Why Taylor Woolrich Wanted A Gun
August 14, 2015 11:52 AM   Subscribe

"For four years, a Dartmouth student had been relentlessly stalked by an older man. The legal system couldn’t protect her, so she wanted permission to carry a gun on campus. One year after becoming a gun-rights poster girl, Taylor Woolrich tells her story."
posted by the man of twists and turns (71 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
A gun is obviously not the best solution to this problem.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:00 PM on August 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


The solution actually exists long, long before the problem escalates to gun ownership: believe women. Believe younger women. Believe that when women say their lives, their health, and their sanity are being jeopardized they are telling the truth.

My stomach is absolutely sick after reading that.
posted by missmary6 at 12:10 PM on August 14, 2015 [76 favorites]


So what is the best solution is there aside from "I wish the legal and school system behaved in a completely different member then they actually do?"

I mean it's one thing to talk about how things should be, but that doesn't help an individual on a practical level.
posted by happyroach at 12:21 PM on August 14, 2015 [19 favorites]


New Hampshire is pretty friendly to the Second Amendment. But the issue seems to be that the campus regulations were supplying obstacles. As long as she was abiding by state law, would the campus regulation have made a difference?

The way I always look at it, if she had been in a situation where she needed to use deadly force, she could have done that (in compliance with state law) and then dealt with the fallout from campus regulations after the fact (and with a fair amount of moral authority and news exposure - i.e. "SEE? I had to use a gun but you tried to block me!")

(tl;dr - it's easier to get forgiveness than permission, especially in the case where she already has permission from the state law)
posted by theorique at 12:22 PM on August 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Pretty sad that "give this person permission to carry a gun" seemed like a more likely solution to the problem than "give this person the benefit of the doubt and take steps to ensure her safety", and I'm the owner of several guns.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:25 PM on August 14, 2015 [17 favorites]


This is a couple fascinating stories all rolled up into one. A story about how men don't believe women, a story about failure points in campus safety and mental health assistance, a story about a giant political movement's co-opting of someone's story for its own ends, and, most movingly I thought, the story of a young woman having to take care of herself in the best way she can while becoming an adult.
posted by minervous at 12:26 PM on August 14, 2015 [27 favorites]


What I'm amazed by is how blatantly this guy says he's stalking her. Is that normal?
posted by gucci mane at 12:29 PM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is a couple fascinating stories all rolled up into one.

That was what I found most annoying about it. Was the article about Woolrich being stalked? Or about her being exploited by Lott/the NRA?

Would the latter story have taken up so much time and space if the Buzzfeed CEO wasn't so obsessed with Lott that he ended up getting sued for impersonating him online?

Just how many stalkers were there in this story anyway?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:30 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I agree with the general point about believing women, but in this case despite the initial skepticism she had to deal with it seems pretty clear that the CA law enforcement people she was involved with as things escalated did believe her, and did what they could to help her short of assigning a cop to be her personal bodyguard 24/7. Dartmouth was shitty about it, but regardless I don't know that there's an easy solution to be found in this problem beyond stricter stalking laws. Society doesn't have a great mechanism for dealing with people who are socially transgressive in this way but not (yet) violent. I mean the old fashioned way is to have your cousins go beat the guy up behind the woodshed but that doesn't seem like a great solution and anyway probably only puts the stalker's target in greater danger. There's the restraining order, which it sounds like she got fairly easily, but it's just a piece of paper if the penalties for breaking it are so light. Not to mention how it puts the burden on the victim for all the reporting, legal drama, etc. This seems like a legislative and mental health issue; guns are a sideshow.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:39 PM on August 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think there's a big difference between NRA-style "guns for everyone!" and allowing people with specific credible threats against their lives to carry guns in self-defense.

Campus open-carry is a bad idea in general but specific exemptions for people being stalked might make sense. At the very least universities need to have a better plan for students dealing with stalkers.
posted by dweingart at 12:40 PM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Woolrich was the kind of victim they needed. She was articulate and an Ivy League student. She was, as Bennett says, "a good girl." Emphasis on girl: Posing guns as a way to fight sexual and gender-based violence puts progressive ideology in conflict with itself.

As hinted at in this very thread!!

I find the assumption inherent in "This girl is in danger and clearly needs a way to protect herself, therefore she should be allowed to a carry a gun" both fundamentally strange and uniquely American.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:45 PM on August 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


Was there something preventing Dartmouth, a private institution, from barring Bennett from campus entirely? I don't see any mention of it in the article. I don't know how far that would go to relieve Woolrich's natural anxiety/PTSD but it's an easy first step. I'm glad that, if anything, her viral publicity got her some security consideration from Dartmouth.
posted by muddgirl at 12:51 PM on August 14, 2015


What I'm amazed by is how blatantly this guy says he's stalking her. Is that normal?
posted by gucci mane


You know, it pretty bad when even the stalker thinks the cop have set the bar too high (from the article):
“The irony is, I’ve kind of been stalking her since she got the restraining order,” Bennett would later tell Roberson in an interrogation.
posted by 445supermag at 12:53 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think there's a big difference between NRA-style "guns for everyone!" and allowing people with specific credible threats against their lives to carry guns in self-defense.

