Beyond obsession

Namira Hossain reveals the unique characteristics of stalkers and how one can get rid of their unwanted attention through certain steps

MEHEDI HAQUE

MEHEDI HAQUE

Ria is in her twenties and a resident of Dhaka city. One day she suddenly received a Facebook message from a man whose profile she had been ‘stalking’ on Facebook. Chatting led to them meeting which led to them to sleeping together. Let’s call the man in question Tanim Hossain. He was recently divorced and with a child. He made it clear to Ria that there was no chance of a relationship developing and that he was also seeing other people.
Ria would not take the hint and continued to barrage him with calls and text messages, even posting status updates about him on Facebook. Having already recognised the red flags of obsession, Hossain grew wary of her behaviour and tried to limit his interactions with her in vain. She remained intent on pursuing him and would routinely call and make threats.

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As Hossain decided to enter into a committed relationship, he blocked Ria on Facebook. Unable to deal with the rejection and consumed with jealousy, Ria now became fixated on seeking revenge. She posted all his messages on the social networking site and even messaged his girlfriend in an attempt to destroy their relationship. Even though months had passed since their last interaction, her rage at his rejection remained vivid as she devised new methods of intimidating him through Facebook – threatening to harm his child and even creating fake profiles in the names of him and his girlfriend in an attempt to slander their reputations. Hossain had already realised that he could not engage with her in any manner, but as he saw that she was threatening people he cares about including his child, he had no choice but to go to the police.

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‘It’s very scary having a stalker’, says Hossain, ‘you constantly feel as though you need to be looking over your shoulder.’ He continues, ‘and the worst thing is because she is a female, no one seems to take it seriously.’
Most people suffer romantic obsessions at some point, although to a lesser degree. The extreme lengths that Ria went to are signs of something much more sinister – and can be classified as stalking. Psychology Today describes stalking as unwanted or obsessive attention by an individual or group towards another person. Stalking behaviours include harassment and intimidation and may include following the victim or monitoring them.
Karishma Zeenat (name changed), another victim of stalking relates with Hossain’s fear, ‘it starts off as a weird attraction but then it becomes more of a power play or domination.’ Zeenat would receive incessant phone-calls from a man she had never met who even went as far as to call up her place of work, asking inappropriate questions about her. It continued for about six months as he went to extreme lengths to fuel his sick obsession, calling her from different numbers every time. She admits, ‘he took an effort to make my life uncomfortable.’ She was also stalked by another person for 16 years, a young boy who used to work at her house which almost brought up feelings of guilt for Zeenat, as he remained steadfast in his obsession for so long.
0005Dr Mehtab Khanam attempts to give some insight to the mind of a stalker – she says that as children they were not attached to their primary caregiver and probably neglected. This creates a vacuum inside them, one which they attempt to fill with another person, even if they are not interested. ‘It’s like a symbiotic relationship – where the parasite tries to extract love from the other person in an unhealthy and suffocating manner,’ declares Dr Khanam. She goes on to add, ‘abusers were often abused as children themselves, which is why they take sadistic pleasure from domination.’
There seems to be another common denominator in these stories, as they are symptomatic of an underlying personality disorder. These people are also extremely impulsive. Most jilted lovers often feel the urge to contact someone who has rejected them. The urge to reach out to an absent lover can be easily resisted, as most people have a sense of pride that prevent them from embarrassing themselves. These stalkers however, have no such reservations about appearing desperate. Their actions lead them to take on an identity which is repugnant even to themselves.
Technology and social networking sites are the main hubs of stalkers, as they spend hours trying to collect information on their victims. Nazia Tariq was stalked by a man for two years, who had also hacked her iCloud and retrieved photos of her. He would message her on Facebook, blackmailing her with the photos and after she blocked him, he sought out people on her friend’s list – offering to reveal the photographs to them in exchange for money.
Tariq says, ‘these are people with a lot of time on their hands – they occupy themselves by sitting behind a computer doing research.’ She says no one usually goes through such lengths unless they have a personal vendetta and yet her stalker persisted in his actions for two years despite not even being acquainted with Tariq.
Tariq got in touch with the Facebook group which deals with cases of cyber harassment, Justice for Women of Bangladesh (JWB) who insisted that Tariq file a GD against her stalker who was using a fake profile under the name of Raiyan Rahman, which Tariq did not want to do as she did not have her stalker’s real identity. As it is illegal to track IP addresses, JWB also did not want to do that as it would have troubling implications for them. Tariq found out that she was not his only victim, as he was doing the same things to other girls as well. She says she herself became obsessed with discovering his identity.

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Stalkers have an unnerving patience when it comes to making things extremely uncomfortable for their victims, attempting to provoke reactions out of them. Dr Mehtab reveals that any attention from the victim, even if it is negative simply feeds their energy. The best way to deal with them is to make it clear to them that their attention is unwanted and to ignore them completely, not engaging in any communications with them. The gut instinct of many would be to respond, but it is important not to do so at all. Hossain admits, ‘it is very frustrating because I feel helpless whenever she does something new.’
In 2011, stalking became illegal in Bangladesh falling under sexual harassment. However in the case of female stalkers, people mostly laugh it off not understanding how dangerous they can be. Saqeb Mahbub, a lawyer who practices in the Supreme Court discloses, ‘the law does not discriminate but the truth is it is a social problem that the police do not take it very seriously if the stalker is a woman.’ He says it is important to keep all the evidence of their communications, such as text messages or posts on Facebook because they can be used in the court of law against them. Under the ICT (Information Communication Technology) Act – Section 57, ‘anyone who publishes any material in electronic form that causes to deteriorate law and order, prejudice the image of the state or person or causes to hurt religious belief, the offender will be punished for maximum 14 years and minimum 7 years imprisonment’. It is also suggested that the crime is non-bailable.
The bullying of stalkers can be very disconcerting for victims, instilling in them a sense of fear and the constant need to look over one’s shoulder. Zeenat confesses, ‘the fear overwhelms you.’ But as we have seen, victims do not need to remain helpless as there are ways to deal with the situation such as employing the law in order to protect oneself.
Due to technology and social media, we are more vulnerable to stalking. The use of dating apps and social media belies the lesson we had all learnt as children to not talk to strangers, and it is best not to or at least do so with discernment such as seeing how many mutual trusted friends you have in common. Before adding or messaging that attractive looking stranger who just popped up on your ‘people you may know’ list, remember that behind that Facebook profile picture, may lurk a darker side.