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Helen DeWitt recounts dealing with her stalker
August 5, 2014 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Read DeWitt's account here. "E’s landlord: ‘You’re a very attractive woman. He can’t help himself. I’m sorry you can’t live on your property.’"

If you're not familiar with Helen DeWitt's novels, you're in for a treat. (Previously on Metafilter.) Marco Roth said of DeWitt that she is "21st-century America’s best 18th-century novelist."
posted by zeusianfog (213 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank you for posting this. I have been afraid for her since her last update to her blog in May.
posted by rdnnyc at 3:04 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Quite a writer. And, seemingly self-aware that she didn't take this seriously enough early on. Her idea of a short sentence and long probation struck me as naive at first, but is actually a good idea. Problem is that our system is not good at non-incarceration methods of punishment. Hence, the prosecutor's response. I too fear for her.
posted by learnsome at 3:23 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


The long criminal record, history of violence, aimless patter, effortless lying throughout - all this described in the beginning sounds exactly like the behavior of every psychopath profiled in The Mask of Sanity.

Really, it's too bad she's so uncomfortable with firearms. This escalated to the point where he broke into her home, had a gun pointed at her, and announced he was going to shoot her. IANAL, but I believe she would have been perfectly within her rights to shoot him dead at that point, which would have ended the matter.

seemingly self-aware that she didn't take this seriously enough early on.

Yeah... "Could I hit someone with a baseball bat? Perhaps."

She still is not taking it seriously. This guy is virtually certain to escalate further. The legal system can't prevent these types from victimizing people, they can only jail them after the damage is done. Pretty high odds this won't end well for her I think.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 3:32 PM on August 5 [14 favorites]


So Vermont's legal system wouldn't have taken his early behavior seriously. (I wonder if anyone she told about this early on said that maybe he was just awkward.) Now, her choice seems to be to either abandon her life entirely - name, livelihood, home, friends and family - or (and?) be prepared to kill him if he escalates, all while waiting for him to escalate, which is really not actually a life.
posted by rtha at 3:36 PM on August 5 [7 favorites]


Yes, she could have shot him and probably have avoided being charged with a crime...but that's no way to live. I wish she had sued his landlord- she should have, and she probably would've gotten a settlement to pay for a new place or gotten the landlord to get 'E' out quickly.

This is the most chilling thing I have read in a long time. Good writer. I am going to be worried about her until I hear more.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 3:40 PM on August 5 [11 favorites]


She seems to be setting herself up to be badly hurt.

Apparently he's very charismatic--she keeps talking to him and engaging with him, whether or no she says she wishes he'd just FO.

Agreed that this will not end well unless she never goes back to the place.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:42 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


My victim advocate insisted that financial and professional catastrophe were obviously not devastating because trespass was not a serious crime. A man breaking in and waving a weapon is the kind of thing that should be devastating; I had failed to convince as damsel in distress.

What we need more of is feminism.

Really, it's too bad she's so uncomfortable with firearms.

Seriously, the answer to this isn't "if only she were willing to be trained on a deadly weapon, perform night time defense acts often dangerous to unskilled/novice gun owners, and kill someone," it's "why didn't the system protect her better?"
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:42 PM on August 5 [100 favorites]


I hate the NRA and am passionately opposed open carry, but if I were this woman I would buy a gun and learn how to use it.
posted by Vibrissae at 3:43 PM on August 5 [10 favorites]


Bear traps. I would set out bear traps right inside the door.
posted by mochapickle at 3:44 PM on August 5 [10 favorites]


She seems to be setting herself up to be badly hurt.

He is setting up to hurt her. Badly. She finds herself unable to "naturally" respond violently.

Being at the head of the stairs gave me a tactical advantage – this was why I was sleeping upstairs. I stood in batting position, weed slasher above my right shoulder, poised to strike.

I couldn’t do it.


Why couldn't she? I don't know. I don't know if I could, and I've been woken from a sound sleep by someone breaking in (he climbed back out the window when he heard us screaming).

If he hurts or kills her, it is not her failure. He's the perpetrator.
posted by rtha at 3:46 PM on August 5 [164 favorites]


Seriously, the answer to this isn't "if only she were willing to be trained on a deadly weapon, perform night time defense acts often dangerous to unskilled/novice gun owners, and kill someone," it's "why didn't the system protect her better?"

It sucks, but the legal system just can't deal with these types of people. You can't jail someone indefinitely for being a psychotic stalker. He's perfectly functional, so he can't be involuntarily committed either. Like I said - when the escalation to violence happens, then he will be jailed, maybe for a long time - but the law can't do anything to stop him before then.

Google "E" whose name is on DeWitt's blog, and among the top results are: trespass; trespass; criminal contempt (for violating parole); trespass; etc. Not to threadjack but it's straight out of the book I mentioned; he's totally unresponsive to the idea that bad actions will have bad consequences for him.

The very first time he refused to leave, he became a trespasser. She should have signed up for firearms safety and training that same day. It's not like she's the first woman in the world to have ever been stalked. These things follow a pattern that rarely ends well for the victim.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 3:48 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


I get that everyone wants to take comfort in a just-world "Here's how I would react and that would protect me and she is not safe because she's not doing what I would do."

She's not safe because he's making her unsafe. If she woke up tomorrow as an expert marksman and martial artist, she would still be at risk, because unless she lives in a bunker alone, he can hurt her at his leisure. Maybe she can make it harder. But all the "she should just..." in the world just sounds like whistling past the graveyard to me.
posted by rtha at 3:50 PM on August 5 [101 favorites]


Oh, absolutely. But I think people come up with contingency plans as a way to regain some level of control.
posted by mochapickle at 3:52 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]


Chilling.

The response of the prosecutor and judge illustrate an interesting homo sapiens cognitive shortcut: We judge how serious something is by how strong of an emotional reaction it provokes. Despite all the facts and history illustrating an objective danger from the man, her calm response - her "lack of fear" - convinced the judge and prosecutor that she wasn't in as much danger as she clearly is.

I suspect that there's a similar misfire going on with some stalkers: They feel a strong emotional reaction to a minor slight, and they become convinced that the strong emotion means they must've been betrayed or abused or otherwise badly treated by their victim. The emotional reaction trumps the objective fact.
posted by clawsoon at 3:52 PM on August 5 [17 favorites]


She seems to be setting herself up to be badly hurt.

What rtha said. She isn't "setting herself up" for anything. This isn't her fault.

Apparently he's very charismatic--she keeps talking to him and engaging with him, whether or no she says she wishes he'd just FO.

Did you read the article? She tells him over and over again, and he doesn't listen to her. He comes up to her door continually despite not only being told by her but by the police. Hence the sense of entrapment. She talks with him for hours after he threatens to shoot her as a way to survive the situation until she could escape.

Agreed that this will not end well unless she never goes back to the place.

So.... he gets to stay, and she is evicted from her property for her own safety. That's a pretty standard demonstration of the way women are expected to bear the consequences for someone else's capacity to be dangerous.
posted by jokeefe at 3:53 PM on August 5 [88 favorites]


...And I say that as a reader. DeWitt's story frightens me and I worry for her. To deal with that fear, with that realization that this could happen to anyone, I respond by imagining a Rocky-style montage.
posted by mochapickle at 3:53 PM on August 5


I read this earlier. Scary stuff.

Given the uncooperativeness of the criminal apparatus, I agree with the poster above that the right way to approach this going forward might be through E's landlord. The landlord comes off as lackadaisical in the article, but perhaps he can be made to appreciate that his buddy is a violent man with a lengthy criminal record, who is specifically threatening to the lady up the street.

If talk doesn't work legal threats might. The landlord is a property owner with a lot to lose. I don't know what legal theory you'd use but it might not matter that much, to reach an outcome where he evicts the guy or (better) sells the lot to find less litigious neighbors.
posted by grobstein at 3:54 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


And I completely understand her reluctance to hurt, let alone kill, another human being. Such things do not leave you unmarked.
posted by jokeefe at 3:55 PM on August 5 [11 favorites]


To deal with that fear, with that realization that this could happen to anyone, I respond by imagining a Rocky-style montage.

Narrative structure to provide an illusion of control for a chaotic world.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:56 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


Also, I'd suggest that she made a definite tactical mistake in failing to, as she put it, try to "set the offender up to fail". There's something noble in her not wanting to criminalize "behaviour that is normally legal" by insisting on strong probation conditions, but it endangered her in a way she didn't anticipate.

Offenders have lots of ways to shorten jail time, as she discovered to her shock; strong probation conditions that are difficult for dangerous people with poor impulse control to maintain are one of few ways of making jail time longer and protecting victims. The courts use it as a sort of empirical index to danger: Did you just lose control once, and are now going to go back to being a model citizen, or do you repeatedly show that you can't keep from doing what you promise you're not going to?

She certainly deserves better protection, but, given the system as it is, this is something for victims to keep in mind. Probably more useful for her own protection than a baseball bat by her bed.
posted by clawsoon at 4:20 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


She talks with him for hours after he threatens to shoot her as a way to survive the situation until she could escape.

Exactly. And unless you have actually already killed a person, you don't know if you could, either. The military has to train recruits extensively to get many of them to overcome their aversion to actually killing the enemy. It's a horrible, traumatic thing to do, even in self-defense. Once she realized she wasn't going to kill him (or that he might still shoot her anyway if she tried) she disarmed him through talking. This is a common tactic used by people negotiating with someone who takes hostages, isn't it? It was very smart and it might have saved her life.

In her shoes, I would either sell the property, hold on to it but vacate it until he was locked up for good, or get someone to stay there with me who wasn't afraid to shoot/was trained in it. But that's not exactly an easy thing to arrange, nor is it fair to her, in any way. This man has totally disrupted her life; there is no fault on her for being a civilized human being who is not accustomed to casually engaging in violence.
posted by emjaybee at 4:27 PM on August 5 [64 favorites]


One of those cases where you really wish someone could shake off their female socialization, the taught niceness that made her keep answering the door instead of buying curtains, putting on headphones, and doing her work. And having him arrested if he wouldn't get off her property. And of course the weird thing where she thinks it's a bad idea to put him in jail for years and wants a short jail term. If the victim appears to not be taking it very seriously, then it is likely that no one else will either.

Yes, the system needs work too, in terms of notifying her when he was released, etc , but she wasn't really helping herself.
posted by tavella at 4:33 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


"E’s landlord: ‘You’re a very attractive woman. He can’t help himself. I’m sorry you can’t live on your property.’"

This is one of those cases where you really wish someone could shake off their male socialization.
posted by emjaybee at 4:41 PM on August 5 [90 favorites]


there is no fault on her for being a civilized human being who is not accustomed to casually engaging in violence.

I mean I agree with the fundamental point of your statement but defending yourself against an armed obsessive maniac who has broken into your home is in no way a casual engagement in violence. Self defense against someone whose intent is to murder you, who has broken into your home in the middle of the night and openly stated their intent to do you mortal harm is maybe the least possible thing to be called casual violence.
posted by elizardbits at 4:45 PM on August 5 [11 favorites]


She should bring along a friend who *is* willing to shoot to kill to stay with her for a few days or weeks until fuckface breaks in again.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:45 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


One of those cases where you really wish someone could shake off their female socialization, the taught niceness that made her keep answering the door instead of buying curtains, putting on headphones, and doing her work.

He broke into her house, aimed a gun at her, and threatened to shoot her. Would it be the curtains or the headphones that protect her from that?
posted by jaguar at 4:47 PM on August 5 [49 favorites]


It sucks, but the legal system just can't deal with these types of people.

As she makes quite clear in the article, the problem isn't what the legal system can't do, it's what it won't do. There isn't a law that says "If the victim doesn't act scared, the perpetrator gets a reduced sentence." That comes about as a result of uninformed, irresponsible, and in this case misogynist decisions made by individual people, who can and should be held accountable for failing to fulfil their responsibilities as part of "the legal system."

I don't think she wrote this piece hoping that the Internet would help her figure out a solution, or make her feel foolish enough about being unwilling to kill a man that she ends up in a gun store. She wrote it to describe the many ways that people have failed her, in many cases specifically because she was a woman (somehow I can't see her landlord saying, "Well, Hank, you're an attractive man. It's not E's fault that he's in love with you, and I don't see a problem with him constantly bothering you about it."). Just blaming it all on "the system" gets way too many people off hooks they should be left to squirm on.
posted by No-sword at 4:47 PM on August 5 [33 favorites]


She still is not taking it seriously.

No, the legal system isn't taking it seriously. She's taking it plenty seriously.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:51 PM on August 5 [35 favorites]


It sucks, but the legal system just can't deal with these types of people.

I'd say that the legal system just won't deal with these types of people. There is plenty of evidence that it could, should the legislatures and justice systems care to. But better thousands of dead women than an inconvenienced man, apparently.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:53 PM on August 5 [26 favorites]


The landlord comes off as lackadaisical in the article, but perhaps he can be made to appreciate that his buddy is a violent man with a lengthy criminal record, who is specifically threatening to the lady up the street.

I think if you look at the long history of whose side gets taken, it's almost exclusively the buddy. Heck, if you look at the long history of this case, it took someone who had seen someone he had beaten before anyone took her side.

People here seem to be talking like this guy is outside all control. He isn't some force of nature, he's a person. The fact that the guy wouldn't respect her requests to leave isn't her fault, it's on him. There's whole areas of the government that deal with things like "this guy won't leave my property." The fact that they failed to do so isn't on her. It's on them. 'E' could be very easily stopped, it's just that nobody charged with doing so can be bothered.
posted by Gygesringtone at 4:55 PM on August 5 [17 favorites]


shoot him dead at that point, which would have ended the matter.

Aside from the PTSD, forever having to live with killing another human being, and all that.
posted by xedrik at 4:59 PM on August 5 [25 favorites]


E . . . had a 27-page criminal record with incidents of domestic and other violence.

The guy has been convicted and probably done time before, probably for this exact same shit. Get it? The guy is not normal, he doesn't learn from experience, isn't deterred by legal threats, and this isn't his first time. You could lock him up for 5, 10, 20 years and the second he gets out, he'll be back at it.

To truly stop him from victimizing, you either kill him or lock him up for life. Neither of which are legal consequences for breaking and entering, trespassing, assault, or even rape.

I mean, people are saying, she shouldn't have to get a gun, shouldn't have to leave, the state should do something. What? He's done his time and now he's out, with no probation. Now what?
posted by mrbigmuscles at 5:01 PM on August 5 [9 favorites]


Really, it's too bad she's so uncomfortable with firearms.

She seems to be setting herself up to be badly hurt.

She should bring along a friend who *is* willing to shoot to kill to stay with her for a few days or weeks until fuckface breaks in again.


She's not just uncomfortable with firearms. She's uncomfortable with killing someone, even in self-defense. Although she didn't say so outright, I think she's unhappy with the notion that she might cause his death by proxy. That is not an unreasonable position, it's a deeply-held ethical stance in line with the majority of religions. Blaming her for the fact she's genuinely uncertain she can bring herself to violate her own sense of humanity is callous and displaces the responsibility from the perpetrator and the legal system that is supposed to protect us from having to make a legitimately difficult decision.
posted by gingerest at 5:05 PM on August 5 [55 favorites]


To truly stop him from victimizing, you either kill him or lock him up for life. Neither of which are legal consequences for breaking and entering, trespassing, assault, or even rape. I mean, people are saying, she shouldn't have to get a gun, shouldn't have to leave, the state should do something. What? He's done his time and now he's out, with no parole. Now what?

Now we lean on the government to make locking him up for life a legal consequence for being a repeat offender.

....Why do I get the feeling that you're the kind of guy who'd be turning around and saying "she should have called the police" if she had gotten a gun and shot him?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:05 PM on August 5 [19 favorites]


What a nightmare situation. I am afraid for her.
posted by orange swan at 5:07 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Now we lean on the government to make locking him up for life a legal consequence for being a repeat offender.

Sounds just fine to me.

....Why do I get the feeling that you're the kind of guy who'd be turning around and saying "she should have called the police" if she had gotten a gun and shot him?

I don't know, because you aren't reading the words that I'm writing? I can't explain it. I'm 100% on board with self-defense, especially in situations like this one.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 5:09 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


> Now we lean on the government to make locking him up for life a legal consequence for being a repeat offender.

Sounds just fine to me.


Great! Then you'll stop criticizing her and help her in her pursuit of that goal, yeah? Because that's clearly what she's trying to do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:10 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


Aside from the PTSD, forever having to live with killing another human being, and all that.