My right to self-defense is just as legitimate as this woman's even absent a specific credible threat. Also, if we were talking about any other civil right and civil rights organization, we would clamor for that right for everyone.
posted by Rob Rockets at 12:56 PM on August 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I find the assumption inherent in "This girl is in danger and clearly needs a way to protect herself, therefore she should be allowed to a carry a gun" both fundamentally strange and uniquely American.
(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates

Given the points Wretch729 makes that the authorities were apparently doing what they can, what would you suggest have happened in this situation?

happyroach is right: we can wax theoretical about the need for societal change, but how should this particular woman have protected herself in this particular situation?
posted by Sangermaine at 12:56 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Was there something preventing Dartmouth, a private institution, from barring Bennett from campus entirely?

The fact that Dartmouth doesn't have checkpoints?

When dealing with fencing around a secure location at one point in my career, one of my colleagues pointed out that the fence wasn't there to deny access to every permutation of intruder; the fence was there to establish intent.

I look at restraining orders the same way. It's not a force field, it's a way for us in the legal system to get around the "well he didn't do anything violent yet, did he?" matter. It's not going to stop a bullet or a knife.
posted by stevis23 at 12:58 PM on August 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Was there something preventing Dartmouth, a private institution, from barring Bennett from campus entirely?

In principle, the university could do this. But if he were a legitimate threat - and his bizarre stalking behavior suggested that he was - he could simply ignore the ban.
posted by theorique at 1:00 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Someday we'll deal with stalkers the right way (locking them up, treating their applicable illnesses, cracking down hard on repeat offenders) but until that day, this girl has to find a way not to die. He had an abduction kit in his car. He stalked her to her family's home. He owns guns. It's terrifying. I would love to change things enough that she doesn't need a gun, but until then, I don't begrudge her it one bit.

The saddest part is that even with a gun, she's still in danger; average citizens don't often get the upper hand when they're attacked, even with their gun handy.

And blowing up her story is definitely a double-edged sword. On one hand, the article says she got better treatment from Dartmouth as a result of her notoriety. On the other hand, who wants this to be what defines their lives?
posted by emjaybee at 1:02 PM on August 14, 2015 [26 favorites]


It's not going to stop a bullet or a knife.

A gun can't stop a bullet or a knife, either.

I feel like pro-gun advocacy in this situation begs the question. It presumes that guns provide "protection", without actually demonstrating (a) that Bennett would be dissuaded by a gun when he's already demonstrated that he's not dissuaded by anything else, and (b) that the gun doesn't make life less safe for Woolrich or her classmates.
posted by muddgirl at 1:03 PM on August 14, 2015 [18 favorites]


happyroach is right: we can wax theoretical about the need for societal change, but how should this particular woman have protected herself in this particular situation?

And I'm going to wax theoretically, which I'm genuinely sorry about, because I honestly can't think of anything more she could have done at the very beginning. When he began showing up at the coffee shop every day, watching her, and verbally sexually harassing her, she DID ask for help. She complained to her parents, who told her "not to be so dramatic," she complained to her co-workers who "laughed at her concerns," and she complained to her manager who "did not intervene." He only told the guy to buzz off after they had started dating, if I'm reading the article correctly, and had more time to listen to her and trust her and take an interest in her concerns.

The stalking and harassment should have never gotten past her tenure at the coffee shop, never mind getting all the way in time and space to her college days 3,000 miles away. She was constantly dismissed by everyone around her, and would have been taken for crazy if she, herself, had started calling the police at the coffee shop every day. Even then, the police had no grounds to take action, and she herself doubted that she was correct in protecting herself.

I don't know. I just don't know what she could have done in the beginning, when she was clearly already in large amounts of distress. And that's what makes me so upset and frustrated about enacting positive change for other women.
posted by missmary6 at 1:11 PM on August 14, 2015 [38 favorites]


My right to self-defense is just as legitimate as this woman's even absent a specific credible threat.

There has never been any solid evidence that being armed does anything to improve crime or the effectiveness of self-defense. With women, it's quite possibly worse, in that having a gun seems to range from having no effect to making violent situations worse for them. Plus, the high availability of firearms drastically increases the chances that abusive partners or violent offenders will use guns to injure or kill women. So while the NRA and unscrupulous, discredited mouthpieces like Lott are manipulating people like Woolrich, the fact that they consistently (and often successfully) lobby against limiting access for those like Bennett totally erases whatever possible good that might come of it.

