What’s it like to have someone tracking your every movement every day? Sending you anonymous messages, pretending to be you on the internet, meticulously and devotedly doing everything to make your life as miserable as possible—just for kicks? Mary Scherpe, one of Germany‘s most successful style bloggers, knows a thing or two about that. For the past two years she’s had a stalker—sending her everything from carpet samples to kitchen catalogues in the mail, signing her up for a welcome package for their unborn baby (named Karl Johann), telling her how stupid, dumb, and fat she is, or tweeting, blogging, and Instagraming embarrassing stuff in her name.
Instead of curling up in a corner, packing up her business, or fleeing to another part of the universe—after all the internet is where Mary makes her living: Her blog Stil in Berlin is read by thousands of people every day, and Gucci and Prada advertise on the site—she’s decided to the exactly the opposite. She started a Tumblr to document everything this nutball does to her and has also written a book about it.
I spoke to Mary to find out what it’s like to have someone mess with you so badly and why she decided to go full-frontal public with it.
VICE: How is your stalker today? Have you heard from him lately?
Mary Scherpe: I hear from him every now and then, unfortunately. Mostly stuff in the mail he sends to my office. But he’s been very quiet lately.
Would you say you are a typical stalking victim?
Totally, in the sense that I have very strong reason to believe that it’s not just any guy. It’s someone that I was in a short relationship with once, and in the majority of all stalking cases it’s an ex-partner doing the stalking. So in this sense I am very typical. In the sense of being a public person, I’m probably not. I might be well known, but I don’t put a lot of my private life online. Compared with other people who blog about art, fashion, and food, I’d say there are very few pictures of me on the internet, not a lot of information about how I live and whom I hang out with. But the thing with stalking is, there are so many different constellations that pretty much everybody could become a victim. The things that can trigger someone into stalking you could be totally minor.
Wait, so you know who this guy is?
Yes. I have to call it a suspicion to not get into legal trouble, because it’s based on circumstantial evidence and I don’t have any hard proof. But I am very sure it's him.
What makes you so sure?
I wasn't in the beginning. It was mostly my friends who’d called it from the start. But over time he started using things that indicated this is someone who must actually know me, not just from my online persona.
He’d use stuff that I had mentioned while we were dating. Like he’d make fun of my big nose because he knew I thought it was too big; I had mentioned that to him once. I might think my nose is too big, but I also realize that it’s not actually big enough for someone to notice that—unless that someone knew about my vulnerability. He also started making mistakes that gave him away.
He’d usually use Tor software to anonymously send me messages or post comments on my blog, but sometimes he’d forget and the IP address would indicate that the commentator was from the city where he lived at the time. He also created a bunch of fake Instagram accounts pretending to be me, but sometimes he’d post a similar comment under his real name. At a certain point I contacted him and told him that I’d report him to the police. After that he lay low for two weeks and didn’t do anything online, not even under his real name. All this makes it pretty obvious it’s him.
Germany passed a law against stalking in 2007. Why couldn’t you just go to the police and report him?
I did. Twice. Both times the case was dismissed with the same explanation. The problem is that the current law is not based on what the perpetrator does. It’s based on how this affects the victim. The way it is right now, you have to prove that you as a victim are “strongly impaired in your way of life." Did you have to move because of it? Have you lost your job? Were you afraid to leave the house? Did you curl up in a corner and come unraveled? It’s about how badly this messes you up.
So basically because you weren’t messed up enough, didn’t have a breakdown, and were still able to function and work, it’s not a crime?
Yes. For the prosecutor to start investigating that would have to be the case. It’s pretty twisted: On the one hand everybody tells you to just go on with your life, try ignore this, not let it get to you. But if you do that and stay strong, like I have done, it means you don’t have a case. He’d have to succeed in destroying me first.
That sounds very wrong. Is that why you started blogging and writing about it?