And, the pleasure of violent fantasies aside, who exactly is the "get a gun" scenario supposed to help? A decent judicial response would inconvenience this guy, but surely that's better than being dead. And trading fear for trauma is not exactly a solution for her, either. How many violent stalkers do we have to see before the justice system starts acting proactively?

There was an FPP last year about a system that required police to log domestic abuse markers during domestic dispute calls. As I recall, serious injuries and fatalities dropped because the police had a record they had to respond to.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:10 PM on August 5 [10 favorites]


Her error is partly her niceness, which he has taken advantage of. She let a sociopath (psychopath?) into her life, and she is paying too high a price. The law in the US doesn't act pre-emptively, which is usually a good thing, but not in her case. In general, being friendly with neighbors results in building community and being safer, unfortunately her neighbor appears to be mentally ill and dangerous. I hope she is okay, and I hope he stays in prison or a hospital. And I know he won't.
posted by theora55 at 5:14 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Also, on her blog, she links to Languagehat.com, and refers to "the incomparable Languagehat," so she's obviously quite astute.
posted by theora55 at 5:18 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]


jaguar, indeed it might not have, but the months and months previous to that where she was absolutely terrible at setting boundaries only encouraged her predator. Especially when he had broken into her house once and she didn't have him charged. And even after she finally had him arrested for trespass, she would do things like walk him back to his house. Even after the death threat she didn't push for the maximum sentence. This in no way makes his behavior her fault, let me be clear; he's a predator. But predators look for the soft target, and she was the softest of targets, and it was her socialization that set her up to be that.
posted by tavella at 5:19 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


This is just a nightmare, and I'm so unhappy to hear she is going through this and that the system isn't doing what it should be doing. And the way she describes the whole sequence of events is very effective because goddamn, my gut response to every further time she says "so I went back" is "NO omg NO, burn both houses to the ground and salt the earth, because that is a cursed location and you should never never go back."

But of course, even that doesn't help if she has to continue to be a public figure to do her job. The only hope is that this fucko becomes fixated on some other totally innocent person who's within easier reach, since obviously the system isn't stopping him. I fully understand why she couldn't bring herself to attack him even as he stood there with a gun, and I understand the psychology that made laughter and talking an effective response, and good for her for getting out of that situation, and wow this whole thing is awful argh.

(And if you don't know her writing, you need to, right now, get a copy of The Last Samurai, which is not the one with Tom Cruise but instead is about language among other things.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:20 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


Where the fuck are her friends and family in all this?
posted by nacho fries at 5:37 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


> And if you don't know her writing, you need to, right now, get a copy of The Last Samurai, which is not the one with Tom Cruise but instead is about language among other things.

What she said. DeWitt is one of our best writers, who has been unable to write/publish more than a few things because of shitty luck and shitty people.

And those of you who think the answer to life's problems is getting a gun and killing people: just stay away from my neighborhood, OK? Jesus.
posted by languagehat at 5:37 PM on August 5 [42 favorites]


Her error is partly her niceness, which he has taken advantage of.

No.

She was pleasant and polite to him, the bare minimum of human interaction. She then told him to go away and he didn't. Him not going away is not because she is nice. It is because he doesn't want to go away.

SHE CALLED THE POLICE ON HIM, THEY TOLD HIM TO STAY AWAY, AND HE WENT TO TALK TO HER.

This isn't about her being too fucking NICE. This is about him not treating her like a human being with rights.

Dear fucking gods above and below, will you all stop blaming the fucking victim?
posted by Deoridhe at 5:39 PM on August 5 [111 favorites]


This in no way makes his behavior her fault, let me be clear; he's a predator. But predators look for the soft target, and she was the softest of targets, and it was her socialization that set her up to be that.

So, much better that he stalk and threaten someone else then. Because that's the logical conclusion to any "She should have..." argument -- that someone else should have been his target instead.
posted by jaguar at 5:40 PM on August 5 [12 favorites]


Why isn't anyone in her life performing an intervention to prevent her from repeatedly putting herself in the way of harm? She is showing a pattern of making choices that are very dangerous. What I'm reading in her blog are the thoughts of someone who has been so psychologically traumatized, she is no longer seeing things in a sane perspective.

It's not her fault that this guy is such a shitshow of a human being; it's not her fault that the legal system has failed to protect her; but she is denying the reality of the (sick) situation if she keeps going back to that fucking house.

I feel like I'm watching a horror movie where the heroine keeps going back to the scary house even though she knows there is a monster in there. I want to yell at the screen: "NOOO!"
posted by nacho fries at 5:53 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


'Get a gun' .... don't the statistics say that guns in the home are most likely to end up being used against their owners?

Seems like his 27-page rap sheet, and her passivity ... would not stack the odds in her favor. No, sorry, once again 'get a gun' is not the answer.
posted by Dashy at 5:53 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


This isn't about her being too fucking NICE. This is about him not treating her like a human being with rights.

Hell, if this is about ANYONE being too nice, it's about the Sheriff's Department being too nice, the prosecutor being too nice, the person that owns the property next to her being too nice. You know, everyone who she complained to that refused to do anything about it. THEY were too nice.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:00 PM on August 5 [36 favorites]


Even with my previous comments, I do understand and feel the frustration that she didn't react aggressively/protectively sooner (by her description), and do things like get a videocamera, a guard dog, a gun, or just stay elsewhere and start going after this guy via legal means as harshly as possible. But she also mentions not having a lot of money, so I don't know what remedies she can afford. I also wonder about her family and friends; if she were my friend I'd beg her not to go back till he was locked up for good. We all know how this ends otherwise, and it's not a chance I'd be willing to take.

She does seem sort of helplessly passive, and I don't understand that, because my survival/alert instincts are turned up pretty high. Also my capacity for anger at this scum would have shown itself much sooner. But I am not in her head, don't have her temperament, and even passive, helpless people deserve the protection of the law that she is supposed to be covered by. And isn't being covered by.
posted by emjaybee at 6:10 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


Are the people asking why she keeps going back to the house missing the fact that she owns the fucking house?

I mean, seriously, if you were the victim of a persistent home invader, how would you feel if everyone kept tut-tutting about "why do you keep going back to that place if there's someone that's just going to keep breaking in"?

The house is her property and she has the right to use her own fucking property. For the sake of fuck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:25 PM on August 5 [70 favorites]


I definitely understand the sort of grim bloodymindedness that makes you stay in your own goddamn house even though people are intent on ruining it for you, yeah. But I would also probably put up an electrified cattle fence and also mine the yard.
posted by elizardbits at 6:29 PM on August 5 [11 favorites]


It is very strange to read this article and then read all these comments here along the lines of why didn't she and if I were her and what she should do and very little of why didn't the courts and why doesn't the system. Even if she were to shoot this dude or live on her friends' couches , that is totally beside the point. A person with a long criminal record can repeatedly harass an innocent person, threaten them with a firearm on their own property, and is out of jail in nine months. This should not be her problem to solve, and focusing on her behavior instead of the big picture is pretty pointless. The legal system and court doing the right thing is going to help far more people than her moving away or shooting off this man's kneecap ever would.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:31 PM on August 5 [29 favorites]


I am pretty disturbed that someone can do all that and be allowed anywhere near the person they harassed, or allowed out of jail on anything other than GPS-ankle-bracelet-tracked probation.
posted by pulposus at 6:32 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: "The house is her property and she has the right to use her own fucking property. For the sake of fuck."

Y'know, we're a multitasking people, us humans, and we can agree that this is the guy's fault and that the criminal justice system is flawed and that she's got no obligation to take matters into her own hands if she wants this to stop. She is the victim.

And yet I sense that the guy isn't going to stop being a creepy stalker dude, and I sense that the criminal justice system isn't going to mend itself in time to address this particular incident. And in this imperfect world we are hoping that she stays away from the house (or becomes willing to use a gun, or becomes willing to stay at the house with someone who is willing to use a gun) because otherwise we're afraid she will get killed.

I know we have to be careful about how we phrase it, yes. But if I think someone is going to die if they go back to the home they have a right to own then hell yes I am going to try to talk them into living somewhere else.
posted by savetheclocktower at 6:37 PM on August 5 [10 favorites]


Really, it's too bad she's so uncomfortable with firearms. This escalated to the point where he broke into her home, had a gun pointed at her, and announced he was going to shoot her. IANAL, but I believe she would have been perfectly within her rights to shoot him dead at that point, which would have ended the matter.

...

It sucks, but the legal system just can't deal with these types of people.


Dealing with these types of people is literally the entire reason we have a state and a legal system in the first place. Protecting and enforcing property rights is literally the only reason the state exists. The entire reason. The entire, entire reason. That is why we have civilization, so that we can own things and decide how those things are used unmolested by the other people who also want to own those things. That is the fundamental tentpole of organized government. The purpose of every government, throughout recorded history, in every place, has been to decide who owns what and enforce that ownership with an army of some kind and nature. Everything else is secondary and ad hoc.

That's it. At its core, that is the whole thing. The entire purpose of the state is to remove from individual citizens the burden of territorial violence. The legal system's whole goddamn point is to deal with these types of people.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:37 PM on August 5 [59 favorites]


I wonder if she's the kind of person who could take care of a dog.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:40 PM on August 5


mrbigmuscles: "I mean, people are saying, she shouldn't have to get a gun, shouldn't have to leave, the state should do something. What? He's done his time and now he's out, with no probation. Now what?"

Put a fucking tracker bracelet on his ankle and immediately send out an armed cop every time he so much as sneezes within three feet of her property line, and send him back to jail for every offense?

Honest to God, it's private property! This is like LITERALLY THE REASON WE ALL LEFT THE STATE OF NATURE AND JOINED LEVIATHAN! So that we could have the protection of life, liberty, and property. There is NO DAMN POINT to the state if it refuses to do a thing to protect the repeated offenses against this woman's property and safety.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:40 PM on August 5 [41 favorites]


Snarl Furillo: "Dealing with these types of people is literally the entire reason we have a state and a legal system in the first place. Protecting and enforcing property rights is literally the only reason the state exists. The entire reason. The entire, entire reason."

JINX!

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:41 PM on August 5 [7 favorites]


The house is her property and she has the right to use her own fucking property. For the sake of fuck.

There's what's right, and then there's what's real.

The reality here is: she is unsafe in that house. It's not worth losing your life, your mind, or your health over a piece of property. She stood her ground, she fought to preserve her right to live her life in the home she owns, and...she lost. Is it fair or just? No. Should action be taken to try and right that wrong? Yes. But first: she simply needs to not be in that situation. She needs to remove herself to safety, assemble a support team, and if/when it is SAFE for her to re-engage in this battle, do so -- but with protection and fallback plans and an escape hatch.

Right now, she is acting in a way that will NOT lead to any righting of wrongs...at least not till additional wrongs occur, if even then.
posted by nacho fries at 6:47 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


I get what you're saying about not going back to the house, and mining the yard, and so on, but the reason she kept mentioning the fact she couldn't get her book written is she's broke. She was able to afford the place because her uncle made her the loan and sold it to her. She doesn't have the money to move, she can't sell the house for a profit (at least not if anyone in the village happens to mention the reason she's selling up) and she presumably doesn't have the money to lay in electric fences, burglar alarms and punji traps.

Maybe she does seem "weirdly passive", but I think it's mainly because we've grown accustomed to narratives where the law helps, or where the victim isn't also poor. (Much of that is because poor victims' stories don't make it into the media at all - in this case, we're hearing about it because Ms. DeWitt has a platform despite not having much income.)

So much victim-blaming going on here.
posted by gingerest at 6:50 PM on August 5 [27 favorites]


I just want to run around screaming about the total fucking insanity of the victim-blaming in this thread.
posted by odinsdream at 6:57 PM on August 5 [46 favorites]


She'd be safer in a women's shelter. Or one of the motels she repeatedly stayed in. Or on a friend's couch.

This isn't about victim-blaming. It's about wanting to prevent further harm. People in extreme stress, esp. when that stress is repeated over time, often behave in ways that are not rational and self-preserving. They become enmeshed in an abusive dynamic; they stay in the sick game when opting out is quite obviously in their best, immediate interest.

Righteous internet indignation isn't going to keep this woman safe. She needs intervention. It's delusional to think she "should" stay in place at that home until things get better because it is her "right".
posted by nacho fries at 7:02 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Great! Then you'll stop criticizing her and help her in her pursuit of that goal, yeah? Because that's clearly what she's trying to do.

Point taken.

The legal system's whole goddamn point is to deal with these types of people.

I was referring specifically to psychopaths in that comment, as described in the book I referenced, which this guy reminds me of. They don't learn from experience and aren't deterred by civil or criminal penalties. They generally have a rap sheet as long as your arm. Restraining orders and No Trespassing signs - the tools the law has against stalkers - mean nothing to this type of person. You generally can't lock people up for life, not under current laws, even if they repeatedly trespass, stalk and harass somebody. You get 6 months here, 3 months there, but stalking isn't yet punishable by life imprisonment.

The legal system has always had a problem in this area. Some guys will obey the rules; you slap them with a restraining order and they stay away. Others ignore it. Sometimes it makes them worse. This guy is not the kind who obeys the rules. Like I said, all you can do is lock him up forever, or execute him.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 7:07 PM on August 5


Righteous internet indignation isn't going to keep this woman safe. She needs intervention. It's delusional to think she "should" stay in place at that home until things get better because it is her "right".

Intervention from who, the commenters on a website that linked to an essay she wrote? None of us in this thread are capable of keeping Helen DeWitt safe. On the other hand, it's pretty much exactly in our purview to discuss the complete breakdown of basic societal functions that view the sanctity of personal property as a "nice to have" rather than "the lynchpin of society" when the person owning the property is a woman, in the hopes that such discussions will eventually help, in some almost infinitesimal way, to change our culture such that no woman must ever talk down an armed stalker in her own fucking home ever again.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:09 PM on August 5 [24 favorites]


She needs intervention.

Yes, she needs law enforcement to intervene and lock this man up.

What happens when he tracks her down at the neighbors', or a hotel? Most DV shelters are only for people experiencing intimate partner violence, not stalking by a neighbor.

Focusing on her behavior is focusing on the wrong part of this story, period, and provides only an illusion of safety for her or anyone else who thinks, "Well, I would have done..."
posted by jaguar at 7:09 PM on August 5 [20 favorites]


yeah i mean to be perfectly clear the point of my comment is that i wanna blow creepers up or electrocute them nonfatally but enough to make them poop themselves and cry
posted by elizardbits at 7:20 PM on August 5 [9 favorites]


She needs intervention. It's delusional to think she "should" stay in place at that home until things get better because it is her "right".

He needs intervention. She already had one. He had a shoddy one.

From her post:

"If I could get to a phone, the police, clearly, would take him into custody if they found him, and the prosecutor, clearly, would take measures to put a stop to the pattern."

He's putting her in danger. The system is putting her in danger. If you're saying it's delusional to believe that the whole concept of "to protect and serve" means to, you know, protect and serve to keep a human being safe from an obvious and overt threat, then what is the point?

It's delusional to think he should remain in a situation to make another human being feel unsafe on their own private property.

Her "right" is her right. Period, full stop.
posted by RainyJay at 7:20 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Jesus, people. Less internet tough guy, more fix the fucking system, please.
posted by maxwelton at 7:21 PM on August 5 [17 favorites]


The worst kind of these is when such a person is your neighbor. In all honesty, if you find yourself living next to someone, the best answer is to move. However, that is seldom the answer people want to hear…

A fundamental point, that both defines the problem and you must never forget is: Stalkers/Abusers think of themselves as laws unto themselves.

That is to say that no laws, no social standards, no standards of behavior and no motivation other than "themselves" dictate their actions. As such, what would deter a normal person won't even phase them. Normal "laws" of conduct are like cobwebs to them, nothing more than minor inconveniences, not something that stops them from getting what they want.. Their wants, their feelings, their emotions, their needs and -- most deadly of all -- their pride are the only law they follow. In fact, to them, it is the only law that exists and they will go to no ends to enforce that law.
-Marc Macyoung, No Nonsense Self-Defense; Stalking & Domestic Violence

posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:28 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


On the other hand, it's pretty much exactly in our purview to discuss the complete breakdown of basic societal functions that view the sanctity of personal property as a "nice to have" rather than "the lynchpin of society" when the person owning the property is a woman, in the hopes that such discussions will eventually help, in some almost infinitesimal way, to change our culture such that no woman must ever talk down an armed stalker in her own fucking home ever again.