Also, if we were talking about any other civil right and civil rights organization, we would clamor for that right for everyone.

Largely because most civil rights are also human rights, inherent to the condition of being a person equal to any other. Guns don't fit that criteria, and if there's anything the history of America has taught us, it's that an armed society makes us a very impolite society. The US is a minority, when it comes to granting such expansive rights to firearms.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:12 PM on August 14, 2015 [22 favorites]


I find the assumption inherent in "This girl is in danger and clearly needs a way to protect herself, therefore she should be allowed to a carry a gun" both fundamentally strange and uniquely American.

Nah, what's truly American is that the solutions proposed are either arming the populace or increasing the prison population by jailing the mentally ill.
posted by pwnguin at 1:13 PM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


It presumes that guns provide "protection", without actually demonstrating (a) that Bennett would be dissuaded by a gun when he's already demonstrated that he's not dissuaded by anything else

The idea is that if he tried to attack her physically, she would have the option to actually stop the threat with deadly force. Obviously a last resort, but an option that she wanted to have.
posted by theorique at 1:14 PM on August 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


I swear I don't understand the stalking phenomenon at all.

I mean, I get the legal issues that come up, the safety concerns, etc. But I don't understand the psychology behind what triggers a person to stalk, and become so obsessive over someone. Has anyone done any studies as to why this phenomenon even happens? It seems so...so random and weird to me.
posted by magstheaxe at 1:17 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Woolrich, and everyone else, has the right to self-defense; it's simply not the case that self-defense is identical with owning/carrying a gun. As others have pointed out, carrying a gun is no guarantee that one can defend oneself from harm ... and often leads to even greater harm, at least statistically.

This doesn't mean I wouldn't have sympathy for Woolrich if she decided to arm herself; I hope she's also looked into other forms of self-defense.

Mostly, though, I came in to complain that the article had so many unnecessary photos of her, more or less labeled "victim". Seems really exploitative.

Everything is yuck, there, is what I'm saying.
posted by allthinky at 1:21 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


The whole gun rights aspect to this story is totally overblown. And she admits that much herself- she doesn't care about gun rights, it's just what she needs to feel safe. Who cares if she is actually going to be able to shoot him, or stop him if he's really determined. Of course she isn't, and that isn't the point. The point is that SHE feels like she needs it. And if it makes her feel psychologically safe, it doesn't matter that statistically you're more likely to kill yourself than an intruder with a gun. Stalking is as much a psychological crime as anything else, and if it made her feel safe to carry around a magic wand, she should do that.

Of course, it probably is a bit of an American phenomenon for her to need the gun to feel safe, but again, she's in America and her stalker HAS access to guns so it's not like she's being totally irrational and we should just tell her to carry pepper spray and a personal alarm.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 1:25 PM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nah, what's truly American is that the solutions proposed are either arming the populace or increasing the prison population by jailing the mentally ill.

Is he mentally ill or just an abusive possible abductor/rapist? We don't know. I'd be happy for him to get evaluation/treatment if that was what he needed, but whatever happens to him, she has the right to be safe from him.

(and here's the thing about the narrative that men like this are just "sick" or "just snap"; it's remarkable how a person who is apparently out of their minds/of control can carefully plan out how to stalk/kidnap/murder women (and often their own children) before offing himself or running away. Perhaps we can characterize "violent misogyny" as a mental illness, but we don't appear to have an effective treatment for it).

Structural problems do not have individual solutions. She is doing what she can individually, because the structure has utterly let her down. What she does or doesn't do is ultimately not the issue; why she was put in that position is.
posted by emjaybee at 1:34 PM on August 14, 2015 [24 favorites]


thewumpusisdead: And if it makes her feel psychologically safe, it doesn't matter that statistically you're more likely to kill yourself than an intruder with a gun. Stalking is as much a psychological crime as anything else, and if it made her feel safe to carry around a magic wand, she should do that.

The problem is that her carrying a gun could possibly make others around her less safe. In the wake of the July theater shooting, I was in an online forum where others were claiming how the situation would have been better if there were concealed carriers in the audience to stop the shooter... which frankly baffles me. I don't think a bunch of people leaping up to be the hero and shooting in the dark, possibly hitting others around or behind the shooter, would've helped. Maybe instead we should take away the guns of the guys who have restraining orders against them-- the theater shooter's family also had a protective order filed against him.

The article didn't say whether she explored other forms of personal defense to feel safe-- pepper spray, stun guns, Krav Maga, etc. Additionally, my Alma Mater has a student-employed free transport service. I could see implementing something like this being helpful, especially if they expanded it to a two-person transport team-- one team member to drive and wait with the car, another to walk someone who feels unsafe to their destination.
posted by bluecore at 1:40 PM on August 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Dartmouth totally could have banned him from campus. Lots of universities do this when homeless people are spending too much time on campus; any non students found stealing or harrassing students get their picture given to security and all staff are notified, from personal experience. Hell, if campus cops can harass black students, they can't remove a known stalker once notified?