I didn’t immediately start blogging. That was kind of my last resort after a year of this getting continually worse, to the point where I didn’t know what else to do. I felt totally helpless. When you have a stalker, you learn to constantly ask yourself, What would he do? What does he think about this? You get used to constantly being on the lookout and reacting to what your stalker does, extinguishing fires, while at the same time you can’t do or say anything. My lawyer was advising me to not event talk to people about my suspicions. So your stalker gets to yell at you and threaten you out of anonymity every day and you can’t say anything. That was so frustrating and unhelpful that I decided to turn it around and do exactly what you are advised not to do. Not ask how will he react to it but instead do what feels right for me. And I immediately knew that it would make me feel better to write about it, make me feel like I am back in charge again. Going from defense to offense felt so good that I was willing to take the risk that the stalking might get worse because of it.
With the book it was the same. Will he have a ball reading about how much he made me suffer? Maybe. But I didn’t care. I only focused on what I wanted.
What did you want?
I want stalking to be something that is talked about. To not have to shut up about it anymore. I also want the law to be tightened and focus on the perpetrator, not the victim. Because this is not just my problem, most of the stalking cases are dismissed because of this. These adjustments of the criminal code are on the way—they are already written in the coalition agreement—but who knows how long it’s going to take. So I am hoping that the book and the petition I am launching to go with it will help to speed things along.
What was it like living with this guy virtually breathing down your neck before you started the blog? Were you constantly freaked out?
When I walked to the mailbox or was checking my phone for messages. But mostly I tried to just go on with my life. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction to keep me from my job. When I first started to blog about him, a lot of people were really surprised and said they never even noticed anything. That was me trying hard not to let anybody notice. But this takes a lot of courage.
I was lucky because my peer group was really supportive. For a lot of people who have a stalker, when they mention this problem reactions are like, "Don’t blow it out of proportion," "Just ignore it and it’ll stop eventually," "It’s not that bad." But that’s the thing: It is that bad. It feels like a constant threat, and that’s the treacherous part about it—it's exactly how your stalker wants you to feel. This isn’t just a temporary blackout. It’s something that person meticulously plans and executes every day to make you suffer. This feeling of knowing there’s someone out there who is willing to go through this every day, who won’t give up on it, who will just continue to do it day after—that’s truly horrible.
Was everyone around you supportive?
Mostly. After a piece came out about my story in Süddeutsche Zeitung and even the Bild (the largest German tabloid) picked it up, there were a couple of people claiming I just wanted attention. Well, yeah, I did want attention for this. I wanted to not be alone with it anymore. Why is that a bad thing?
Did people try to blame you for it?
This guy from the Chaos Computer Club where I called to find out how Tor works and if there’s a way I could track him was really patronizing and was basically like, “Why are you even still on Facebook? No one forces you to do that." When I tried to explain to him that it’s part of my job he wouldn’t have it. It took me a really long time to convince him that this guy doesn’t give a shit about me being on Facebook or not. He’d always find other ways to get to me.
Your stalker wasn’t just sending you messages, calling you at night, sending all this stuff in the mail. He was also trying to destroy your reputation, bad-mouthing you with your colleagues and creating parody accounts pretending to be you. Which kind of makes me wonder: Does he still have time to do anything else in his life?
On the surface he’s a functioning guy; he’s very active online. But that’s a pretty thin veneer of normalcy I’d say. Underneath he obviously has a huge problem. I assume it probably does take up most of his life. He’s not just following my social media accounts; he’s researching everything that was written about me. He managed to get access to my bank account and donated money to a women’s shelter in my name. And apparently I am not the only woman he does this to. After I went public and announced the book, another woman wrote to me. We met and talked, and it’s definitely the same guy.
Wow, he must have a busy schedule.
Yeah, he calls her at night, which was the one thing he couldn't do with me anymore because I just turn my phone off. Meeting her was shocking, but really good also, because it showed me that it really didn’t have anything to do with me. It could have happened to any other woman, and it will happen to others. It’s not about me. It’s him.
Do you ever fantasize about what you would do or say to him if you’d meet him face to face?
I’d probably just turn around and walk the other way.
What do you think will happen now that the book is coming out?
Don’t know. If I had thought about that I probably wouldn’t have written the book. It’s coming out next week, but it’s already publicly announced. Things might get worse, but that’s nothing I want to think too much about; that guy is just disturbed. I have to focus on myself and not let myself be intimidated by him.
What do you hope will happen?
That someone who’s in a similar position will pick up the book and realize they’re not alone with this shit. Others have gone through the same thing; we just don’t talk about it.
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