Point taken, and I appreciate you taking the time to patiently spell it out without snark or sniping. Thank you.
posted by nacho fries at 7:29 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


All these comments about calling the police and "the system isn't working" makes me wonder about people's personal experiences with the Police and Legal system. The service a white man gets when, for example, if he is assaulted by a stranger on the street, is very different to the service a woman gets - especially if the police can mentally file it away as domestic violence.

Even when a man in an SUV tried to deliberately run me over when I was legally crossing a street at the crosswalk, I was dismissed by the police officer I met with at the station until the (white, male, older) city councillor who witnessed the attack contacted the officer. At which point I was asked to return and give a statement which the officer admitted was complete in its damning details including licence plate number. Similarly, I have been with a friend while the police interviewed her husband in the house - screaming at her on a come and meth-fuelled rage that he was going to attack her again and kill her and the children that night. The police told her to stop being hysterical, he wasn't being serious in what he was saying. I would NEVER call the police or expect any help from them; I've never heard from any of my friends of police solving any problems for them. The only people I know that think of police as positive forces are old, white, entitled men that use the police to harass "undesirables".

So the treatment of DeWitt by the police and legal system was NOT outside the norm and I don't see that changing any time soon.
posted by saucysault at 7:37 PM on August 5 [12 favorites]


So the treatment of DeWitt by the police and legal system was NOT outside the norm and I don't see that changing any time soon.

That's just what I want to change. The system sucks. Anyone who's an "undesirable" knows it. This is just one of a thousand, million different stories of how it sucks.
posted by RainyJay at 7:41 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


"Women who were murdered were more likely, not less likely, to have purchased a handgun in the three years prior to their deaths."

People this nutty will hunt you down. Do you know how hard it is to erase your entire name? All your records?I mean with the internet now people can find you. Unless you have professional law enforcement facilitating a complete identity change, running away to another city will not make you feel safe and I can't speak for this person, but so many people I know dealing with stalkers or violence like this have absolutely no financial means of moving on the spot.

When I was dealing with a dangerous situation I could barely afford food, let alone to replace the faulty door handle or the porch that had holes in it. And I had a deal there for 200 dollars so where else am I supposed to go for 200 dollars a month?

What's more the repeated terror was completely deteriorating my mental health and causing terrible PTSD and mental difficulty with functioning, I would stack allmy furniture in front of the doors every night. I've finally moved, and I still do that, I still move a dresser in front of the door a lot of nights... just in case. The nice things I have some nights now when I don't think about it.

We need more systemic solutions. It should not be on people who have been damaged by the repeated attacks to be the most effective at battling terrifying people, that is the whole point of specialization-- it's like asking people with terrible health conditions to do all the work of paying for their illness and disease WHILE their health in compromised and they may not even be able to work at all and then saying they must just not care about their health or they would be a super healer and fix everything while working a full shift and being awesome. I mean sure everyone should be a super hero and all, but given that most of us aren't that is why we try to create teams of people who can work together to battle terrible things that exist in the world like this and have the benefit of experience, training, and a team of people who can support each other with the difficulty of it and know what they're doing.

Also for those who think everyone should be capable of all their self defense needs, everyone should also be able to run a self sustaining farm but yet- here's reality and most people can't-- we are dependent on each other because we don't all have the same skills.
posted by xarnop at 7:43 PM on August 5 [17 favorites]


"So the treatment of DeWitt by the police and legal system was NOT outside the norm and I don't see that changing any time soon."

I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm utterly unsurprised at how the system has failed her. But that doesn't make me any less furious that the system has failed her, nor any less furious that there's been so much focus in this thread on questioning her decisions.

The "internet tough guy" thing is really pissing me off, but from possibly a different perspective than some other folk. As Eyebrows McGee so eloquently pointed out, civilization means (or ought to mean) being protected from the horror of deadly violence ... and that includes committing it just as much as it does being a victim of it. I want law enforcement and the legal system to protect me not just because I don't want to be afraid of being hurt or killed by someone, but also because I don't want to be afraid of hurting or killing someone myself.

There is something deeply, deeply fucked-up about people being so cavalier about committing deadly violence. If you're not just about as frightened of having to do it as you are of having it done to you, there's something you're not actually understanding. Or you are morally broken.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:55 PM on August 5 [22 favorites]


Having known someone who did decades of prison time for attempted bank robbery, I wonder what the average length of sentence is for that crime. For some reason use of a deadly weapon in attempted robbing a bank gets people decades in prison but on a woman--- months.

Because threatening corporations/money matters....I guess.

Why don't banks just learn how to do self defense anyway why should the system protect them?
posted by xarnop at 8:01 PM on August 5 [23 favorites]


What's cavalier to me is to be somehow treating this guy as other that imminent physical threat to DeWitt.

He has shown up armed to her home. He has shrugged off every legal Sanction thrown at him as meaningless. He has demonstrated all the classic signs of s stalker who will eventually escalate to physical assault and shows no sign of stopping.

Her rights don't exist to him, and he's the threat.

Saying that she may need to resort to violence to save her own life is not cavalier. It's a realistic possibility.

Refusing to accept that thing have already escalated that far feels like the cavalier option.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:11 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


None of us, nor Ms. DeWitt, are refusing to accept that she may need to resort to violence if she is to survive. We - and she - are saying that for many people, that choice may mean she loses her life, because some people are so ethically opposed to violence that they cannot defend themselves, and that the legal system, which exists as a collective endeavor explicitly to protect all of us from being forced as individuals to resolve that particular ethical dilemma, has badly failed Ms. DeWitt.
posted by gingerest at 8:16 PM on August 5 [11 favorites]


Some of us would rather not kill people and that is why we would like to use the services of people who can attempt to peaceful restrain a dangerous person without killing them. Some of us would even die if it come to it rather than kill someone else. Even if someone died this way, it is still not their fault, they still do not deserve to be killed, their convictions don't prove they don't take their life seriously.

What's more defending yoruself from an actual attacker is terrifying and not everyone can think clearly and knows they might not have the ability to do it effectively. That some are not able to do this does not make them any worse than people who aren't good at singing even when they try, or people who can't play football for the life of them. Most people are never put to the test on this kind of thing, and those I know who actually taken a life for reasons like this have never talked about it because it effected them so deeply-- I have never heard any of them bragging about how great they are at self defense or how straight forward killing people to protect yourself is or someone else.

It's hard and even people who do this kind of stuff for work struggle with it, make errors, lose their shit, and get totally broken serving in the line of duty carrying stuff like this out.
posted by xarnop at 8:22 PM on August 5 [12 favorites]


What's more do you know how dangerous it is to keep a gun when you're jumping with terror at any given moment? How easy would it be to blast some innocent family member who walked in to say hi, or your own dog that was making noises and you couldn't see clearly?
posted by xarnop at 8:27 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Can we, like, organize a volunteer guard for this poor woman's house, or something? Honestly, if I lived in Vermont I'd be signing up.

Is there at least a fundraiser to get her a tall fence, a large dog and an alarm system that I can contribute to?

She should NOT have to leave her home over this crazy dude.
posted by BlueJae at 8:28 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


If you're assuming that E's likely to continue to stalk DeWitt and to assault her, then your assumption is that he's highly motivated, given his incarceration and the penalties he'd face if he continues. That being the case, the claims that moving away or installing an alarm or buying a gun would be effective are very questionable.

Furthermore, and interestingly, all the folks who are questioning her decisions have completely missed the simple truth that what she has done is arguably the single most effective thing she could do to protect herself: publishing this piece in the LRB. The people working in the institutions that have previously failed her are now well aware that if something happens to her, literally many thousands of people will know about it and demand their heads. I can guarantee you that after today no one involved will take her safety lightly.

So, from where I'm sitting, she seems a hell of a lot smarter and practical than her critics in this thread.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:52 PM on August 5 [26 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Please no doxxing here or encouraging anyone to be doxxing. Thank you.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:54 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Honestly, reading the diary I have some sympathy for the judge and powers that be who didn't take from this a real sense of her feeling menaced. Clearly this man is a grade-A whackadoodle and a danger and I cannot understand, given the actual incident, how they let it get down to this trivial sentence and lack of ongoing supervision.

But the read on her? I can see that. We get halfway through her tale before we get to the ugly... at least the way many of us would read it as anything beyond socially awkward/difficult. She seems to want to be left alone without having to ever tell the person to leave her alone, or take a hard line and just keep the door closed even if it might be awkward; she's unwilling to be seen through the window and refuse to let him occupy her time. That's a very reasonable fear later on in the tale, but in the beginning of the story she just portrays him as a pest.

Clearly that's not the way things are, and maybe they weren't even ever that way. But if it can have that sort of read even filtered through the lens of the last year of this then who knows what it felt like to the people working this case. It's hard even to reconcile this desperation to be left alone on one end - and concern that there's no societal force to help her make it happen - with this depth of compassion to yield this even after the physical threats
I suggested a brief stint in jail followed by extended probation, excluding access to my private road: what mattered was the long-term ability to use the place for work.
I wouldn't know how to cope with that dichotomy in the courtroom. You're here in front of me talking about this person who you felt you had to flee your own home from and were unable to get help to have him leave you alone up through the point where they threatened your life... and you're suggesting a short jail term? It's fine if they are on your road so long as they don't disrupt your time in front of the computer?

I don't blame her and I don't understand how the system looks at a rap sheet that long and lets this slide this way as anything other than an act of malicious sloth and indifference. But her priorities and concessions boggle my mind.

what she has done is arguably the single most effective thing she could do to protect herself: publishing this piece in the LRB. The people working in the institutions that have previously failed her are now well aware that if something happens to her, literally many thousands of people will know about it and demand their heads. I can guarantee you that after today no one involved will take her safety lightly.

You give the system and its workers a lot of credit for prevention. Seems to me this mostly accomplishes an ability to get justice after he kills her, not any sort of prevention.
posted by phearlez at 8:56 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


From her blog:
Vermont has very liberal gun laws. Some states require a license for any kind of gun, some for concealed carry; some states exclude certain classes of people from ownership (felons, addicts, alcoholics). Vermont requires no license and places no restrictions on ownership. To the untutored eye, it is particularly ill-suited to a happy-go-lucky approach to the administration of justice.

So I have been organizing a new notice against trespass, and looking into a stalking order, and wondering whether there is any point. The message sent by the legal authorities is that a woman who wants to live in Vermont should get a gun and learn how to use it.
I think we can safely assume she's aware of her second amendment rights and knows how to exercise them if she chose to.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:56 PM on August 5


I'm sorry, if she takes the kind advice and buys a plane ticket and moves to another country, she will of course be safe and able to enjoy a normal life.

And of course without her distracting presence in the city, he will immediately reform and not go on to harass and stalk and eventually attack and kill another woman who might lack the resources to also flee the city.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:57 PM on August 5 [19 favorites]


Perhaps I phrased my initial comment in a cavalier way, but the bottom line is it comes down to - he breaks in and threatens to kill her. Now who is to die, him or her? She managed to talk him down, an incredibly risky and brave act.

But if it didn't work, or doesn't work next time...?

If you're not just about as frightened of having to do it as you are of having it done to you, there's something you're not actually understanding. Or you are morally broken.

I plead guilty to being far more afraid of being killed than I am of having to kill in self defense. I'd rather be alive, and traumatized, than dead at the hands of a stalker. Though admittedly I've never been in such a situation, I don't think that preference makes me "morally broken."
posted by mrbigmuscles at 9:01 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]


Less internet tough guy, more fix the fucking system, please.

Sounds good to me. We'll pass the legislation, elect new judges and DAs, retrain the police, and set up a new legal and technological infrastructure.

I figure that'll only take what, fifteen, twenty years max. She should be able to wait, right?
posted by happyroach at 9:16 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


It'll take a hell of a lot longer if we keep telling women it's their fault they're being stalked, harassed, raped, and killed, and spending time and energy telling women to change their behavior rather than putting pressure on the system to change.
posted by jaguar at 9:22 PM on August 5 [31 favorites]


I just checked out her blog, and it sounds like the neighbor is now helping to get orders against E trespassing.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:36 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


jaguar, the point is that we can do both. One takes longer to effect than the other.

Ivan Fyodorovich, As someone else who fears being killed more than killing, I also don't think I'm morally broken. That's a heavy judgement to put on the millions of people who feel the same as I do.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:37 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


jaguar, the point is that we can do both. One takes longer to effect than the other.

But we can't do both, actually. She can take the precautions that she thinks will help, and her friends can help with practical help, but people commenting on the situation can pretty much just shape the discourse either to blame her or to blame him. The general public putting the responsibility on her reinforces the misogynist legal systems that are ignoring her complaints and giving him more power to harass and harm her.

Limiting the rights of convicted stalkers is a very current issue. Focusing on why stalking victims should be changing their behavior gives fuel to dangerous rhetoric.
posted by jaguar at 9:49 PM on August 5 [24 favorites]


LobsterMitten, your link pointed to a post from 2.5 months ago. So not actually a new development? : (
posted by futz at 9:51 PM on August 5


It was just a development I didn't know about before, and one which - if it's kept up anyway - is at least better than the neighbor welcoming E back to stay in the same house. I mean, it doesn't mean DeWitt is safe, but it means the neighbor is at least no longer one of the problems.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:56 PM on August 5


I really feel for DeWitt, but the way she describes this ordeal makes her sound almost like a NRA supporter's parody of an ineffectual liberal. A man who has broken into your home with a gun and threatened to kill you doesn't present "a high risk of attack"? Two to five years in prison seems a little harsh? My goodness. Even though it's wrong, even though it shouldn't be this way, she needs to accept that law enforcement is not going to give her the degree of protection a dangerous stalker like this guy warrants. A gun will. Of course the stalker is the one to blame, not DeWitt, but it's hard to savor a moral victory like that after one has been murdered.
posted by adecusatis at 9:59 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


How many of you internet virtual gun-toting cowpeople have actually needed to carry daily for your own safety? Do you have any concept of how much continuous practice it takes to be able to use firearms effectively in combat situations? I have, right in safe-liberal-enclave Portland and Seattle. The years when Aryan Nation was terrorizing AND KILLING queers in Oregon and Washington were the period I moved to the PNW as a queer-rights activist. I had both concealed-carry handguns, and long guns in my home.

I had to train with professionals, in a variety of target and role-play scenarios, at least every other week for YEARS. Doing that as a queer woman was no picnic. The permits; the responsibility of carrying and storing; the expense of purchasing weapons that suited me, ammunition for training and carry, and hours of expert training a month; arranging my schedule, travel, home and workplace with safety in mind; these were all substantial financial, time, legal, emotional and moral commitments. Commitments to spend a lot of my time and efforts planning to injure or kill another person.

In our current society, non-public safety/military people must not be forced to take on responsibility for learning to kill. Yet that is what many in this thread are saying this woman must do.

No.
posted by Dreidl at 10:21 PM on August 5 [53 favorites]


How many of you internet virtual gun-toting cowpeople have actually needed to carry daily for your own safety?

At least two women in this thread that I can think of off the top of my head.
posted by elizardbits at 10:31 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Cowpeople? Really?
posted by futz at 10:34 PM on August 5


One of whom, iirc, began doing so in response to her own stalker.
posted by elizardbits at 10:37 PM on August 5


Cowpeople? Really?

As in the non-gender specific version of 'cowboy'.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:37 PM on August 5 [12 favorites]


Ah, got it now. Thanks.
posted by futz at 10:46 PM on August 5


People this nutty will hunt you down. Do you know how hard it is to erase your entire name? All your records?I mean with the internet now people can find you.

Possibly worth noting (though probably stating the obvious): since this thread has now been referenced on Ms. DeWitt's Twitter account, which will probably be under scrutiny by the perp in question, it should be anticipated that he may make his way to this thread.

It needn't dampen the discussion, but it might warrant some thought for well-meaning types wanting to insert themselves into the saga in any sort of extralegal IRL way.
posted by nacho fries at 10:47 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


I know someone whose boyfriend repeatedly assaulted her until eventually there was some minor charge and a restraining order and which, eventually, he violated. At that point, an arrest warrant was issued. Which meant exactly nothing, because the police don't rush out in their cars to someone's address to arrest them on these kinds of charges. It's not a priority. It's not on a to-do list at all. What they do, instead, is wait for someone like that to effectively come to them, such as being stopped for a traffic offense.

People like E do what they do, over and over, because this isn't a priority and when they are arrested and tried, the punishments are light. This isn't new for E, it isn't even new for him in that area. Law enforcement knew about him and his history. People seem to be thinking that suddenly everything is different for him now that he's been incarcerated and released, but it's not. He's been through this before. It's vastly more likely that he will attempt to stalk DeWitt than be more explicitly and directly harmful, because that's his pattern and his experience has been that law enforcement will largely allow him to get away with it. Except now, after this publicity, they probably won't. They'll come down on him hard, at the first misstep. Which, sadly, they still won't do for any other woman in this situation because they otherwise don't take this stuff seriously.