But they didn't try to help her until her story went viral. I've always been suspicious of the security offer to walk young women to their car, or across campus. I'm not even surprised that they asked her to stop calling! How can any university have enough people to help everyone that wants an escort? Plus, I've known security people themselves to be creeps.
posted by Gor-ella at 1:44 PM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


To me, the core problem that needs to be addressed stood out immediately when I read the article. This is it: The question posed to the jurors wasn’t only whether Woolrich experienced fear, or that any reasonable person would be afraid, but that Bennett intended to scare her. That's it right there. That's the legal system choosing not to believe women, right there. The legal system--and the criminal justice system--are supposed to protect people, and as usual the laws are designed to protect the privileged first and foremost, not the people who need protection.
posted by capricorn at 1:46 PM on August 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Additionally, my Alma Mater has a student-employed free transport service.

As does Dartmouth, which asked her to stop calling it so much.
posted by desjardins at 1:49 PM on August 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


This kind of story is pretty much why I can't manage to be as anti-gun as I used to be. Who am I to tell her how to defend herself? I've posted the same sort of statistics as ZF did a million times, but if someone in this situation feels they need a gun I don't know what I can really tell them other than to train with it and make sure you know how to use it safely. The NRA uses it as propaganda because, for a lot of people, it's very persuasive. And I'm not talking just this story being persuasive, a lot of women have talked to me about why they support gun rights over the years online and off. It's frustrating because I think their decision is counter-productive, but women who make these choices aren't considering themselves a statistic. They believe they will use the guns safely and properly. What do I do? Just tell them they are incompetent? They may not be. There are many more responsible gun owners out there than people who misuse them.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:55 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


You know, it pretty bad when even the stalker thinks the cop have set the bar too high (from the article):
“The irony is, I’ve kind of been stalking her since she got the restraining order,” Bennett would later tell Roberson in an interrogation.


Unfortunately, I think this misses the point - likely Bennett was emphacizing the since in his statement. He wasn't stalking her before, he's only stalking her now because he got the restraining order. It's not his own fault he's forced to take such lengths to contact Woolrich, it's because the pesky legal system got in the way and is making him do it. Showing up at her workplace for 8 hours a day isn't stalking to him. If she would just meet with him he'd give her up, honest! Even he can't deny that hiding in bushes and hunting her down online is stalking, but he's only doing that because of the restaining order. It's her fault he's a stalker.
posted by maryr at 2:02 PM on August 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


desjardins: As does Dartmouth, which asked her to stop calling it so much.

The article said she was calling Campus Security for a ride. The service at my Alma Mater is separate from campus security and their sole function is transporting students safely. I still think Dartmouth Security failed her, but there are obvious benefits to providing both.
posted by bluecore at 2:07 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


if someone in this situation feels they need a gun I don't know what I can really tell them other than to train with it and make sure you know how to use it safely

Nobody is preventing her from doing just that. She can purchase a gun, train with it, and carry it with her in many places and situations. She just would be in violation of university policy if she brought it on campus. From an administrative point of view, this student is forcing their hand. Even though it's presented as "why can't they grant her this one exception?" in principle, it doesn't work that way practically. Either everyone is allowed to conceal carry, or nobody. If everyone is allowed to conceal carry, then you risk negatively affecting the mental health and security of students who would prefer not to be around those who are carrying firearms. It's not an easy decision, and either way, there will people who will feel aggrieved or harmed.

Given the points Wretch729 makes that the authorities were apparently doing what they can, what would you suggest have happened in this situation?

I don't quite understand this question. I would have liked for this situation to have not occurred. And I can't exactly suggest something to have happened that didn't happen. This young woman has gone through a tremendous amount of psychological and emotion pain, and she will continue to go through even more, probably until this man perishes. But imagining an alternative narrative where this young woman was allowed to carry a firearm with her to her classes at Dartmouth, I don't see -- and perhaps this is a lack of imagination on my part -- I don't see how the story up to this point changes much, if at all.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:12 PM on August 14, 2015


My read of the article was that she wanted NOT TO BE STALKED, and after a long period of not being able to obtain this was pushed to where she felt like she had no alternative but to arm herself. And then her story got coopted by some agenda-pushers.

I want a world where people (especially women) are not stalked.
posted by The Vice Admiral of the Narrow Seas at 2:24 PM on August 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Can we go back to this line?
According to Woolrich, when she asked law enforcement officers about using a gun for protection against Bennett, they encouraged her to buy one and learn to use it. One officer, she says, even joked with her about shooting him. Other people have told her not to feel bad if she does have to kill Bennett — she should be proud of acting in self-defense.

