being just five years, Jessica's ex has only served two brief stints in prison since the harassment began in 1996.
Jessica has filed numerous restraining orders against her harasser, which he continues to breach. Currently, there is a warrant out for his arrest after he failed to attend court for sending the salacious image of Jessica to her colleagues last June.
IT'S USUALLY THE EX
Being stalked by a former intimate partner is the most common stalking pattern and the most dangerous, according to police and forensic psychologist Kris Mohandie.
Dr Mohandie says that because there's been a former intimate bond, the potential for violence is far greater. Stalkers typically have severe personality disorders, narcissism and a sense of entitlement, viewing their ex-partners as objects that they possess.
Around one in five women and 8% of men will be stalked in their lifetime, data from the ABS shows.
"Often times they blame their victims for their legal problems, for abandoning them. And because the perpetrator knows the victim, he knows her habits. It may make him more effective at being able to pursue and harass," says Dr Mohandie.
JESSICA'S FAMILY AND FRIENDS COPPED IT
From following her to breaking into her home and calling constantly, Jessica's stalker has stopped at nothing to intrude upon her life. Jessica's friends and family have also been targeted for refusing to reveal her location, being sent dead animals and harangued over the phone.
For years Jessica would return home to threatening messages. Breathing through the answering machine, her ex would intimidate her, "I'll find out where you are. Your days are numbered".
"Initially there was a lot of 'I love you, please come back'. Then when I didn't respond, there was a lot of 'I hate you, I'll make you pay for not coming back'. There's no doubt in my mind that he would kill me if he had a chance," Jessica says.
It is through Jessica's strenuous efforts that her daughter, now in her 20s, has been unscathed by her father's abusive behaviour. Desperate to keep her child from harm, Jessica hid the stalking from her daughter. She would tell her daughter to wait outside, while she checked the house to see if her ex had broken in.
It was only when her daughter began asking questions at 11 years of age that Jessica decided to show her the court documents.
"I figured it would be a huge achievement to not have this nightmare imposed on her world. I was pretty distracted with trying to achieve that while running to and from court, making statements to police every second day of the week to try and keep us legally safe," Jessica says.
A successful PhD candidate at an Australian university, Jessica's studies in psychology have helped her to make peace with her long and frustrating past as a stalking victim. Her ex-husband, a serial pest almost going on 50 years old, continues to suffer from substance abuse and mental health issues.
In line with advice from Dr Mohandie, she suggests that victims should document all incidents, seek help and notify police immediately if the perpetrator violates a restraining order.
"My advice to any woman who is being stalked is to immediately engage the law. Even though you think it's just a piece of paper and it will just make him angrier, it may save you. It's the message to him that I'm not afraid to take action. That's how I would want to go. I'm not going to die hovering in a corner, I'd want to die knowing I did everything I could," Jessica says.
*Name has been changed
If you are being stalked, do not delete any communication as it can be used as evidence. To report stalking, contact the Police Assistance Line on 131 444.