"Ivan Fyodorovich, As someone else who fears being killed more than killing, I also don't think I'm morally broken. That's a heavy judgement to put on the millions of people who feel the same as I do."

This is what I wrote: "If you're not just about as frightened of having to do it as you are of having it done to you...".

Like you, I'm more frightened of being killed than killing. But not much more so.

Police officers that kill criminals, in self-defense, more typically have serious psychological disturbance as a result than not. These are people who are trained to do it and who professionally have deep bias against those they've killed. Soldiers, too, experience severe trauma when they kill. For most people, killing someone is life altering in a very negative way and to a degree that is unequaled by almost anything else. It very much is something that ought to be terrifying to everyone even if you believe that it is morally neutral in the case of fully-justified self-defense.

Given the consequences of it, especially when we're talking about deadly violence like defending oneself with a gun, it should be the absolute last resort.

"Even though it's wrong, even though it shouldn't be this way, she needs to accept that law enforcement is not going to give her the degree of protection a dangerous stalker like this guy warrants. A gun will."

This is dangerously false. She is more likely to be a victim of that gun by her stalker than she is of effectively defending herself from her stalker with it. Just as, by the way, is the case with that baseball bat.

Guns aren't magic. Even larger caliber bullets don't instantly drop people like you see on film and television except in rare cases. There's a reason why police officers are trained to empty their clips if they ever have to shoot someone. If you really want to defend yourself with a gun, then you must do as Dreidl did and, even then, you won't know until the moment comes whether you will actually pull that trigger. Very often, people don't, even with extensive training. Police officers and soldiers often don't and this is much more true about civilians.

There is something very wrong, in numerous important respects all at once, with thinking that a gun is the best solution to her problem.

"At least two women in this thread that I can think of off the top of my head."

And at least one of them -- Dreidl -- understood what was required to effectively defend herself with a gun. Apparently a number of people in this thread believe that simply owning and carrying one is sufficient.

That's a dangerous message, not just because it's untrue. It's also dangerous because it is a version of the more broad message that women are ultimately responsible for their own safety with regard to predatory men because, as is always the case with this messaging, there's something quick and easy they could do. Dress the right way, stay in the right places, say the right things, take a self-defense class or buy a gun because men are going to do what men are going to do and it's unrealistic to expect law enforcement and the justice system to stop them. When you are attacked, which most women will be in one form or another, then obviously it will be because you didn't dress the right way, didn't stay in the right places, didn't say the right things, didn't use self-defense or a gun.

But wait! When women do use a gun on their ex-lovers or their stalkers, then not infrequently they are arrested and charged, especially if they're poor or women of color.

So, I wonder whose interests are being served by reinforcing the message that carrying a gun is the solution to a woman's safety concerns. Because it sure as hell isn't hers.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:54 PM on August 5 [32 favorites]


Seconding (thirding? fourthing? How many of us does it take?) that Helen DeWitt did absolutely nothing wrong, that she has a right to live in her property without harassment, and that his actions are not her responsibility.

She should not have to deal with his behaviors in any way. And victim blaming wrapped up in "I'm just being realistic" is still victim blaming.

Reading this thread has been demoralizing and exhausting. So many of the posts here advocate the position that DeWitt needs to do something. No–the law enforcement agents and agencies she has already repeatedly sought help from need to do something.

I can't imagine being strong enough to make it through the same situation, and I have nothing but admiration and respect for her.
posted by aedison at 11:11 PM on August 5 [10 favorites]


Of course it's not her fault. And of course the police agencies and the prosecutor should be the ones to do something. And they're not doing anything. And where does this leave us? Oohing and clucking our tongues going "Isn't it awful, what society's come to!"
posted by happyroach at 11:51 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


And where does this leave us? Oohing and clucking our tongues going "Isn't it awful, what society's come to!"

I'm not sure what I can do to help the situation as it stands. I've @replied DeWitt on Twitter to say that I support and admire her, but beyond that I'm unsure of my power to change anything about what she, specifically, is going through.

What I can do, though, is counter the language in this thread which empowers abusers. Because that's what victim blaming in a public forum does: it emboldens those who knowingly abuse; it encourages those who unknowingly abuse; and it reinforces the tacit approval society gives to abusers.

This site is widely read. There are, undoubtedly, awful people reading it, as well as people in positions of power who could change situations like this in the future. The very least we can do is not lend weight to the ideas which allow abuse to progress unchecked.

We all have a responsibility to not contribute to public conversation and consciousness in a toxic manner. We all have a responsibility to contradict those toxic thoughts which are already present.
posted by aedison at 12:01 AM on August 6 [24 favorites]


Apparently a number of people in this thread believe that simply owning and carrying one is sufficient.

Idk man you can take it up with the former members of the US armed forces yourself if you want, I'm going to bed.
posted by elizardbits at 12:02 AM on August 6


Driedl is 100 percent full-stop spot-on.

I've lived a peculiar and violent life. Believe what she had told you.
posted by Pudhoho at 1:08 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Of course it's not her fault. And of course the police agencies and the prosecutor should be the ones to do something. And they're not doing anything. And where does this leave us? Oohing and clucking our tongues going "Isn't it awful, what society's come to!"

Okay, I don't know if anyone told you, but we have this thing in our country called "representational government". What that means is, the people who run our cities and states are supposed to represent us - and that means, we can call them or write them any time and say things like "hey, I just read this article about stalking and I think we should have stronger stalking laws!" You can even get a bunch of people to swing that letter so your mayor or congressperson knows that you all want to do something about that.

And if they don't , there's this other thing we have in this country called "voting", where every couple years we all get to say whether we want that mayor or that congressperson to keep doing that job, or if we want to make them leave. We can even vote for the judges in our city and state. So if we hear about a judge who lets a guy like this go, we can fire him.

So there is actually a whole lot we can do after reading this article. Yay!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:56 AM on August 6 [8 favorites]


Dreidl and others have already alluded to it in terms of carrying weapons: the training and mindset needed to learn AND PRACTICE SUCCESSFULLY any kind of self-defense tactic flies in the face of most of our societal conditioning, particularly for women (but not limited to women).

I had a neighbor who was unhealthily obsessed with me for several years, not the violent type, at least not while I knew him, but someone who probably broke into my house a couple of times, left trash on my property, and continued aggressively to try to converse with me when it was clear to any reasonable person that I wasn't talking to him. He was the kind who would watch you out his window: I had the constant sense of being surveilled.

Just at the point where I signed up for a Krav Maga seminar because he was screaming out his window at me, he died of alcoholism. This is NOT how I would have had the story end: ideally he would have gotten help, but of course he didn't think he was the problem. That being said, I'm glad I didn't have to put my newly learned Krav Maga skills to use on him.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 6:03 AM on August 6


[One comment deleted; this can be a super tough conversation, especially when it feels personal and pulls up a lot of strong feelings, and it might be better to bypass this or return to it when feeling in a better place.]
posted by taz at 6:38 AM on August 6


jaguar, the point is that we can do both. One takes longer to effect than the other.

At this point in our political system, I don't really think we can do both, and the length and difficulty of the process is largely by design. A large part of the problem is that the people who advocate for self-defense are usually the ones simultaneously advocating making it harder for the judicial system and law enforcement to do anything about it by sabotaging the ability of governments at all levels to operate.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:42 AM on August 6


Anybody visit www.helendewitt.com yet?

Jesus that's creepy/scary given the situation; one is greeted with a hand-scrawled note saying,
Miss De-witt,

The man came about the telephone.
And he thinks that it is a fault in the underground cable,
so it's not possible to make calls out or to receive calls.
When it is rectified is anyone's guess.

But it will be reported.

J. Collier
Any idea when the note is from?
posted by clawsoon at 6:45 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Okay so... this is definitely real and not some weird terribly-misguided publicity thing or ARG, right?

...right?

Because that would be really sucky.
posted by odinsdream at 6:48 AM on August 6


Talking about the number of guns a stalking victim owns is as relevant to the discussing what law enforcement should do to help as discussing a sexual harassment victims choice of dress.
posted by xarnop at 6:53 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


This whole thing makes me really sad. I think Helen DeWitt is brilliant, and paperpools is one of the few blogs I read at all, and her string of luck has been incredibly shitty. She’s actually from where I am from, and I still live here, so I always hope that she will give me a call when she comes home to visit her mother. She seems like she could use a good dinner and some low-key conversation. Of course, she doesn’t know I exist, so it’s unlikely, but I’ve wished it more than once.

DeWitt is one of thousands of women (hundreds of thousands? millions?) dealing with something like this right now. Many of them will be seriously hurt or killed as a result, through absolutely no fault of their own. My reaction to DeWitt’s stalker have been instructive for me because how I see DeWitt, or imagine her, makes real the absolute disruption that something like this causes. I don’t use that word in a narrow sense. I mean the complete upending of physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual life. I am embarrassed to have not quite seen that so starkly before in the many exposures I’ve had to women being stalked, assaulted, and raped. And because of what I do, and what my friends do, I’ve heard many more stories than most people have about every kind of thing like that, and I’ve been appropriately outraged and empathetic. But, basically, there is something about the specificity of DeWitt’s situation, and the way that my only exposure to her and it are through her writing, that has allowed me to see how all-encompassing this kind of thing is, and how what she is being robbed of right now is her whole life. Being seriously injured or killed would be far worse, but the amount of damage being done to her now is incredible. That’s one of the reasons why the “she should…” and the “doesn’t she realize…” comments in this thread are so difficult to read. It should be clear to anyone paying attention (and here I am being careful to keep in mind that my own attention has been broadened here in a way that it should have been years ago) that “she has” and “she does.”

I also find myself thinking a lot about A Room of One’s Own when I think about DeWitt’s situation. Woolf was talking about male privilege before we used the term, and DeWitt’s career has been made almost impossible at several points because she doesn’t have male privilege. This is one of those points, and it really highlights why when we talk about cultural production from women, and the importance of that production, we are having a very complex conversation. More women need to be able to support themselves by their art, but it isn’t enough to just be able to do that. Women artists still face sexism, and rape culture, and all the things that make producing art as an average woman that much harder than it is for the average man. This is also something I don’t think I’ve paid enough attention to in my own thinking about these matters.
posted by OmieWise at 6:55 AM on August 6 [15 favorites]


Okay so... this is definitely real and not some weird terribly-misguided publicity thing or ARG, right?


The stalking etc is real. I have no idea about the note.
posted by OmieWise at 6:56 AM on August 6


If blaming/shaming the victim isn't the point of all these "she needs to own a gun" comments then what is the point of them?

I am not going to own a gun any time in the near future. I am not a good candidate for it, once I tried to kill a mouse in a mouse trap and I sat with the mouse and sobbed for 30 minutes before my boss came up out and said she would take care of the mouse.

When I was in highschool my boyfriend who had lived dangerous places and wanted to "protect" me kept a loaded gun on him at all times, and not to mention taking it outside to shoot it if he was pissed off at me, also he kept it loaded often so it was ready, and you know dropped it on the ground where it went off and hit the wall between me and another person.

I have a long history of mental health issues and haven't we discussed not wanting people with mental health issues to own guns? I have wanted to kill that guy so many times, so many times with him screaming in my fucking face and talking about how he would have killed me a long time ago if he did everything he wanted, screaming insults at me--- not of which has constituted situations where I am comfortable using deadly force but if I had a fucking gun how do I know I could control myself when I have that much adrenal and fear going at once with this terrifying asshole who terrorized me for years even after I reported and they did nothing.

I don't want to kill him. I thought about it alot, I thought about how I probably could do, I probably could get myself to do it and then what? And how would I know that he was ever going to actually use deadly force on me as opposed to just scream insults and threaten? I thought about how I would definitely kill him to protect my kid but honestly, I in some ways I would be fine with killing him now. HE's a huge fucking threat and I and my kid would be safer if he was just fucking gone- but I don't trust myself nor should I to make the call of when deadly force is ethically called for given that this is someone who impregnated me on purpose while I was passed out drunk, who has terrorized me, tried to fuck my friends, told me he wants to fuck my family members....

I have never felt the level of blind rage this guy has managed to bring me to and I still do not want to kill him.

I want him to go to jail and get whatever help/treatment/ or long term care to stop him from harming others that he needs.

And you know what, when my cousin stabbed her boyfriend who had been beating on her for years she got two years in prison. Anyone who thinks this social problem needs to be solved by women owning more guns needs to look at the fucking facts-- it doesn't make women more safer they tend to introduce weapons and don't have the heart to use them and then the weapon escalates to the point the guy will.

The whole time that guy would scream at me, I never said anything. I never said anything but that I was sorry about his issues and wanted him to get help and he hated me for it, he would scream and rage about it BUT I never gave him the leverage he wanted in his head that would let him carry out violence on me (when a woman talks back)-- well once I did and he slapped me that night.

If I said one wrong thing, if I did one wrong thing, it could escalate so fast with that guy, one second calm the next second rage- he had two firearms in his house, right next door to me.

If that guy had decided I was going to be shot, I would have been shot, in the time it would take for him to pull it out and shoot me it's unlikely I would have been able to get to or use the gun, and since he had never even introduced a gun to the situation what am I just supposed to pull one on him for being an asshole? How would that look in court, I'm just pulling guns on unarmed people? And if I introduced that to the situation, you think he wouldn't just walk home, get one of HIS fucking guns and shoot me while I'm just walking to my car and didn't see him? Because that motherfucker could do it and I don't know that I could and if you want to bring a gun to a situation you damn motherfucking straight better be ready to kill the fucker because if you're just bluffing you're making putting yourself at even worse risk of escalating the level of anger and rage and fear and inciting the other person to go ahead and kill you.

I thought of these scenarios every day. I thought long and hard about whether I would own a gun in response to the situation or whether I thought it would improve my or my kids safety. We would be safer if he was dead now, and making the call of when to introduce a deadly weapon to the scenario isnot something I think I, nor many people in the heat of moments like this, can do very well.
posted by xarnop at 7:00 AM on August 6 [41 favorites]


xarnop, that is powerful. Thank you for sharing it with us.
posted by gauche at 7:04 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


What xarnop said was indeed powerful.

But I suspect that the only reason that xarnop felt compelled to share that was because there are so many people in here fretting about how "oh I don't get why DeWitt doesn't own a gun, why isn't she trying to protect herself", rather than fretting about "oh I don't get why the police in DeWitt's jurisdiction aren't taking this seriously, why aren't they doing that and what can be done about that".

The Second Amendment also gives people the right not to own a gun if they don't want to, and if they don't want to, the reasons they don't want to are none of our business. All we can do as outsiders is trust that since they are voting adults, they know their own scenes well enough to have made the best possible choice for them.

And if we do that, then we can turn our energy back on tackling the real problem - the fact that stalking is not taken seriously enough in this country. Because there is only one person at fault in these encounters - and Helen DeWitt is not that person.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:12 AM on August 6 [18 favorites]


How would that look in court, I'm just pulling guns on unarmed people?

This. Prisons are full of women who killed their abusers but did it in the "wrong" way, and/or were the "wrong" class or color. California has refused parole to I don't know how many women because they wouldn't cry and say how sorry they were for killing someone who abused and threatened them and their kids.
posted by rtha at 7:23 AM on August 6 [27 favorites]


Agreed, Empress. It often seems disingenuous to me how the pro-gun rhetoric contains in practice hardly any space for people to choose an option other than everybody being armed to the teeth all the time.
posted by gauche at 7:32 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]


Depends on which court.

This is rural Vermont we're talking about. There are strong cultural sentiments among New England Yankees about property rights. And this guy is a proven stalker with a history of violence.

A .410 shotgun loaded with birdshot. Pepper his ass with a few shells and have him picking BBs put of his cheeks. They're inexpensive and common. I bet several of her neighbors have one for varmint hunting with the kids. Dick Cheney's buddy to a 12 gauge load to the face and was well enough to apologize to the Vice President in a couple of days.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:35 AM on August 6


If you're assuming that E's likely to continue to stalk DeWitt and to assault her, then your assumption is that he's highly motivated, given his incarceration and the penalties he'd face if he continues. That being the case, the claims that moving away or installing an alarm or buying a gun would be effective are very questionable.