The cops are basically telling her they can't do anything to keep her safe and she should be prepared to kill a dude because a) it will most likely escalate to that level and b) the cops can do nothing before it does escalate.

How in the world is this a rational response in a civilized society?? No one says,"let's get this guy some help." No one says, "let's find a way to keep this guy from going over the edge and hurting this girl." Not even, "Let's do something to keep this person safe."

Nope. It's "Hahah, go get your gun Annie."

Protect and serve my ass.
posted by teleri025 at 2:27 PM on August 14, 2015 [27 favorites]


It would have been nice if her parents and boyfriend/manager had believed her quicker, and it's frustrating that they didn't. But I'm not sure what it would have prevented. The coffee shop could have banned him from its premises; it may have resulted in him getting the restraint order put on him a few weeks quicker. Other than that...I mean, should she have quit the coffee shop and moved house the second the guy looked at her funny? He didn't start doing illegal stuff until his obsession was already well developed. If the people in her life had believed her straight out the gate that the guy was creepy, it wouldn't have changed anything; being creepy's not illegal.
posted by Diablevert at 2:30 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Don't they have electronic tethers for people on certain kinds of sentencing, already? This is tech that exists.

I mean, ideally you'd fix whatever is wrong with these guys, rather than dreaming up some techie solution. But part of the problem, it seems to me, is that the larger society isn't serious about stopping these guys, and they know it. So they just keep going. Why are we not more serious about cutting this off? Electronic tethers, locked in place, and not just for a year or two. For decades. Let the stalker do his normal stuff - job, home, recreation, shopping, etc. Let him take a vacation to a prearranged destination. It doesn't have to be prison, it just has to be a long time, maybe for the rest of his life, in a location that's far enough from his target, that the target can feel safe. Help the target feel safe by giving them access to the monitoring system, and let them be free in the rest of the world.

This woman went all the way across country to go to college, because of this guy. It is tragic that she had to do that. But once she did it, it ought to have worked.
posted by elizilla at 2:57 PM on August 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


I agree with everyone who is saying that people should have taken her seriously earlier. And I'm not sure what they could have done at that earlier stage. But I feel like most of us aren't sure what to do at that earlier stage. Has anyone had experience of a "protostalker" and know of good methods for intervening before it gets to the level that requires a restraining order?

It seems like once it gets to the level where an order is obtained, it is already in a place of extreme danger and the order often pushes the situation into an even scarier place. I don't know if that is because people wait "too long" to get one or if the hurdle you have to hop to get one in place is too high.

A 1998 National Institute of Justice study (pdf) found that of stalking victims who seek protective orders, 69 percent of the women and 81 percent of the men said their stalker violated the order.5 And in approximately 21 percent of cases, violence and stalking escalate after the protective order is issued.
posted by Cassford at 3:13 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


The only thing I can think of that might work a tiny bit is for Woolrich to flee to another country outside the Americas to which Bennett could never get a visa because of his criminal record. And even then Woolrich could never be completely sure he wouldn't sneak in illegally via ocean travel.

My ideal suggestion is to mail Bennett to Australia, chain him to a rock in the middle of the desert there, and leave him one 20-oz bottle of water. Forever.
posted by nicebookrack at 3:45 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nobody is preventing her from doing just that. She can purchase a gun, train with it, and carry it with her in many places and situations. She just would be in violation of university policy if she brought it on campus.

That's that part that I don't understand. Why not get a CCW permit and a firearm, train with it diligently, carry the damn thing lawfully ... and neglect to tell the university? The whole point of a concealed weapon is that no one knows you have it, so it's not like they would find out.

The only situation in which she would reveal that she was in violation of university policy would be the worst-case scenario - where she felt like her life was in danger and had to draw and fire, wounding or killing her attacker. At that point, so much shit would already have hit the fan that her violation of university policy would be a footnote.
posted by theorique at 3:56 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


If having a gun is not the solution for her, what is? If you can't come up with a solution for her, THAT'S the reason why she wants to have the gun: because no one else has any ideas of what to do.

