Every year, women in the UK are murdered by stalkers and domestic abusers—despite previously reporting them to the police. Unfollow Me is a campaign from Broadly to highlight the under-reported issue of stalking and domestic abuse in support of anti-stalking charity Paladin's calls to introduce a Stalkers Register in the UK. Follow all of our coverage here.
I grew up on (500) Days of Summer, Love Actually, and all those romantic comedies that beat us over the head with the “love is persistent” trope. Usually it’s a guy who decides he’s going to go all out to win the girl of his dreams, even if she doesn’t seem at all interested or is already in a relationship. The main thing is that he never gives up.
I loved these movies and their handwritten letters, expensive chocolates, and gifts—a romcom hero could have called anything a grand gesture and I would have lapped it up. My hopelessly romantic adolescent brain thought that I would find The One when they dedicated their life to getting me like Noah in The Notebook and the 365 letters he sent his ex.
So that’s what I ended up with—and it’s exactly what I didn’t want.
By the time we had been broken up for a year, my ex-boyfriend had already created multiple accounts on different social media platforms, including Instagram and Facebook, with the sole intention of contacting me. It’s not quite 365 letters for every day of the year, but you get my point.
Watch: Unfollow Me: The Alice Ruggles Story
Our relationship wasn’t the best, but when we met he was funny and charming and I wanted a boyfriend, so we got on with it. His friends liked me; mine tolerated him. But when we broke up, he wasn’t funny or charming anymore—he turned nasty. It was a side of him that I’d seen before, whenever he was annoyed at one of his flatmates or took a disliking to one of my friends, but it was never directed at me.
It wasn’t a clean break-up. It dragged out over a couple of weeks, with both of us flirting with the idea of getting back together. Ultimately, though, it was done. I told him that I couldn’t speak to him anymore and he agreed. I blocked him to take the temptation away from both of us.
The first new account came a few days after I blocked him. It was on Facebook. He had used his own picture, with a different surname and sent me a message request. I didn’t accept it but it didn’t ring any alarm bells. He wanted to talk to me but I didn’t want to speak to him. That’s pretty normal in any break-up, right? I just let the message request sit there, but he kept sending messages from the same account for the next couple of months. Sometimes they were apologetic and sometimes they were abusive. He’d call me a “bitch” and a “cunt” and tell me that the breakdown of our relationship was entirely my fault. I only blocked the account when it turned abusive.
The first Instagram account came a month or so later. I had a message request but the account had zero pictures. It wasn’t following anyone and nobody followed it. It was obviously a ghosting account—the type that people make to look at their boyfriend’s ex’s Instagram story. It’s creepy but pretty run of the mill. I only knew it was him once he started sending more messages—this time under new accounts with usernames made up of different words or phrases that were special to us.
I felt sick every time he sent me a message. I did what you’re supposed to do—what your friends and various social media sites advise you to do—and blocked him. But he wasn’t stopping. As a last resort, I asked the police if there was anything they could do about it. They said they could ask him to stop and that was it. If he denied it, there was nothing else they could do.
I still couldn’t get comfortable even when an eight-month long period of radio silence followed. I always thought he was going to come back; I was waiting for the next account to pop up.
When a new guy joined my university course in our final year, we became mates really quickly. One evening he called to ask why I had told my ex-boyfriend that I’d cheated on him with him. (It would have been impossible for that to happen anyway—I was with my ex two years ago, long before I’d met my friend.)
My stalker had moved on to spreading rumors in real life. I got another message from him: “What’s your mate’s surname?” I blocked him.
A few weeks ago, I found out about the news of the shooting at the Capital Gazette in Maryland. Shooter Jarrod Ramos was convicted in 2011 of harassing his high school classmate online and then launched an attack on the newspaper that reported on his case. Five staff members were dead. It made me feel sick. I sat at my desk at work trying to read every last detail of the events that led up to it.
I have no idea what my ex is capable of, seeing as I never thought he would stalk me in the first place. All of my social media accounts are public. If it was just a case of wanting to spy on me, he could have done that without his own accounts. It’s like he wanted to make sure I knew he was intentionally ignoring my boundaries. That’s what was so intimidating about it. It felt like no amount of blocking was going to stop him.
It’s been two months since the last time he tried to contact me. Everything feels a bit less scary now, but message requests still leave me feeling on edge.
If you are being stalked and you are based in the UK, you can call Paladin on 020 3866 4107. If you are based in the US, you can call the Stalking Resource Center at the National Center for Victims of Crime on 855-484-2846.
This article originally appeared on Broadly.