Furthermore, and interestingly, all the folks who are questioning her decisions have completely missed the simple truth that what she has done is arguably the single most effective thing she could do to protect herself: publishing this piece in the LRB. The people working in the institutions that have previously failed her are now well aware that if something happens to her, literally many thousands of people will know about it and demand their heads. I can guarantee you that after today no one involved will take her safety lightly.

So, from where I'm sitting, she seems a hell of a lot smarter and practical than her critics in this thread.


I can't tell if this is a joke or not, but it doesn't seem very funny when a woman's life is on the line
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:38 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


If blaming/shaming the victim isn't the point of all these "she needs to own a gun" comments then what is the point of them?

People are scared by a violent, unpredictable and chaotic world. If they can somehow construct a narrative in which an identifiable person took an incorrect action that resulted in severe harm, then they can avoid taking that action and avoid that harm. Because in a Just World, the things we do have simple predictable consequences, and the situations we are in are easily navigated.

It's a way of feeling safe, which often trumps actually being safe (see also: security theater).
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:39 AM on August 6 [11 favorites]


To read this story is to be in the place of an audience watching a horror movie. You have already been told that the proper protections have failed, and the protagonist is in terrible danger. Of course you want her to run. Not because it's her fault but because you don't want her to die. I can simultaneously be enraged at her dilemma while still feeling panic at the idea of her going back there. Yes he can stalk her elsewhere, but, an isolated house close to where he lives is a uniquely dangerous situation. It's not right, at all, that she is in this situation, but until it can be fixed, I want her to survive.
posted by emjaybee at 7:39 AM on August 6 [7 favorites]


Furthermore, and interestingly, all the folks who are questioning her decisions have completely missed the simple truth that what she has done is arguably the single most effective thing she could do to protect herself: publishing this piece in the LRB. The people working in the institutions that have previously failed her are now well aware that if something happens to her, literally many thousands of people will know about it and demand their heads. I can guarantee you that after today no one involved will take her safety lightly.

I have to wonder why you think this is the case, when so many of the people in here who have read the very thing you are referring to are asking "well why doesn't she just get a gun". If that's the response of so many readers, what makes you think that the people working in the institutions who failed her won't be asking the same thing?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:41 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


If blaming/shaming the victim isn't the point of all these "she needs to own a gun" comments then what is the point of them?

You don't think it's possible that some people actually believe that owning a gun would make her safer? You don't have to agree (I don't, although as a guy from the UK I don't have an informed perspective), but at least accept that they might be speaking in good faith.

Obviously, anything that this guy does to her is entirely the guy's own responsibility. Given that this guy is out there (which, due to crappy law enforcement, she can't control), saying "here's a precaution that she could take" is not the same as saying "...and if she doesn't take it, then anything he does is her fault".
posted by metaBugs at 7:49 AM on August 6


Oh my god. This gave me a special chill, because I have also lived in rural New England and knew people who seemed quite like that guy and who were tolerated to a surprising extent. It is probably possible everywhere for some people to be below the law but in small villages it is particularly dramatic. We had one constable to call on, and after that it was the state police. Talking to the constable about any problem was like talking to a friend-- well, he was a friend, but also he wasn't going to engage in any decisive action except to maybe go around and talk to people. My partner-- a big, athletic guy-- had become paranoid and sometimes said things like, "If it ever happens that I have to shoot someone, make sure you look away because I don't want you to have that image in your mind."

All the brushes with actual crime I've had, have been in big cities, but this brought back to me how seriously scared I was of a few people while living in the country.
posted by BibiRose at 7:54 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Given that this guy is out there (which, due to crappy law enforcement, she can't control), saying "here's a precaution that she could take" is not the same as saying "...and if she doesn't take it, then anything he does is her fault".

I think the "victim blaming" critique is coming from noticing that people are responding to the crappy law enforcement by saying she should step up, rather than saying that the law enforcement itself should step up. People are expecting her to take over for an establishment that is failing in its own duties.

I mean, if the barista keeps messing up your order, you ask for the manager, you don't go behind the counter and make your drink yourself. And the learning curve for latte-making is much shallower than the learning curve for law enforcement.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:03 AM on August 6 [12 favorites]


DeWitt reminds me a bit of Vini Reilly (and to some extent mathowie) in that she doesn't seem to realise how many friends she has in the world and could really do with someone else making it easy for people to show that they love her. Obviously there needs to be some way she can feel agency in dealing with this problem, but somehow she needs help. Help she is not getting via the legal system. Maybe a fund to get her a legal advocate who can argue that E should have a restraining order and electronic tag, or get her a home surveillance system or a satellite phone or something that actually makes her safer as soon as possible.

My feelings are in line with these comments:

rtha - She's not safe because he's making her unsafe. If she woke up tomorrow as an expert marksman and martial artist, she would still be at risk, because unless she lives in a bunker alone, he can hurt her at his leisure. Maybe she can make it harder.

jokeefe - I completely understand her reluctance to hurt, let alone kill, another human being. Such things do not leave you unmarked.

elizardbits - Self defense against someone whose intent is to murder you, who has broken into your home in the middle of the night and openly stated their intent to do you mortal harm is maybe the least possible thing to be called casual violence.

theora55 - Her error is partly her niceness, which he has taken advantage of. She let a sociopath (psychopath?) into her life, and she is paying too high a price.

nacho fries - Where the fuck are her friends and family in all this?

I know that I have benefited from friends being able to point out when a situation is toxic, which I had been blinding myself to.

OmieWise - there is something about the specificity of DeWitt’s situation, and the way that my only exposure to her and it are through her writing, that has allowed me to see how all-encompassing this kind of thing is, and how what she is being robbed of right now is her whole life.

I agree, but does she understand that? She needs friends.
posted by asok at 8:03 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


This is rural Vermont we're talking about. There are strong cultural sentiments among New England Yankees about property rights. And this guy is a proven stalker with a history of violence.

So what? He did 14 months for a reckless endangerment charge against her, and it's not like they didn't know about his long list of priors, and the courts are magically going to lock him up for life on a trespassing charge?
posted by rtha at 8:10 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


A .410 shotgun loaded with birdshot. Pepper his ass with a few shells and have him picking BBs put of his cheeks.

Did you read xarnop's comment? Or any of the other comments about actually using a gun? It doesn't change anything that your method is non-lethal. If he's holding a lethal weapon, it seems dumb beyond belief for her to use a non-lethal one. If he doesn't have a weapon, it's a much more difficult case for self-defense.
posted by desjardins at 8:14 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


No, I'm saying that if he comes down the road after being told so very thoroughly that he's unwelcome and she unloads several shells worth of bird-shot into his ass, rural Vermonters are unlikely to view her as som crazed harridan with a grudge.

No, he's beyond legal deterrence. We've left that discussion behind. We're talking about the legal consequences of When this escalates to actual physical violence.

Because it will. He's a psychopath and a stalker whom the law has failed to stop.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:16 AM on August 6


It was interesting when I was trying to escape my apartment but couldn't afford it my family was uninterested in helping and thought I needed to be more understanding, since everyone has flaws, some people just have anger issues that make them threaten people around them? But when I told them the apartments were infested with roaches and they were in the walls so we couldn't treat it unless all the OTHER people agreed to treat it and they wouldn't (they were a bunch of individually owned condos that were the cheapest in the city and no one could afford to maintain them adequately and the HOA was bankrupt and totally ineffective)... they were suddenly like "Oh we'll help you get out of there!!"

She might have family or friends who are ALSO minimizing this situation and not helping her get out. A lot of people feel a lot more strongly that a person being threatened should get out of the their home until their own finances and resources are factored in, suddenly they don't want to get as involved.

In terms of systemic solutions, on the one hand I am in favor of financial and legal assistance to help people move to somewhere safer, or stay in shelters long term until that is possible (often people experience assault and stalking are facing debilitating mental and phsyical health effects which may effect their ability to work and support themselves- free or low-cost safe housing is a really important factor for safety and well being during this time). On the other hand I think dangerous people should be the ones monitored rather than asking their victims to live in fear while the freedom of stalkers/abusers is protected.
posted by xarnop at 8:16 AM on August 6 [7 favorites]


No, he's beyond legal deterrence. We've left that discussion behind. We're talking about the legal consequences of When this escalates to actual physical violence.

*blink* wait, weren't you arguing against vigilantism in the WisCon thread?....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:18 AM on August 6


Yes, because vigilantism would be chasing him down and doing violence. Initiating an assault.

If she sits at home with a shotgun and he comes onto her property After already having shown up armed etc, it's called "The Castle Doctrine".

At that point, he is the one initiating the siege by coming onto her property. Because he has already demonstrated how far he will go.

At that point, he gets peppered and peppered again and left to bleed in the driveway while the ambulance gets called.

Does that clear up the difference?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:26 AM on August 6


Again, doesn't it seem really unsafe to use a non-lethal weapon when he has a lethal weapon?
posted by desjardins at 8:29 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


and in any case this is just another flavor of the same argument that's already been advanced in this thread. Her behavior is not the problem.
posted by desjardins at 8:30 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


Does that clear up the difference?

Frankly, no, it just looks like there are people where no matter what a crime victim does, they're gonna say "you did it wrong".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:31 AM on August 6 [18 favorites]


and in any case this is just another flavor of the same argument that's already been advanced in this thread. Her behavior is not the problem.
posted by desjardins at 8:30 AM on August 6 [+] [!]


No, his behavior is.

And whining about her rights and what society SHOULD be and how bad people need to stop doing bad things does fuck all to alter the situation on the ground.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:34 AM on August 6


Does that clear up the difference?

Frankly, no, it just looks like there are people where no matter what a crime victim does, they're gonna say "you did it wrong".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:31 AM on August 6 [2 favorites +] [!]


The fact that you choose not to see a difference between chasing someone down and assaulting them in public vs firing on someone who is committing a home-invasion doesn't mean the law is equally willfully obtuse.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:36 AM on August 6


Castle doctrine/SYG has thus far proven to cause significantly more problems than it has solved, regardless of the extremely hypothetical success it may have in this particular situation. Furthermore, your solution has a much higher likelihood of DeWitt ending up seriously injured, dead, or in prison, one many times more than the "justice" you think will magically be conferred upon her.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:41 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]


The fact that you choose not to see a difference between chasing someone down and assaulting them in public vs firing on someone who is committing a home-invasion doesn't mean the law is equally willfully obtuse.

Because we all know that the law works 100% perfectly all the time and no one is ever falsely acquitted of vigilantism and no one ever falsely pleads self defense, and no one ever gets arrested when they were legitmately trying to defend themselves.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:42 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


[Cool it a little.]
posted by cortex at 8:51 AM on August 6


"I have to wonder why you think this is the case, when so many of the people in here who have read the very thing you are referring to are asking 'well why doesn't she just get a gun'. If that's the response of so many readers, what makes you think that the people working in the institutions who failed her won't be asking the same thing?"

I expect they thought this and they still think it. But what's changed is that there's now literally international attention on what happens to this person who was, previously, to them just another woman stalked by a man. Any choices they make now in response to anything E does will be scrutinized in a way that most of these authorities aren't normally scrutinized. They know this.

The LRB seems obscure to many people and quite likely that's the case for most of these authorities. But the fact that we're discussing this here and now proves that it's not so obscure as to fail to be a powerful point-of-entry into the larger internet spotlight. That's how the internet works now. Her LRB piece is being tweeted and passed-along and written about. She used the biggest megaphone available to her, one that was bigger and more effective than hiring an attorney with money she doesn't have. It was smart of her and I think that if E steps even a little bit out of line, the authorities will treat him much differently than they have in the past.

And if he is likely to continue to stalk DeWitt, he's most likely going to attempt to resume his old pattern with her first. This is how it works, ever day, for women in her situation. Being arrested and imprisoned and released often doesn't make much of a difference on the man's behavior, he just picks up where he left off. He might not -- in which case he'll probably eventually repeat this with someone new. But if he does, he's most likely going to resume a deluded slow-escalation because that's how stalkers think and that's the kind of behavior they know they're most likely going to get away with. He has a lot of experience with the authorities mostly turning a blind eye.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:52 AM on August 6


Many years ago, I was attacked by a stranger in public. It was pretty shitty, but I got a detailed description of him, his companion, his vehicle, and his full license plate. So I called the police, and two cops came--an older man and a younger woman--and I gave them all the information I had, secure in the knowledge that I'd done everything I needed to do. So I was a little shaken, but it in a "Well, that sucked, and now I am also late" way, so I went home, got cleaned up, treated my injuries, and started trying to catch up with all the shit I had gotten behind on.

And then, I didn't hear back for a while, so I called the police to ask about it. I eventually got in touch with the younger female cop, who told me that they'd tried to give the guy a ticket, but when he answered the door, he denied who he was, and they tried again, and then he'd stopped answering the door for them, so they couldn't, and they'd given up.

I asked her what the hell, because this guy had physically attacked me, unprovoked, and I'd been injured. She told me that the senior officer had thought that I wasn't behaving like a woman who had been attacked, so rather than pursuing it as assault or whatever, they'd gone over to give him some piddling little ticket for disturbing the peace or some other minor offense with a sub-$100 fine attached, and those were too low a priority to even merit pursuing if the guy wouldn't answer the door.

I struggled for a while with the idea that it was my fault that this guy, who clearly needed some type of legal intervention to prevent him from hurting someone else, was out and about because I didn't perform femininity to their standards. This was a guy who didn't hesitate to physically attack a very small, very young looking woman in a busy area in the middle of the day. He was dangerous. I was an adult, but I was regularly mistaken for a teenager. This guy was going to attack a child some day. The attack itself I'd brushed off pretty easily, but that phone call made my hands start shaking.

And then, some time later, I saw a story on one of those true crime shows about a 12 year old girl who had been abducted, raped, tied up and put in a box, and who then escaped and went to the police, who thought SHE was too calm and composed. So they sent her home with her parents, assuming she was just making it up, only to notice when she came back the next day to complete some report or something that she had injuries consistent with her story. So those know it all cops lost a lot of physical evidence and a full day of investigation tracking an extremely dangerous child predator because they were allowed to use their sloppy biases as grounds to determine the accuracy and seriousness of a victim's account.

This isn't the victim's fault. It's not my fault that I'm tough or stoic or whatever, it's not that little girl's fault, and it's not Helen DeWitt's fault, either. It's the fucking dumbass cops and prosecutors and everyone else who dismisses women (and GIRLS) who don't play the victim role to their exacting media-informed standards.

Fuck those guys. They're all aiding and abetting criminals.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:59 AM on August 6 [46 favorites]


> I really feel for DeWitt, but the way she describes this ordeal makes her sound almost like a NRA supporter's parody of an ineffectual liberal. A man who has broken into your home with a gun and threatened to kill you doesn't present "a high risk of attack"? Two to five years in prison seems a little harsh? My goodness.

What you write makes you sound like a liberal's parody of a gun-crazed, morally obtuse NRA supporter. Hey, parodies are fun!

I must say I'm heartened that this thread is heavily weighted in the direction of total support for DeWitt and her intolerable situation; the internet-macho warriors seem to have mostly shown themselves the door.
posted by languagehat at 9:00 AM on August 6 [8 favorites]


I know it's a shock, but I can simultaneously think that the stalking was her predator's fault and none of her own, and at the same time think she repeatedly made poor choices that made it much harder for people and the state to help her, as phearlez noted some of.

And no, these do not include a gun; you should never have a gun if you aren't prepared to use it, and she would likely end up getting killed with her own weapon.
posted by tavella at 9:11 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


The "she either needs to arm herself to the teeth or move to a different country" viewpoint that seems to indicate that people who are being threatened, stalked, or abused must be willing to kill in self-defense. Like any/every person who has long existed in a perpetual state of not wanting to kill anyone is suddenly going to gain the ability to shoot to kill under duress?

I would rather die a thousand times than kill anyone, ever, even if the person is trying to kill me. There is no part of me that is in any way prepared to end a life. I can't even swat a mosquito without feeling a pang in my heart. So I'm a very firm believer in the notion that no matter what happens to any of us, every person everywhere has the absolute right to draw a line in the sand and say, "Yeah, nope, I just checked and I still really don't want to kill anyone." It doesn't mean that person is weak or stupid or lax, or that they're inviting violence upon themselves by being unwilling to inflict it. It just means they really don't want to kill anyone! The breezy insouciance of "just buy a gun, learn how to safely handle it in situations involving extreme anxiety and stress, and pop a cap in him already, duh!" is seriously bizarre to me.