This is a complete failure of imagination and, I have to believe, an opinion held uniquely by Americans. You are literally saying that the only way a person can protect themselves from another person is through the ownership and use of a gun (this is different than what you imply earlier, when you ask if I think guns offer any benefit). Whether guns offer a potential benefit and whether guns are the only option one has in order to protect themselves are different questions. If this occurred in a country where guns are outlawed, are you saying that this person would have absolutely no way of protecting herself? Also, she does have the ability to own and use a gun -- she just can't do it on Dartmouth's campus. One solution, then, is for the local police and campus security to be more sympathetic to her situation and to help her feel secure when she is on the premises of the campus.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 3:58 PM on August 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


And, again, I ask: how would this situation have resolved itself any differently if the young woman had possessed a gun and carried it with her to her classes at Dartmouth? You ask me what I would have differently, and so I'm asking you what difference it would have made.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:05 PM on August 14, 2015


Right, the solution is that other people and institutions should have stepped up and intervened, either by prosecuting more quickly or by offering her more protections on campus. The "solutions for her situation" are, as far I can tell, not to be found in her changing her behavior. From my limited perspective, it appears as though that throughout the process, she made good decisions and informed exactly the people she should have informed, she did so quickly, and without any equivocation. I am also saying that the solution to her problem was not, and is not, that Dartmouth should change its policy to allow students to carry firearms on campus.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:19 PM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


The biggest problem to me with saying that Dartmouth should step up their game and protect her more, is, how are they going to protect her every second of every day? Does she need a security guard to be at her side every moment? Otherwise, if she had to call them because he showed up and grabbed her, by the time they get there it will be too late.
If she is worried about kidnapping/rape at close quarters, i.e. the guy wants to physically grab her and take her somewhere, rather than just killing her outright, she would probably be better off training in knife fighting and carrying a blade around. Dartmouth might have restrictions on those too, but my understanding of fighting in close quarters is that someone properly trained in knife fighting is at an advantage compared to someone drawing, aiming, and firing a gun at a distance of less than 21 feet. One can easily imagine scenarios where her stalker surprises her and she doesn't have time to draw, aim and fire, or he overpowers her and takes the gun.
That being said, if she does not want to spend a bunch of time learning advanced knife fighting skills, guns can be an equalizer for those of us that are small, female, and without much upper body strength.
Another weird idea that just occurred to me is perhaps she can get one of those service dogs for emotional support, but it's also a German Shepherd trained in attack? Might be the best solution.
posted by permiechickie at 4:23 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


If having a gun is not the solution for her, what is?

Carrying a gun doesn't become a solution just because there are no other solutions. Sometimes situations are just shitty, and have no solutions. This is why people are so confused by your insistence that they "admit" they have no other solutions for her.

In Woolwrich's case, there is a solution, but it's not one that she has any control over: Society needs to take threats against women seriously and have mechanisms in place to prevent stalkers from terrorizing and attacking their victims. As (Arsenio) just put it, the solution is not to be found in her changing her behavior.

The lack of individual solutions seems to have driven her desire to get a gun, but that doesn't mean allowing her to carry a gun on campus is right, or that it would make her more safe. We really want to believe that there is something we can do to protect ourselves, to give us some control over whether we will be victims of violence, but ...ultimately, the solution to preventing violence against women doesn't lie with us individual women, but with society getting its fucking ass in gear.

I can understand why she would want a gun. I'm even undecided on whether she should have one. But this insistence that there must be something that Woolwrich can do -- in this case protecting herself with a gun -- bothers me, both because the reasoning just doesn't follow, and because real problem isn't what individual women should (or should not) be able to do.

Which is kind of a major theme of the article, actually.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:40 PM on August 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


Getting a dog would be saddling Woolrich with one more being, in addition to her husband, about whose safety she can now be paranoid forever. All the attack training in the world won't protect a dog from being shot, poisoned, stolen, trapped, hit by a car, or otherwise harmed by Woolrich's stalker. And there's substantial less physical and legal risk to Bennett for harming an animal than there would be for harming a person, with the advantage of still causing Woolrich plenty of agony.

I cannot imagine the personal struggle the Woolriches are likely undergoing as newlyweds as they decide whether to have children together while Bennett is still alive.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:45 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine was stalked for years by a very clever, very crazy guy who claimed to be a Navy SEAL and was certainly extremely good at surveillance.

She's a super-tough person, and it was still the focus of her life for several years - she moved from the West to the East Coast as part of it.

They ended up in court several times and the last time was definitive - but only because he let it all slip out by mistake in the trial, he had high-priced legal assistance which had until then managed to completely mitigate any consequences and if he'd simply said nothing the whole game might have gone on for years.

He was married, and the wife knew - my friend talked to her a couple of times.

My friend honestly believes that he simply found another target and lost interest in her. She has no doubt that the stalker is still doing it if he is still alive.

I'm a bleeding heart liberal and I "don't really believe in jail" in general, and particularly as the US does it. But for this dangerous, EVIL mental illness/moral defect, I think past a certain point the penalties need to escalate dramatically as a deterrent - "First time, you get a night in jail. Then you get a month. Then you get a year. Then you get 20 years. Then you get 250 years." - and the presumption of innocence falls each time, to the point that you as a stalker would need to be able to prove that you were x00 miles away from your target at any time, having to get permission for all travel arrangements, etc.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:17 PM on August 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


.If having a gun is not the solution for her, what is?

