Let's say someone is following you on social media, sending you death threats, then rape threats—and seems capable of seeing them through. You turn to the police for help, but you're told that maybe you should delete your Twitter account or change your hair color.
That's how the past five years have gone for Lenora Claire, a former art-curator and current casting agent in Los Angeles, who has been stalked since 2011 by the same man who has made headlines in the past for stalking Ivanka Trump. Unlike Ivanka Trump, Claire doesn't have the luxury of bodyguards and private security, and when she turned to law enforcement for help, it became clear she would need to take matters into her own hands. The ongoing saga, which resulted in her stalker being captured by the Secret Service this year, has sparked a discourse on stalking laws, including proposing new stalking legislation that would emphasize the greater threat of cyber stalking and internet threats.
Claire and I have been online acquaintances for years, and during our interview, it surprised me how much we knew about each other despite having never met in real life. I saw that you were at this show last week, how was it? Are you still getting rid of your old clothing? Is that guy still ghosting you? That's the power of social media: We can know people without knowing them. And for all the fame, recognition, and attention that comes with having an internet presence, women like Claire and I rarely consider the potential danger it can bring.
Back in 2011, Claire was profiled as one of LA Weekly's "Best of LA" for the formation of her now-defunct art gallery, pop tART. Shortly after the article came out, a man wearing a spacesuit showed up to the gallery, which Claire brushed off. "When you're a curator, you have a high tolerance for artistic shenanigans so I was just like, Whatever. He seemed off, but harmless," she told me.
But as they continued talking inside the gallery, Claire realized she had misjudged him. "He tells me that I remind him of Jessica Rabbit and that he thinks I'm a supreme being," she remembers. "Then he tells me that he intends to stalk me. He tells me that right to my face."
The man, born Justin Massler, had legally changed his name to Cloud Starchaser several years prior. He was a Harvard-bound star athlete until he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, the manifestation of which changed the course of his life. He convinced himself that he was Superman, and expressed beliefs that women like Ivanka Trump and Lenora Claire needed to be kidnapped and raped in order to harness their powers.
His fascination with Ivanka had been ongoing since at least 2010. He had threatened to commit suicide if she and her husband would not speak to him, and harassed the employees of her jewelry store for not delivering earrings that he bought for her. Following this last incident, he was eventually caught by Secret Service agents only a few blocks away from Trump Tower. According to Claire, he is currently being held at the Bellevue Psychiatric Center in New York, with no current set plan on what his future will be.
Over 7.5 million Americans are victims of stalking, according to the Stalking Resource Center, but most of them don't have the resources of a woman like Ivanka Trump. Claire was lucky, in a sense, that she shared the same stalker as Ivanka, and that Cloud Starchaser frequently posted his intentions to stalk and his whereabouts on his website. But when Claire tried to bring this evidence to the Los Angeles Police Department, she says she wasn't taken seriously. The first time she turned to the police—after receiving several handwritten letters and emails from Starchaser, telling her they were in love and meant to be together—she says the LAPD's reaction was to blame her. "They told me that I should change my hair so I'll be less of a target," she remembers. "They also told me to remove myself from social media. They mocked me and shamed me. I walked out of there so angry." (The LAPD declined to comment for this story.)
To tell someone to remove themselves from social media in this day and age is akin to telling someone to stop existing. "We have a climate now where people are getting more attention through self-promotion on social media, but are completely unprepared for the fact that it does bring to them false attachments," Claire told me. "You post about what you're doing and who you're with, and it does get easy to stalk you."
Even if the LAPD had been more sympathetic to Claire's case, there's only so much they could've done. Stalking laws are slowly adapting to modern times—harassment through email or social media is, for example, now a crime in states like California—but the act of stalking itself is still a low-level crime, and one that's hard to punish. Stalking crimes are generally labeled as misdemeanors that occur in conjunction with the act of stalking, such as vandalism or in-person verbal threats. The most a victim of stalking can currently do, legally, is serve a restraining order against their stalker. But even that can be difficult to accomplish. When attempting to file a restraining order against her stalker, Claire says she was told that because he had no physical address he could not officially be "served" the paperwork, making the restraining order only pending as opposed to permanent. It wasn't, she says, until he was caught in San Francisco, after showing up to the workplace of a woman he went to high school with, that authorities could officially serve him. "Even after all this, they still let him go," Claire told me. "Immediately [after] getting my restraining order, he contacted me."
So Claire took her protection into her own hands. She taught herself to check IP addresses every time he sent an email, to find out whether or not he was contacting her in California or another state. "If he was in California, I was in high alert because I felt like he could find me. If he was in a different state, I could breathe a little easier that day," she told me. "This became my normalized routine."
Now, after five years of constant anxiety, Claire says it's time we reexamined the way we deal with stalking in the United States. She's made appearances on Crime Watch Daily to talk about her experience and is being featured in an upcoming episode of 48 Hours. And then there's her work with California Congressman Adam Schiff, who collaborated on legislation that would emphasize the greater threat of cyber stalking and internet threats. Part of this new proposed legislation, which has been presented to the Department of Justice, includes creating a national stalker registry that would list the name of a convicted stalker regardless of what state they were convicted in.
On top of that, Claire and Schiff want to change the law so that it's possible for restraining orders to be served via email, as well as ankle monitors to be worn by convicted stalkers once they're set free. Outside of taking government action, she is also forming a non-profit organization along with California-based lawyer Peggy Farrell that will help protect stalking victims and provide them with proper legal help.
Claire is the first to point out that it's not glamorous work, but if it saves someone else five years of constant anxiety, it's worth it.
"No one wants to be the face of stalking," Claire said. "[but] we have seven million Americans being stalked and we haven't done shit for them. I want to change that."
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