There's a long and storied history of pacifists serving in the military, yet it's supposed to be incumbent upon an author -- not exactly a profession commonly linked with a willingness to arm oneself with lethal weaponry and then psychologically and physically ready oneself to shoot to kill -- to put a bullet in another human being when the various and sundry apparatus of the state have repeatedly failed to perform their duty of protecting her person and property? That's some Wild West bullshit.
posted by divined by radio at 9:14 AM on August 6 [9 favorites]


Every adult has a right to make their own decisions about their lives, and that includes the levels of risk they're willing to accept in order to live the way they choose.

It's just not up for public debate if Helen DeWitt or anyone else decides they value their independence and their choices enough to accept increased risks to their safety. Everyone sets their own risk levels, and a lot of people are going to set theirs higher or lower than yours. I get pretty frustrated, too, when people make choices I think are overly cautious and fear-based, but I try really hard to keep my mouth shut about it, because there are already too many people lecturing grown women about all the things they're doing wrong.

I get that most suggestions are intended as helpful, but it's weird to assume she's so ignorant or naive that she needs to be told that she could be in danger. She sounds smart and resourceful, so I'd assume she is aware of the tradeoffs and has made her decisions thoughtfully according to her own criteria.

This is the sort of advice you would give a young relative or someone else who is inexperienced and very close to you socially, not to an obviously pretty badass grownup you don't even know.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:31 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]


We have four entities doing things in this situation that at least some people believe should be doing something different:

1. DeWitt, who refuses to buy a gun.
2. E., who is stalking and harassing someone.
3. Law enforcement, who is not taking the stalking seriously.
4. Vermont and federal legislators, who are not writing laws that take stalking seriously.

DeWitt, as linked above, is perfectly aware she could buy a gun (as is every other adult in the US). Saying she could or should buy a gun is not giving her, or anyone else in the US, any new advice.

So can we just call that subject covered? And maybe think about why DeWitt alone is being considered the only entity in this scenario who can or should change?
posted by jaguar at 9:43 AM on August 6 [7 favorites]


Gonna change my tack here a little.

Yes, she absolutely has the right to be safe and secure in her own home. Everyone who has posted in this thread subscribes to that notion.

But this is what Marc MacYoung* (I believe) would call a "Romans vs Barbarians" situation.

In Rome, society behaves one way. There are laws and courts and rules. The barbarian is the uncouth one who doesn't know how the rules work.

In barbarian territory, the Roman is the one at the disadvantage. Because the laws and customs are different, and things that go to court in Rome end up bloody in barbarian territory.

Rural Vermont isn't quite Germania beyond the last Imperial outpost, but it ain't Rome either. And the fact that the system has failed her AND the logistics of policing a large, mountain state with a rural widespread population have demonstrated how far short Rome's authority stretches down snowy dirt tracks.

On top of that, he stalker is a psychopath.

She's not wrong for wanting to behave like a civilized person who wants to be left alone. But when the Mongols show up at the city gates, well... They don't care. Neither does this guy.

I hear people's frustration at "Why should SHE have to be the one to save herself? HE's the problem!" Absolutely.

I'm not here to blame the victim. I'm well aware of who the threat to her life & limb is. But an objective analysis of the situation has to go beyond "what are her rights" to include the nature and severity of the threat.

Nobody here is rooting for the stalker.
___
* Yes, I quote MM on MeFi a lot, but that's because he's an actual former violent street thug with personal experience with street violence and violent criminals who now teaches people how to avoid/stay safe from the kind of predator he used to be. And yes, I give a lot of weight to his advice in a situation like this.

But as I linked up thread, he's seen this before. And "move for your own safety" has not been the advice people facing this situation in the past have wanted to hear either. But he teaches that the best way to avoid violence is not be there when it happens. So yes, active avoidance of more dangerous situations is one's own responsibility.

This is why he says that a stalker neighbor is the WORST POSSIBLE KIND. Because proximity. He is MUCH closer than the cops, especially out on the fringes of the Empire.

I'm not playing internet tough-guy. I'm pointing to the personal security expert's opinion on how serious he situation is.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:49 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


So can we just call that subject covered? And maybe think about why DeWitt alone is being considered the only entity in this scenario who can or should change?

1. She seems to be the only one with the capacity and motivation to change soon enough to keep him from doing her great personal violence.

Because what, are you actually positing that he is capable of change? That he's motivated to? Really?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:51 AM on August 6


And whining about her rights and what society SHOULD be and how bad people need to stop doing bad things does fuck all to alter the situation on the ground.

I think it's weird to throw up your hands and say "welp, crazies gonna crazy, police gonna (not) police, nothing we can do except get a gun!" What would alter the situation on the ground is for the police and courts to do their fucking job. Maybe the townspeople can put pressure on local law enforcement and prosecutors. Maybe her state rep or other political official can do the same.

As has been said multiple times, a civilized society protects the life, liberty and property of other members of that society. We all have a collective responsibility, it's not on each individual to protect themselves. This is not some pie in the sky thing. Public pressure can and does change things. Recently my city passed an ordinance banning convicted sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of schools and daycares (I happen to find this problematic, but that's not the point). This didn't happen by magic. People pushed their elected representatives for this, and it got through the system pretty quickly. Public outrage and pressure can and does work.

One woman with a shotgun usually does not work.
posted by desjardins at 9:54 AM on August 6 [8 favorites]


I have had numerous people tell me I should just move, as if someone who is recovering from PTSD and unable to work can just move state or -countries??!!- and find free housing and disability services when it can be very difficult to get disability aid and housing for PTSD in addition as a parent I'm shooting myself in the foot if I try to prove I am so incapacitated as to need such extensive services, especially when we are in a society that could easily use that to provide full custody to my child's father. If my family and the support network I've cobbled together are here, how am I supposed to go somewhere else I don't even own a car?

It's likely DeWitt has more resources than I do, however I don't know what those are or how much they are and I think some people don't realize what it's like to have no savings account, very limited income options and no ability to just up and move.

And being homeless is a huge risk factor for women being physically or sexually assaulted (and men as well for that matter), even in a car it's scary sleeping somewhere isolated knowing that your car can get broken into while you're sleeping-- not to mention illegal to sleep in a car in more populated areas if you get caught. Most of my sometimes homeless friends who lived in cars would do that a lot longer if they were male, whereas if female it's often safer to find a known person you can "date" for housing who won't beat the shit out of you (or even who does but in a known quantity) than for strangers who might kill you for all you know. I have had some male friends who were particularly vulnerable to assault as well and they would often "Couch serf" and trade their bodies for the security of the known as well.

It's brutal out there, and I'm not sure that people who have never been forced out of their homes without resources or family to take them in have any idea what they're expecting of someone.

I agree that she should move, I just also know that selling her house and coming up with the money to avoid hotels/deposits on a new place is not something that comes out of thin air.

Pirate-bartender- how about putting pressure on the police and law system to change policies of how long they imprison or moniter dangerous people? Take some of that momentum and apply it where it will do the most good for the most people?

Yes of course we can encourage women to dress chastely and not walk around alone at night, but if that's our attitude where does that get us? Law enforcement takes those social norms and uses that to ignore crimes against women who were out at night alone or wearing "immodest" clothing, or drinking too heavily.

That sort of pressure makes the world a worse place.
posted by xarnop at 9:55 AM on August 6 [10 favorites]


Helen DeWitt is an author. She uses words skillfully and professionally. She used the tools she knows best, to SUCCESSFULLY prevent the deranged, armed stalker who had invaded her home, from physically harming or killing her.

Ms. DeWitt is now using her ALL READY PROVEN EFFECTIVE weapons, WORDS, again, on the internet to describe her problem and perhaps get help with her safety. She knows her strengths (words!) and is using them well. Why the hell mess with physical weapons?
posted by Dreidl at 9:56 AM on August 6 [6 favorites]


Recently my city…

A "Roman" response.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:57 AM on August 6


All of this advice for DeWitt seems like it would be better handled over MeMail.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:57 AM on August 6


In Rome, society behaves one way. There are laws and courts and rules. The barbarian is the uncouth one who doesn't know how the rules work. In barbarian territory, the Roman is the one at the disadvantage. Because the laws and customs are different, and things that go to court in Rome end up bloody in barbarian territory.


The general Roman response to barbarian territory was to send an army to make it into Roman territory, and therefore safe territory, not to tell the local citizenry to learn how to use a sword.

Focusing on what an individual Roman should do versus what the Roman state should do is exactly what's wrong about asking what DeWitt should do rather than what Vermont should do.
posted by cjelli at 10:00 AM on August 6 [13 favorites]


The general Roman response to barbarian territory was to send an army to make it into Roman territory, and therefore safe territory, not to tell the local citizenry to learn how to use a sword.

Good thing Rome never got sacked.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:02 AM on August 6


I didn't realize rural Vermont was such a lawless barbarian hellhole. Poor jessamyn.
posted by desjardins at 10:03 AM on August 6 [8 favorites]


She mentions several times that she has stayed with her mom in DC. Just noting that for those who are concerned that she has no other immediate option than her home in remote VT.
posted by nacho fries at 10:05 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


I didn't realize rural Vermont was such a lawless barbarian hellhole. Poor jessamyn.

Ask a native Vermonter "Should a woman live all alone out at the end of a rural road with neither dog nor gun nor phone?" and see what answer comes back.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:06 AM on August 6


So, let's assume that a concerned citizen hearing Ms. DeWitt's story wants to do something to make situations like this better for women in her community who are facing similar situations. Possibly in the sphere of changing the laws or working to provide better and more effective support from the local government.

What would be the next step for this person take? Contact local women's advocacy groups?
posted by magstheaxe at 10:06 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


She seems to want to be left alone without having to ever tell the person to leave her alone, or take a hard line and just keep the door closed even if it might be awkward; she's unwilling to be seen through the window and refuse to let him occupy her time. That's a very reasonable fear later on in the tale, but in the beginning of the story she just portrays him as a pest.

This is a late response, but tavella noted this comment and I think it illuminates something I read a lot, which is to note all the things a woman should do/did wrong while eliding the things she actually DID. DeWitt actually tells E directly to leave her alone multiple multiple times in the course of eight weeks before she starts calling the police. She buys and moves into the cottage in September 2011, and then is away until September 2012. Then:


E came over the day I arrived. I said I had come to work. He said he understood. He would not come uninvited.
I explained that I faced financial disaster if I didn’t finish a book.
‘If you want me to go I’ll go.’ ‘Could you go home?’ ‘Not just yet.’
E sent an email saying he would respect my privacy. I returned. It started again. I left for a local B&B and wrote to his landlord, who drove up from Boston. E, he said, was lonely, alcoholic, obsessed. We met. E: ‘You know I love her.’ Landlord: ‘It’s understandable. She’s attractive, you’re both intelligent. She needs to work on her book.’ E promised to stay away. His landlord left at 4 p.m. E came down the road at 4.05 p.m. (‘This is between you and me. You didn’t have to tell him. You almost got me evicted.’)
E turned up next morning at six because his fire had gone out. I said I had to go for my walk.
I sent an email issuing a formal notice against trespass and returned to the snowbound cottage on 31 December.


This thing develops over six weeks in the fall of 2012, and by New Year's DeWitt has repeatedly asked E to leave her alone, informed him in writing to leave her alone, and involved E's landlord and the sheriff. It is categorically, fundamentally incorrect to say that she did not clearly communicate her desire for him to stay the hell away.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:07 AM on August 6 [19 favorites]


The problem with offering "She should just move" as advice is that if you repeat it often enough, it stops being advice and starts being accepted as the solution to the problem. If you think the problem here is "Dewitt is being stalked", then suggesting DeWitt move miiiiiiiiiight help her. But the real problem is "E, and dudes like him, have a high tolerance for going to jail and know that their behavior, while awful, requires alot on the part of their victims in order to build a case good enough to require jail time". That's the problem in the this situation. Dewitt moving doesn't fix that.

"She should just move" does nothing to stop E and people like him. In fact, it enables their bullshit.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:12 AM on August 6 [7 favorites]


Ask a native Vermonter "Should a woman live all alone out at the end of a rural road with neither dog nor gun nor phone?" and see what answer comes back.

1. She has a phone.

2. It would be super cool if you could explain your qualifications for knowing exactly how barbaric it is in Vermont, because I have spent a lot of time there and they have the internet and the police and grocery stores and your description of the constantly-armed wild west does not match my experience at all.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:17 AM on August 6 [13 favorites]


Ask a native Vermonter "Should a woman live all alone out at the end of a rural road with neither dog nor gun nor phone?" and see what answer comes back.

What does this even mean? I've lived in Vermont and Maine and knew women who lived out in the middle of nowhere by themselves. Other people did not see this as unusual.
posted by rtha at 10:20 AM on August 6 [6 favorites]


I went of College at UVM. And one thing that I learned was that the urban liberals in Burlington were a very different breed from the rural New England yankees out in the rest of the Green Mountain State.

Maybe thing have changed since I graduated. But I suspect not that much.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:22 AM on August 6


Re: what rural Vermont recommends:

My village takes a vigilantist line. One neighbour says if she saw him by the road at night she would run him down. Others tell me to get a gun and shoot on sight.

Just saying.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:24 AM on August 6


[This feels like it's gone pretty far down the road of one person arguing with everyone else at this point; PBZM, I feel like you've said your piece pretty thoroughly, let's let the thread breathe.]
posted by cortex at 10:27 AM on August 6 [6 favorites]


Good thing Rome never got sacked.

There've been some updates in the way society functions in the past 1538 years.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:28 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


magstheaxe, if the person is not a resident of Ms. DeWitt's area, and especially if they're outside of Vermont, I would suggest contacting a domestic violence advocacy group within Vermont and see what they suggest.

If you are a resident I would contact your elected representatives, all of them, and demand changes to the stalking laws and specific enforcement in this case.
posted by desjardins at 10:31 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


I would suggest contacting a domestic violence advocacy group within Vermont and see what they suggest.

They suggested she leave.

The Women’s Freedom Center of Brattleboro, Vermont has advised me to leave at once for my mother’s home in DC

...

There's been a lot of talk about "internet tough guys" and some weird arm-chair psychology about "just-world fantasies" here, as though the implication that this woman might have some agency in her life is just totally out of bounds.

Victim-assistance organizations all have a laundry list of things people can do to help themselves in these situations.

These include, among other things: have a plan for short-term emergency escape; have a plan for long-term relocation; stay with relatives/friends or have them stay with you; vary your routine; secure your home; and even - take a self-defense course. Victim blaming? The recommendation for a self-defense course - macho internet tough-guy posturing on the part of The Women's Center? In stating that victims can do things to make themselves safer, are these organizations just promoting feckless security theater, yearning for 'narrative structure' in their lives? Maybe, I guess, but that doesn't sound right to me.

We all agree that the legal system is inadequate to deal with stalkers, and that the specific response here was weak, and dangerously so. But if the law changed magically, today, this very instant, to imprison trespassers & stalkers for life, "E", and others like him, will not suddenly evaporate. Even if ankle braceleted and monitored 24/7, he is much closer to her than the police are... and the police cannot be everywhere at once... but that conversation is pretty much played out at this point.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 10:47 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


In stating that victims can do things to make themselves safer,

These are actual people and organizations, talking to actual victims about actual concrete steps they themselves can implement, with full cognizance of their own situations and the resources to help.

Not commenters on a website, broadcasting their opinions to ... who?

Unless you are actively involved in directly helping people, or directing them to resources, making recomendations and giving advice here, in this space, at this time, is not helping. Is actively the opposite of help, and reinforces narratives about the proper appearance and behavior of victims of stalking and harassment, narratives like "you didn't seem disturbed enough" and "you are not taking your safety seriously enough."

Narratives that are used against people like DeWitt, by people like the sheriff, prosecutor, and judge.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:49 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


There's been a lot of talk about "internet tough guys" and some weird arm-chair psychology about "just-world fantasies" here, as though the implication that this woman might have some agency in her life is just totally out of bounds.

I responded as I did because so many people here seemed determined to announce that if she just... then she would be safe. Or to why she didn't just... when she had. The thing upthread about how if she shot him in the face with buckshot, that would send a message that he would listen to, yeah! when people here have no fucking business making statements like that as if they're fact.

She has agency. She has exercised that agency - she has called the cops, pressed charges, stayed out of town, etc. and so on. People keep pointing out that she should do these things and she already has done them or is doing them.
posted by rtha at 10:55 AM on August 6 [6 favorites]


I think it illuminates something I read a lot, which is to note all the things a woman should do/did wrong while eliding the things she actually DID.

Your quotes excise the in-between descriptions though and collapses the timeline (it's actually more like 10 over the course of what you have quoted) when I very specifically said this was about the early portion of the tale:
In late September 2012 I sublet my apartment in Berlin. [snip]
E came over the day I arrived. I said I had come to work. He said he understood. He would not come uninvited.