Logically, this is equivalent to "if learning to do handstands isn't the solution, then what is?!!!?111113!!?"
posted by the agents of KAOS at 5:20 PM on August 14, 2015


If this occurred in a country where guns are outlawed, are you saying that this person would have absolutely no way of protecting herself?
I mean, maybe? I am very, very opposed to guns, and I think this person has made me personally less safe by advocating guns on campus and that having a gun wouldn't do much to protect her, but I don't know that there are any countries that consistently keep people safe from stalkers. Short of incarcerating them permanently, it's hard to know what to do about people like Bennett. Are there countries that have policies that work? What exactly are they?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:27 PM on August 14, 2015


Spectrum of force.

The solution would have been for here to train in self defense, extensively if need be. Then, if she still felt in danger, she should have purchased and trained in the use of pepper spray and/or mace. Then, if she still felt in danger, a knife. There could be more potential steps to take, and eventually one of those steps would be a concealed carry firearm.

I suggest these all as steps to have taken in addition to working with the various authorities involved.
posted by danl at 6:13 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a 6 foot 1 large man potentially capable of severe physical violence, I would first train in self defense or rely on pepper spray before buying a gun if I felt under physical threat. If the person who physically threatened me was much larger, much more capable of violence, and much more crazy than me...I would probably just skip right ahead to the gun. Ending the threat if it becomes a physical confrontation is more important than using a measured level of force. There is no force involved at all if the stalker just stays the fuck away. I don't feel responsible to try and figure out some 100% optimum solution to resolve the issue of "someone is attacking me."

So, look, I can't blame women who want guns for wanting guns. They live in a world were there are a lot of threatening men. They are usually much bigger, stronger, and more capable and willing to use physical violence. If it comes down to violence, you can't do much better than a gun. That's why we arm soldiers with guns instead of pepper spray or samurai swords.

So, I hear what Skidoo is saying. The question isn't, "What is the best way for society to handle this?" It's, "What is the best course if society has already failed to handle it?" I think putting your own self defense as priority #1 over all other issues is a reasonable response.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:26 PM on August 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


If the mental health system was better funded and more functional, this guy seems like a good candidate for involuntary commitment as a danger to others.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:38 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, and that reminds me. How did this guy not get parole with an ankle monitor? And court ordered treatment of some kind?
posted by danl at 6:47 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe it would be helpful to implement measures like risk-assessment checklists and dangerousness hearings for stalking cases like those that are beginning to be used for domestic violence cases. There is obviously a lot of overlap between stalkers and abusers.
posted by nicebookrack at 7:30 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is he mentally ill or just an abusive possible abductor/rapist?

I think it's likely both.

(and here's the thing about the narrative that men like this are just "sick" or "just snap"; it's remarkable how a person who is apparently out of their minds/of control can carefully plan out how to stalk/kidnap/murder women (and often their own children)

Mental illness is not equivalent to the legal definition of insanity for purposes of culpability. The vast majority of people with mental illness are cognizant of their actions and self-aware. Just because someone has mental illness is not an excuse for their actions, nor does it absolve them of responsibility. It's possible to be a terrible person and still suffer from mental illness. It's not a plea for sympathy. It's easy to believe people are simply good or bad, but if there are other underlying issues, it doesn't mean that abusive behavior becomes less abusive or damaging because of this understanding. I'm certainly not defending anyone, and nobody needs excuses, but I'm very wary of the idea that trying to understand human behavior is excusing people's actions or absolves anyone from responsibility.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:59 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


theorique: "Was there something preventing Dartmouth, a private institution, from barring Bennett from campus entirely?

In principle, the university could do this. But if he were a legitimate threat - and his bizarre stalking behavior suggested that he was - he could simply ignore the ban.
"

And, not only that, but from a logistical point of view, Dartmouth would have to be able to prove they had properly notified him of the ban, I suspect. That could be difficult given the distances involved. They ban him, they catch him on the property, and he walks after shrugging and saying "What ban?"
posted by Samizdata at 9:02 PM on August 14, 2015


Drinky Die: "As a 6 foot 1 large man potentially capable of severe physical violence, I would first train in self defense or rely on pepper spray before buying a gun if I felt under physical threat. If the person who physically threatened me was much larger, much more capable of violence, and much more crazy than me...I would probably just skip right ahead to the gun. Ending the threat if it becomes a physical confrontation is more important than using a measured level of force. There is no force involved at all if the stalker just stays the fuck away. I don't feel responsible to try and figure out some 100% optimum solution to resolve the issue of "someone is attacking me."

So, look, I can't blame women who want guns for wanting guns. They live in a world were there are a lot of threatening men. They are usually much bigger, stronger, and more capable and willing to use physical violence. If it comes down to violence, you can't do much better than a gun. That's why we arm soldiers with guns instead of pepper spray or samurai swords.

