What can we do? Where can we give?

The theft of trust resonates for years

BARBARA WICKENS June 26 1995
What can we do? Where can we give?

The theft of trust resonates for years

BARBARA WICKENS June 26 1995

The theft of trust resonates for years

For four years, from the time I was 15, I was stalked by a man whom I, and many of my friends and family in Brantford, Ont., came to know simply as “Creepy.” He had seen my photo in The Brantford Expositor when, as an aspiring model, I had appeared in a local fashion show. In a small city of 65,000,1 was easy to hunt down. Soon afterward, in front of the public library, a thin, middle-aged, balding man called out my name. I had not yet learned the necessity of being wary, so I stopped. He told me his real name, which I promptly forgot, and said that he wanted to be my friend. I at least had the wit to run away, shouting “No!” But that, of course, did not discourage him. From then on, he and his red clunker of a car were seldom far from my sight—or my mind.

Years later, after escaping to the anonymity of the nearest big city to at-

tend the University of Toronto, I felt immense relief. I took public transportation or walked anywhere, anytime, secure in the faith that any threatening stranger could never find me again.

In time, I even began to make jokes about Creepy, reciting in rehearsed detail my dealings with the man who had, in fact, made my teen years a misery. I have stopped making light of those incidents. I stopped soon after St. Catharines, Ont., police found the naked, battered body of Kristen French. Because of some similarities between us and our home towns, that crime, more than any other, reawakened old fears. I often find myself wondering how I escaped such a fate: the early 1970s were simpler times, perhaps, or, more likely, I was just the target of a more simpleminded pervert.

But I remember very clearly the queasy feeling whenever I noticed him trailing me. After I learned to drive, I often saw his car in the rearview mirror. I was particularly afraid to go home if I knew no one else was there. One time, I drove to my startled grandmother’s place instead and had her follow me in her car to make sure Creepy wasn’t still following me in his. I felt even more trapped when I was on foot and he was driving. Like many Brantford teens, I lived for visits to the french fry trucks

T was stalked by a man whom I, my friends and my family called 'Creepy' '

parked downtown—but the chips would lodge in my throat if he cruised by. Once, he even showed up on our front porch. I nearly fainted before slamming the door and calling out to my father. As it was, I hid in the farthest reaches of our sprawling split-level home while my father tried to get through to him that my frightened responses were not coyness—that he should stop bothering me.

What about the police? The plainclothes cop who came to my parents’ home said that the man I described was well-known to them, that they had told him on numerous occasions to stop following young girls. But because he didn’t do anything (the only physical harm I ever came to was a self-inflicted crack to the shins to get out of a field hockey game that Creepy was watching from his car), they couldn’t charge him with anything. Anti-stalking laws

have been introduced

and strengthened since then, as have other laws—against rape and spousal assault-designed to offer a measure of physical protection to women. But the law is still a crude instrument, better able to

respond to the dam-

age done in a punch to the face or a knife wound than to emotional pain.

Mental health professionals, however, are starting to calculate the damage done by stalking and other forms of psychological abuse. One preliminary finding is that being a victim once may set a person up for further forms of coercion from different, unrelated perpetrators—and I was certainly the subject of blatant sexual harassment in my first full-time job. There may also be a longterm impact on a person’s mental and physical health as the immune system gets worn down from being in a constant state of alert. Again, I have suffered a lifetime of bouts of moderate to severe depression. Are those things related to Creepy constantly trailing me more than two decades ago? I can’t say for sure. But one thing I can say: he stole something very precious from me—my faith in the male half of humanity—and I have spent a lifetime trying to find it again.

BARBARA WICKENS