And immediately came drifting down the road looking for odd jobs, a loan, cigarettes, a hot shower. He brought a paraffin lamp before Hurricane Sandy. He showed me how to use my chainsaw, cut up a fallen tree, brought a splitter for the logs. He made a sawhorse for chainsaw work adapted to my height. He stayed to talk. And talk. And talk. It was the conversational equivalent of the labrador waving its good-natured tail. Words poured in at the ear, displacing the book in my head.

I explained that I faced financial disaster if I didn’t finish a book. He said he understood. And he came apologetically down the road. If I stayed up till two he came because the light was on. (‘If you want me to go I’ll go.’ ‘Could you go home?’ ‘Not just yet.’) If I got up at five to light the wood stove he came because his fire had gone out. The single insulated room had a window/wall ratio of 3:4; there was nowhere to hide.
Then we get a diary entry meant to show her desperation dated Nov 13 where she undertakes a plan to run off in the night and not be seen by E.

I don't think she did anything wrong. Dealing with needy/pushy people who will not fuck off until they'll flat-out told to do so is hard even for those of us comfortable protecting our privacy and time, and that obviously only applies to the socially graceless not the B&E stalker folks. It may well be that refusing to open the door when E knocked/refusing chainsaw lessons/rejecting gifts of lamps would have just escalated the situation right away; she uses the term 'dangerous' in her diary when talking about going in front of his home and perhaps there's something between the lines here we're not getting - she could well have been failing to take these steps because she's afraid he's going to escalate.

But the point is, that's not in this description. We got a timetable of about 6 weeks where someone is described as a well-meaning pest. And shortly thereafter she writes, in the current time,
It’s so common these days to crawl away in exhaustion, to barricade oneself behind autoreply. ‘So-and-so can reach me in case of emergency’: there’s always someone deaf to polite requests, someone who doesn’t get that the well has run dry. One’s horror at appeals for interaction is clearly the consequence of the hundreds of preceding interactions rather than anything specific to the latecomer.
So when someone opens with that in court, then follows up with a call for leniency hey-don't-lock-him-up-forever? It's HARD to figure out what the deal is. A less generous read makes it sound like someone who wants the authorities to deal with the unpleasantness of rejecting someone without ever needing to do it themselves, given that nothing in the tale at that point talks about not trying to keep him out because of fear he's going to escalate.

It's fucking bullshit that this ended the way it did in court with what happened and his rap sheet. But I sympathize with the confusion over her demeanor, particularly in the early stages.
posted by phearlez at 10:57 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


There's been a lot of talk about "internet tough guys" and some weird arm-chair psychology about "just-world fantasies" here, as though the implication that this woman might have some agency in her life is just totally out of bounds.

Quite the opposite, actually. It's been repeatedly pointed how much agency she's exerting in her dealings. Just because it doesn't adhere to your personal preference doesn't mean that it's non-existent.

The recommendation for a self-defense course - macho internet tough-guy posturing on the part of The Women's Center?

Please don't conflate the actual discussion in this thread around arming one's self with firearms with one about general self-defense. Few organizations by and for survivors of abuse and assault suggest firearms, with a long laundry list of reasons of their own. This has earned them condescension and condemnation from many 2A advocates, in addition to being put "enemies lists" by organizations like the NRA for not kowtowing to their (thus far unsupported) narrative.

In stating that victims can do things to make themselves safer, are these organizations just promoting feckless security theater, yearning for 'narrative structure' in their lives? Maybe, I guess, but that doesn't sound right to me.

You'll notice that a lot of what they suggest is mirrored in the comments here.

We all agree that the legal system is inadequate to deal with stalkers, and that the specific response here was weak, even dangerous. But if the law changed magically, today, this very instant, to imprison trespassers & stalkers for life, "E", and others like him, will not suddenly evaporate. Even if ankle braceleted and monitored 24/7, he is much closer to her than the police are... and the police cannot be everywhere at once... but that conversation is pretty much played out at this point.

And? The potential solution repeatedly offered here has shown to be more dangerous in aggregate than helpful. Even in the unlikely event that it was helpful in this specific situation, it's not going to help the millions here or billions in other countries in the same situation.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:00 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I'm confused: I just did a Command+F for the word gun and I only see a small minority of folks advocating gun ownership in this specific case, and dozens of references to "all these people" who are pro-gun.

Were a lot of comments deleted?
posted by mochapickle at 11:11 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Note that in the U.S. the police have no duty to protect individuals from ordinary (non-state) violence or other illegal actions: the Supreme Court so ruled in 1989 and reaffirmed in 2005. There are two exceptions, both fairly narrow: when the state has a special relationship with the victim (for example, when they are under arrest), and when the state has imposed an heightened risk on the victim (for example, arresting an intoxicated husband and sending his equally intoxicated wife home alone through dark and dangerous streets). More examples.

So the advice "Protect yourself!" is not necessarily victim-blaming, though it is certainly the first thing a modern victim-blamer will say. Unless you hire a bodyguard, there is literally no one else with a duty to do so. As Wikipedia says, the purposes of a police force are to enforce the law (selectively), to protect property, and to limit civil disorder. If they achieve those purposes by protecting individuals, tant mieux; if by harming individuals, tant pis.
posted by johnwcowan at 11:15 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


This isn't a problem to be immediately and concretely solved right here and now. She's not asking for advice that I noticed.

This is a public awareness issue, pointing out some systemic inequities in the law and in public perceptions.

I completely understand that sometimes, you come at something in problem-solving mode, and start getting super-focused on an individual case and how it could be solved. That's not really appropriate here, though.

This is not just an individual incident. It's a pattern of problems involving law enforcement, public safety, gender roles, and popular attitudes about violence and mental illness and a whole bunch of other stuff.

As a rule, women have a fair amount of experience dealing with gendered violence and other risks associated with being perceived as female, so unsolicited advice tends to be weirdly patronizing and, when men do it, often extremely ill-advised. In my experience, men are kind of easily provoked or something, and recommend or even attempt escalating problems that need to be de-escalated. Women are perceived very differently from men. The tactics a man would use to react to another man can backfire very easily when a woman uses them. Stop telling women what to do. We know what we're doing, and it's none of your business anyway.

Moreover, though, it's a derail. I know I've often avoided discussing gendered things with other people, because I know it's just going to end up with everyone dissecting my actions and behaviors and presentation and 'helpfully' giving me advice for avoiding it in the future. And it's usually shitty, life ruining advice that involves changing fundamental aspects of who I am and how I live.

Which is exactly how a lot of the advice directed toward her looks as well. She wants to live alone, on her secluded property. She probably doesn't want a gun or a dog, and I'm sure she is well aware of the risks her choices entail. Quit nitpicking them and telling women shit they already know.

When people accuse you of 'whining' and start picking at you every time you tell them about your experiences, you're often going to just stop telling people about them. But to even begin to address gendered issues like this, we need to know about them first. Women need to be able to talk about them without being attacked and insulted for it.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:18 AM on August 6 [21 favorites]


In terms of other things we can do to help, I made a donation via her blog. Even though I didn't give very much, she wrote back right away saying thanks. I figure having more financial resources helps give her more options.

I still think pressuring law enforcement and the government to do more is essential though as there are more people suffering because of stalkers than will get their stories published and I can't give money to all of them
posted by carolr at 11:22 AM on August 6 [8 favorites]


I'm confused: I just did a Command+F for the word gun and I only see a small minority of folks advocating gun ownership in this specific case, and dozens of references to "all these people" who are pro-gun.

I searched for "shoot" and "shot" and "firearm(s)" and those appear a lot, many in the context of quoting from the piece itself, and a bunch from people advocating that she shoot him, or get a friend to shoot him if she wasn't comfortable doing it herself.

There was a tone set for the thread from the third comment, wherein it was posited that she should've just shot him and she would have been within her rights to do so.
posted by rtha at 11:30 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


"If you are a resident I would contact your elected representatives, all of them, and demand changes to the stalking laws and specific enforcement in this case."

I feel sure that many of the relevant authorities are already aware of the attention now upon this particular case but, even so, I'd like to be certain of this. Local media, too.

The most that all of us out here on the 'net can do to help DeWitt is to give this our attention and for the local authorities to know that this has our attention.

The most that we can do about this general problem is to stop placing the default burden of safety on women and insist that LE and CJ take these problems seriously. We can contribute or volunteer to shelters and vote for those who will make improvements.

"The recommendation for a self-defense course - macho internet tough-guy posturing on the part of The Women's Center? In stating that victims can do things to make themselves safer, are these organizations just promoting feckless security theater, yearning for 'narrative structure' in their lives? Maybe, I guess, but that doesn't sound right to me."

When I worked in rape crisis, there was a widely-shared and strong concern about the negative messages that discussions about "personal safety" send to survivors. But such discussions exist within rape crisis counseling and education because women ask for them and because there are entire industries with a self-interest in promoting this messaging and it's pervasive in our society.

And just as in the case of security theater or home security, the biggest value isn't that it's actually effective, but because it provides some relief from fear. It's a deeply problematic way to relieve fear, both on an individual and a social basis, but there's no question that, when it comes down to it, a relief from some of the fear is very important.

But I have first-hand experience with sexual assault survivors who have to deal with all the negatives consequences of emphasizing the idea of women protecting themselves and making "good" choices. Of course, many individual women have traumatic first-hand experience of this, but survivors often think their experiences are unusual. But I have to tell you it's deeply upsetting to watch, right in front of your eyes over and over again, women be grilled by their friends and family and law enforcement and others about their choices and, quite often, be explicitly blamed for the harm that's done to them because they failed to meet those expectations.

Survivors of assault, men and women and in a wide range of situations, spend a lot of their lives asking themselves about what they did wrong and what they could have done instead. This is a fundamental human impulse that is well-nigh universal. But in the case of violence committed against women by men, this is greatly amplified because women are absolutely saturated with messages that a) men are just men, there's no changing that; and that therefore, b) it's a woman's responsibility to prevent an attack. But women are attacked, most women will experience some kind of an assault from a man, so ultimately the message to all these survivors is that they failed and the attack is their fault. And it's no accident that assailants, especially abusive partners and stalkers, put a lot of effort into convincing their victims that it's all about what their victims do. Assailants put a lot of effort into convincing women that assaults are their fault, and authorities and the rest of society go a long way toward validating that message when women are assaulted.

And it's absurd to argue that this isn't the case when even here, on MetaFilter, a big portion of the response to DeWitt's piece is to criticize her for what she failed to do to prevent E's stalking. The proof of this pervasive, corrosive tendency is right here in this thread.

What is actually empowering is for women to have available a wide-range of acceptable responses to threat. Self-defense is a valid choice for any given individual woman. But that it is the first thing that people so often talk about is disempowering and the self-defense industry oriented toward women is a part of the problem and not part of the solution. It's self-interested, self-congratulatory, and predatory in its own way.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:30 AM on August 6 [9 favorites]


As Wikipedia says, the purposes of a police force are to enforce the law (selectively), to protect property, and to limit civil disorder.

He regularly breaks into her home. This is entirely within the purview of the police.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:32 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


magstheaxe, if the person is not a resident of Ms. DeWitt's area, and especially if they're outside of Vermont, I would suggest contacting a domestic violence advocacy group within Vermont and see what they suggest.

If you are a resident I would contact your elected representatives, all of them, and demand changes to the stalking laws and specific enforcement in this case.
posted by desjardins at 1:31 PM on August 6


Thank you, desjardins!
posted by magstheaxe at 11:33 AM on August 6


As an aside, Vermont does not have a castle doctrine or stand your ground law. Just, you know, for reference.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:46 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


Also, with regard to how we can actually do something to help Helen DeWitt directly, given carolr's example, I just utilized that PayPal link on DeWitt's blog to contribute $20.

This is the note I attached to the contribution: "Re: LRB piece. This isn't much because my income is actually below the poverty line, but my hope is that I'm not alone in doing this and that more money means more options for you, whatever those might be."

That first bit was only because I feel a little silly contributing such a small amount; it seems like token amount and therefore not very helpful, but it's the best I can do. But it occurred to me that it might be more meaningful if I did what I could do plus mention it here and encourage others to do the same.

I mean, look -- all this jabbering away about specifically what is best for Helen DeWitt is already deeply presumptuous but, given its existence, the least we can do is to actually help her directly somehow. Considerations like money to stay into a hotel room or call a cab are clearly not trivial for her. I don't really know how money might help, but I know that it usually represents more possibilities.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:53 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]


"E’s landlord: ‘You’re a very attractive woman. He can’t help himself. I’m sorry you can’t live on your property.’"

I'd just like to note that this sentence set a new record for rate of acceleration from totally normal, neutral emotional state eating a really nice ripe orange to total, dawn of the planet of the apes chest beating gorilla anger. The blast between the two was so fast that it's like my brain left rainbow trails as it folded space and time, like one of the old star trek movies.

It accelerated to many times the speed of light as i actually started reading the fucking comments. I'm like fucking Dr. Manhattan at this point.

I just want to run around screaming about the total fucking insanity of the victim-blaming in this thread.

Yea, really, a whole lot of you should be ashamed of yourselves.


I mean, the first thing i thought was "why don't we all start a gofundme or something to hire an armed security guard to sit in a car outside her house 24/7" and then i punched myself in the face until i passed out.
posted by emptythought at 11:59 AM on August 6 [26 favorites]


For those who think that arming yourself is the answer, here's a Fox News piece (warning: John Lott is quoted, without pointing out his issues) that relates a similar story: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/08/06/ivy-leaguer-plagued-by-stalker-may-drop-out-over-schools-anti-gun-policy/.

Seems like we need more than an arm-yourself policy.
posted by learnsome at 12:09 PM on August 6


> It's likely DeWitt has more resources than I do, however I don't know what those are or how much they are

I obviously don't know what kind of resources you have, but I assure you she doesn't have much (a fact you can check on by reading through the archives of her blog).

> I just utilized that PayPal link on DeWitt's blog to contribute $20.

Good for you. I sent her some money by PayPal a while back, but then I consider her a personal friend (despite never having met her). I urge anyone who likes her writing and can afford it to send a few bucks her way—consider it your own personal patronage of literature.
posted by languagehat at 12:09 PM on August 6 [5 favorites]


But the point is, that's not in this description. We got a timetable of about 6 weeks where someone is described as a well-meaning pest.

What? You quoted a paragraph that illuminates that he comes over at any time between five am and two am and when asked to leave, replies "Not yet." What about that says to you "well-meaning pest" and not "chilling criminal"? Because he brought her a bunch of gifts she didn't ask for?


So when someone opens with that in court, then follows up with a call for leniency hey-don't-lock-him-up-forever? It's HARD to figure out what the deal is. A less generous read makes it sound like someone who wants the authorities to deal with the unpleasantness of rejecting someone without ever needing to do it themselves, given that nothing in the tale at that point talks about not trying to keep him out because of fear he's going to escalate.

She rejected him multiple times. The day she moved in she told him she was working on a book and did not want to be disturbed. Like, is there a script or something that could prove to you that she wanted this guy to leave her alone from jump, like she said to him, his landlord, two law enforcement agencies, the victims' advocate, the prosecutor, all her neighbors, and now everyone who reads the London Review of Books? What are the magic words? And if she knew them, would they have kept him from breaking into her house in the middle of the night with a gun?

I also don't grant that she wanted the "wrong" sentence. It's not wrong or passive to want to prioritize safe access to her home for as long as she lives there over kicking this can down the road five years. DeWitt said she wanted him to be on probation with a probation condition of not coming near her house, the stalker rejected any plea deal that involved probation conditions, expressly preferring to go to prison for however long and then be released to stalk again, and the prosecutor pled down to a short jail sentence and no probation conditions because DeWitt didn't act frightened enough. I would love to know exactly how frightened you have to look to get a jail sentence for a gun-toting stalker that isn't conventionally measured in months.

Look, we seem to agree that the resolution of this case is bullshit, so maybe we should just leave it at that rather than continuing to audit whether DeWitt had the exactly correct emotional responses to this bizarre and terrifying situation at every moment over the last two years.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:10 PM on August 6 [12 favorites]


At the beginning, this guy was like Schroedinger's Neighbor. Maybe placating him would get him to go away. Maybe some nudges and hints and yawns and "I'm really busy" would give him a clue that she didn't want to be bothered. Maybe it felt safer than abruptly telling him to fuck off.

I was walking to my apartment from my car last week when a guy started yelling me from across the street. I was pretty sure he wasn't yelling that my hair was on fire or anything similarly important, so I just ignored him. He ran across the street, in traffic, blocked my path on the sidewalk and got close enough for me to smell his breath. I JUST WANT TO TELL YOU THAT YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL, he said. Uh, okay. This guy looked like he might be homeless and/or drunk, and he obviously didn't give a shit about social norms, plus we were right in front of my apartment. Should I have told him to go fuck off? screamed? pepper sprayed him? called 911? If he'd assaulted me then, would the answer be different in hindsight? What if he's waiting for me tonight?

I smiled very widely and said YOU HAVE A GOOD DAY SIR. He smiled back and sauntered off, so I get the grand prize of not having escalated the situation. The game is never the same, though, and you don't always know what the winning answer is.
posted by desjardins at 12:32 PM on August 6 [19 favorites]


All these comments about calling the police and "the system isn't working" makes me wonder about people's personal experiences with the Police and Legal system. The service a white man gets when, for example, if he is assaulted by a stranger on the street, is very different to the service a woman gets - especially if the police can mentally file it away as domestic violence.

Honestly, i look white enough that the police leave me alone in situations where they'd hypothetically harass me, and seem like they'd take me seriously in theory.

But they don't. And they're completely fucking useless.

I don't know how to fix this, but every time i've really desperately _needed_ the police they didn't show up, or were completely unhelpful, or whatever.

Someone breaks into my old house and robs everything? They tell my small lady roommate to go in and SEE IF HE'S STILL THERE, then are completely dismissive of me when they show up and never follow up.

I hear and see a man through an apartment window beating their crying partner who is literally begging him to stop, and begging for her life? They NEVER EVEN SHOW UP, and i was less than six blocks from a precinct!(in a nice, increasingly expensive/upscale part of town standing right next to a building full of million dollar condos). That one fucked me up for days, and i still question whether i myself should have attempted to intervene when a neighbor held the door to the building open for me simply because the police did not fucking care.

Someone self destructs their car, to the point of cartoon damage(think hood ornament almost inside the passenger compartment) into the side of my friends van while we're driving to the grocery store? "Don't call us unless someone is injured" *CLICK*

I could get into some more personal ones, including the time that someone actually tried to fucking choke me to death(never even saw the cops), or the multiple times i knew of a suicide attempt going on RIGHT THEN and they were useless, but seriously, the police are fucking useless. And i know that as a masculine beardy white-looking guy who generally dresses like a middle class 20something i'm probably only second to a middle aged white guy as someone who would get the best treatment from the cops. So if it's useless to me, how fucking awful would it be if i was a woman, or black?

I don't know what to do. I don't know how to fix it. I don't support private ownership of guns, and i don't support sending people to prison for stupid things or the death penalty. Sometimes i don't call the cops because i don't believe that the guy high as fuck on drugs outside my window screaming would be helped at all by the criminal justice system.

I want it to work when it needs to, and i'm completely at a loss as to how i could personally help that happen.


And the shittiest thing to me is that the other two big systems we have for problems like this work GREAT. I come home and my apartment is on fire? I call the fire department, and they get there in like two fucking minutes, put it out, inspect everything, and fine the owner for not having smoke detectors. I see someone collapse on the street and call an ambulance? They get there in two minutes, save the persons fucking life, and take them to the hospital.

How did we manage to fuck this shit up SO BADLY? Both of those aforementioned systems work great even in the tougher more fuzzy-logic "i think something bad is about to happen" kind of situation too, or the "something medium-bad has happened but i think something worse is about to happen" situation. Fuck, when my doofus manager kept turning my stove on when the gas wouldn't light, and filled my whole kitchen with a noxious amount of gas, the fucking city gas department was there in 3 minutes or so to inspect it(at like 11pm!), scan the air for gas concentration, and give the all clear.

Why the fuck are all those things so easy to handle, but someone being threatened by a creepy stalker or being potentially beat to death by their raging out spouse so impossible to deal with? For fucks sake, i walked into a police station and said "Here's a suicide note from one of my best friends, she's going to go drink a bottle of bleach and i think she's probably at this location" and they said "oh, this the wrong precinct, no we can't just radio the other one, go bus across town for over an hour and talk to them".

The memories of the times police have actually helped me stick out in my mind, because they haven't so many times. It's such a deep scar for me. I don't even know how much more personal i want to make this, because i'm getting upset just writing it, but holy shit are they so fucking useless in america.

The most recent time i called them, someone was trying to bash my head in with what i think was a tire iron. I called the cops, and i called my dad and ended up jumping out a window. My dad drove all the way across town and got there not only before the cops, but even when we were driving away i had still never seen a cop. This was also in a nice neighborhood, that hypothetically has good emergency services response time.

This might not have been the place for all this, but holy shit i'm just so angry at how useless the system is. I know several women with scary ass stories like her, and never once were the police useful. And they were even more useless if there were other people involved in the situation to go "oh, he's not that bad" or whatever.
posted by emptythought at 12:38 PM on August 6 [23 favorites]


I feel like if we completely redesigned prisons to be humane places where people who are dangerous could get mental health care and/or humane accommodations with social and enrichment opportunities, paid work options, and supervised/monitored abilities for excursions if possible given the offenses and period of good behavior. I feel like if we could create prisons (or even change the word used for people being supervised for their own or others safety?) that were actually ok places to send people to, put in better checks and balances to prevent and account for abuses, then we, as a community, wouldn't feel so bad actually using them to address dangerous people who repeatedly terrorizing those around them. I know given how bad it is, it's hard to hope for and work for change, but I think we have to hold on to hope and keep working for it and advocating for it and pushing for it. I think some portion of criminal behavior is the result of poverty/health exposures/childhood abuse and neglect/and biological health problems which we can address by addressing poverty, educating parents about their children's physical and emotional needs and more. For what's left over which will likely still be some-- we will need supervised living for, hopefully a much smaller number- of anyone who is dangerous like this and can't be helped preventatively with therapy/mental health care/financial assistance/housing stability etc. Once people have crossed the line into acting out really dangerous behaviors, unfortunately I think it's very hard to change that and the reality for those around the person needs to be given a lot more priority than our wishful thinking that people can change- because really once it's that bad violent offenders of domestic assault:
"... the domestic violence rearrest rate was almost 60 percent for arrested abusers over an average of five years."
posted by xarnop at 1:10 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


Also leftover causes of violence and assault is essentially the people and cultural ideologies that actively assert violence and sexual abuse is ok to do to certain people, women, the disabled, homosexuals, undesirables. I don't know that people or communities can be "Cured" of this- and while I totally believe people can change, without them choosing to change their beliefs, we still have to figure out what to do with such people and the damage they carry out on others in the meantime. What we're doing (or NOT doing) right now clearly isn't working.
posted by xarnop at 1:56 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Jesus god, I hope I'm never the victim of any kind of crime that gets an FPP here. I don't think I could bear seeing so many members of this community rushing to talk about all the ways I failed to protect myself in a way that they would approve of.

I wish some of you could have the opportunity to look into Helen DeWitt's eyes while you tell her exactly how badly you think she's handled this. I doubt many of you would have the guts to actually do that, because this is the internet and it's soooooo much easier to know the right thing to do and bloviate about it at length when you never actually have to LIVE it.
posted by palomar at 2:38 PM on August 6 [17 favorites]


"E’s landlord: ‘You’re a very attractive woman. He can’t help himself. I’m sorry you can’t live on your property.’"

I'd just like to note that this sentence set a new record for rate of acceleration from totally normal, neutral emotional state eating a really nice ripe orange to total, dawn of the planet of the apes chest beating gorilla anger.


It's notable how little the landlord has figured into this discussion and how he's been let off the hook. At the very least, his responsibility at that point was to fire and evict E., and then to hire another caretaker whose first order of business would be to ensure that E. never set foot on either properties or the roads leading to them.

How hard would that have been? How does the landlord sleep at night, knowing what his inaction has led to? It was absolutely his job to take responsibility for the actions of his employee and to get E. out of there. Instead, he enabled the situation up to the moment that E. broke in with a gun. If De Witt had been hurt or killed, he would have been partially to blame.
posted by jokeefe at 2:52 PM on August 6 [14 favorites]


Yeah, a very bright light should be shone upon the landlord. His choices are inexcusable, and his comment to DeWitt is execrable. That he thought it a good idea to have a locally-known bad apple (with a severe drinking problem) caretake his property is a real head-scratcher. Not even factoring in the chain of events involving DeWitt -- it's just a level of willful ignorance on his part that rises to malignant dereliction of duty toward other human beings (his neighbors, including DeWitt, and the surrounding community). Ugh.
posted by nacho fries at 3:19 PM on August 6 [5 favorites]


Yeah, a very bright light should be shone upon the landlord. His choices are inexcusable, and his comment to DeWitt is execrable. That he thought it a good idea to have a locally-known bad apple (with a severe drinking problem) caretake his property is a real head-scratcher.

Oh, she was shining a light on the landlord alright. You'll have to ask the people who chose to ignore it why they were.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:54 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


My interest is in why the landlord chose to ignore it. I'll ask him.
posted by nacho fries at 4:02 PM on August 6


I'd just like to reiterate everything emptythought said.
posted by odinsdream at 4:29 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


Others have said the rest of what I wanted to say in a much more eloquent way, so I'll only add that you would think that highwaymen lay in wait for people brave enough to leave Chittenden County from some of the comments here. When states are ranked by violent crime, Vermont ranks 48th out of 50, just ahead of Maine and North Dakota. People in rural VT do not routinely lawlessly menace other people with guns, or even use them in self-defense: there were a scant hundred gun deaths in the whole state last year and all but a single-digit number were suicides. If anything I'd imagine that the author was even safer living by herself in the woods than she would have been in some of the more urban areas in VT, e.g., parts of Rutland and yes, even Burlington.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:47 PM on August 6 [8 favorites]


All of which is to say, her stalker was allowed to menace her because law enforcement fucked up, not because rural VT is some kind of lawless, fundamentally ungovernable cowboy country. Snowy dirt roads and a sparse population did not contribute in any meaningful way to the way her testimony was received, or to her stalker's early release without warning.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:07 AM on August 7 [11 favorites]


It's hard not to conclude that the police have only three functions:

* Protect the assets of the 1% and the 1%'s lapdogs
* Raise revenue via fines and asset seizures
* Keep the "wrong types" in their place

They're bloody useless for anything else. Out here they ignore 911 calls, in one case leading to a death from domestic violence. But there is plenty of time to write traffic tickets, thankfully.
posted by maxwelton at 2:02 AM on August 7 [5 favorites]


Yea. The police here have shockingly quick response time to "some colored folk are yelling and drinking at the public basketball court outside my $800,000 condo!"(they literally drove THROUGH THE PARK, on the paths, which had people on them and everything going like 30mph!).

They also have surprisingly quick response time to the rich neighborhoods for "there's someone weird in the alley", who is probably just a random teenager engrossed in his smartphone.

As a teenager i thought white people saying no justice, no peace, fuck the po-lice and ACAB and shit were just trying too hard to be cool since i was informed enough at the time to recognize the fact that you have it pretty fucking easy with relation to the police if you pass a certain bar of looking white and/or affluent enough. How little i realized.

It also doesn't help that in seattle at least, the cops showing up means that you might just get beat to death or shot or something since they have some weird obsession with violence above and beyond what you'd expect from the cops here.

It's to the point that every time i see the cops heading towards wherever i am now, i'm like "Awww fuck, now what's going to happen that's really lame".

So yea, i associate them in general with either taking way too long to show up, never showing up when you need them, or showing up and making a complete fucking hash of things and/or not really dealing with the problem in a meaningful way.

Their motto here is "Service, Pride, Dedication". It seems that they only really nailed the pride one.

I 100% do not blame, and have complete sympathy for people in situations like DeWitt who decide that extralegal solutions are their only option.
posted by emptythought at 3:55 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


it also doesn't help that in seattle at least, the cops showing up means that you might just get beat to death or shot or something since they have some weird obsession with violence above and beyond what you'd expect from the cops here.


Truth. I wonder if it would help to have more of our police officers actually living within Seattle city limits... currently only about 20% them do, the rest live elsewhere. Seems like it might be a bit harder to effectively work with the community to reduce violence, or to give a damn about the community at all, when you're not actually a member of the community you're policing...
posted by palomar at 5:53 PM on August 7


Do people remember Konerak Sinthasomphone? Two women found him, a 14-year-old boy wandering around in public, naked, bleeding and drugged, and called 911 for help. As they were explaining the situation to the police, Jeffrey Dahmer, merely a convicted sex offender at the time, arrived with an explanation about how Konerak was his boyfriend and had simply had too much to drink. And so, over the babbled protestations of this injured, incapacitated child, and to the horror of the women, the police returned the boy to Dahmer's apartment, deciding against checking out its alarming smell, and left Dahmer free to proceed just as he'd originally intended. Konerak was dead before the end of the day. The policemen, John Balcerzak and Joseph Gabrish, were recorded cracking homophobic jokes about the whole episode in their car afterwards. Though they were fired for their actions, they got reinstated on appeal. Balcerzak eventually served as president of the Milwaukee Police Association, from 2005 to 2009.

Then there's Castle Rock v. Gonzales, but I can't with that right now. In my country, too, I can think of similarly awful stories. Like the time a woman, immediately after surviving a sexual assault, managed to hitch a ride with some strangers to a police station. Where they refused to speak to her because she was wasn't wearing any clothes.

The police don't give a fuck. So I don't even have the words for how fiercely I support Helen DeWitt's decision to go over them and get her case some notice before something worse happens. She shouldn't have to sit quietly at home with a gun; everybody else should have to hear about this and pay some fucking attention. I hope it changes something, because it all seems so very hopeless right now.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 12:14 AM on August 8 [10 favorites]


Yea. The police here have shockingly quick response time to "some colored folk are yelling and drinking at the public basketball court outside my $800,000 condo!"(they literally drove THROUGH THE PARK, on the paths, which had people on them and everything going like 30mph!).

They also have surprisingly quick response time to the rich neighborhoods for "there's someone weird in the alley", who is probably just a random teenager engrossed in his smartphone.


Not just Seattle. Even in Chocolate City. (of course Georgetown looks a lot less chocolate than SE, where I get the MPD emails about looking for leads on a new shooting every few days)

Safe Streets Arts’ table by the Georgetown waterfront is filled with vivid paintings, postcards, CDs, and copper wire jewelry. And often, parked right behind it, is a Metropolitan Police Department car.

Foster-Bey says the police officers have made clear that they know the table is legal, but are responding to complaints. “The police officers told me very plainly that they had been getting phone calls.”
posted by phearlez at 8:45 AM on August 8


of course Georgetown looks a lot less chocolate than SE

Now it does, but it used to be a black neighborhood. It was the site of DC's first integrated school (Georgetown Day School).
posted by OmieWise at 8:50 AM on August 8


This is probably the most terrifying thing I've read in a long time.

I noticed this has a byline date of August 21. I hope she's still ok when this is published.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 1:54 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I feel like I know this guy. We had one in my family, friend of my (now deceased) brother, kind of clingy. Everyone feels sorry for him.

When I was staying at my folks' house, after my divorce, he would call and talk to my other brother for a while, who would then say, "Mike wants to talk to you."

I would get on the phone and he would go into memories of my dead brother, and then start saying stuff like he always thought I was pretty and then some more explicit stuff, and I would quickly hang up or hand the phone back. And my brother said, "oh, that's just Mike, you have to take him with a grain of salt."

Then I moved back East and got remarried, and somehow, Mike got my phone number. Long involved conversations about the good old days and then he started getting into sexual stuff again. I would hang up.

Finally, I cut him off. Fortunately, I had distance, and a husband. Most of those guys won't continue on with their onslaught if they know there is a man who will tell them to fuck off. Sad, but true.

Recently, my brother told me that Mike had moved to a town not that far from where I am living now. And I was adamant that he not give out my number to him.

I feel like I know the type. The sad sack guy, down on his luck, drinks, but the guys all like him. Doesn't appear harmful on the surface. Until he gets obsessed. Then he can bitch to his buds about how the woman doesn't like him and he can't get laid.

Pretty much I blame the landlord. And not sure why Helen had to use trespassing laws to get this guy away from her. Vermont does have anti-stalking laws, it's pretty clear, 2 or more incidents and they can be charged with it. So why didn't the cops charge him with stalking? Who was that lawyer who told her he couldn't help her?

I'd like to ream the landlord and the cops a new asshole for how they've handled this. Bad job, guys. You fucked up. This is totally not how to handle this situation in New England. Jerks.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:17 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


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