So, I hear what Skidoo is saying. The question isn't, "What is the best way for society to handle this?" It's, "What is the best course if society has already failed to handle it?" I think putting your own self defense as priority #1 over all other issues is a reasonable response.
"

One could argue the problem with the training solution is - Why should the one being stalked have to bear the expense of said training (which tends to be an ongoing process which can take a while)? As a corollary, a gun is pretty much a one shot expenditure.

(And now for the patented Samizdata Comedy Option (tm - I suck at Unicode.) - What if you are a spaz with major joint problems like me? Self defense training isn't so much an option.)

DISCLAIMER: I am not a gun nut. Just trying to throw in some advocatus diaboli action here, along with a crappy joke.
posted by Samizdata at 9:14 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


CO is an open carry state and several people in the audience had their guns on them during the Aurora shooting. None of them were able to stop James Holmes.

Nthing that women should be believed when they first bring up their concerns and not be blown off with"he's harmless, he's just socially awkward, just ignore it....."
posted by brujita at 11:59 PM on August 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


DISCLAIMER: I am not a gun nut. Just trying to throw in some advocatus diaboli action here, along with a crappy joke.

Yeah, I've never shot or owned a gun in my life. But I understand the defense motivation.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:00 AM on August 15, 2015


Because patriarchy: Where are the men in Woolrich's family? Why is she so alone on this?
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:26 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Carrying a gun on the Dartmouth campus is prohibited, and to do so legally, Woolrich would have had to engage in advocacy to change that policy, including building a community of supporters around her.

Her other equivalent options included taking the same actions but with the goal of changing Dartmouth policy on how to deal with harrassment and stalking.

It sounds like Woolrich doesn't have a lot of experience with or interest in activism. She went with the ready-made community of supporters who contacted her first. Given the description of her initial extracurricular interests at Dartmouth, I can imagine that she would not have necessarily thought of the student womens group there or feminist faculty as an option for such a ready-made community of support. Also, it sounds like all of the law enforcement people she talked to were pushing her in the "arm yourself" self help direction, not other self help directions. In other words, I absolutely don't fault Woolrich for her choice or question it. But to answer the questions above, there are many equivalent options to gun advocacy, that other stalking victims sometimes pursue.

Now, were it the case that Woolrich had decided to break the law and carry a firearm in a prohibited location, she also would have many other equivalent options. Better, perhaps, in fact: bringing a gun to a location where it is prohibited is considered a violent offense in many instances. When people commit crimes, having a gun ups the level of crime from x to "x with a deadly weapon", which can change some crimes from non-felony to felony status. Her other illegal options (which, as a side note, I do not advocate, as I do not advocate any illegal activity) could have included hacking, counter-harrassment tactics, etc.

My main point here is that "what else could Woolrich have done for self defense that is legal but doesn't require relying on the system, aside from carrying a firearm?" (not an exact quote) is a poorly posed question, because carrying a gun was not a legal option for Woolrich at Dartmouth anyway, so already you're talking about advocacy for policy change (which is what she did), so (a) that still relies on the system to change its policies, and (b) why exclude other possible policy changes from consideration then?
posted by eviemath at 5:38 AM on August 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I find the assumption inherent in "This girl is in danger and clearly needs a way to protect herself, therefore she should be allowed to a carry a gun" both fundamentally strange and uniquely American.

And the expectation hat if women want to be safe, we should be prepared to use deadly force. I had a friend who encouraged me to get a gun for self-preservation. I'm fairly certain I can't kill someone, and it would make me hesitate to shoot, which would be just about the worst situation within which to have a gun.

Stalking should be taken seriously. Violations of restraining orders should be taken VERY seriously. The people who do these things are violent, and that violence isn't always restrained to just the family of the person they're stalking - a number of mass murders started with domestic murders. There should be real consequences for stalkers once they reach the point of a restraining order with growing penalties each time they violate the next one (and a longer restraining order each time).
posted by Deoridhe at 11:06 AM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


theorique: "That's that part that I don't understand. Why not get a CCW permit and a firearm, train with it diligently, carry the damn thing lawfully ... and neglect to tell the university? The whole point of a concealed weapon is that no one knows you have it, so it's not like they would find out."

It's not like a CCW permit comes with an invisibility field for the weapon. And she would probably risk expulsion for getting caught on campus with a firearm without permission.

Samizdata: " Why should the one being stalked have to bear the expense of said training (which tends to be an ongoing process which can take a while)? As a corollary, a gun is pretty much a one shot expenditure."

Well they shouldn't but life is unfair. And a gun should be practiced with on a regular basis which means ammunition and range fees added to the significant acquisition costs.
posted by Mitheral at 1:53 PM on August 15, 2015


I wonder if Taylor Woolrich really understands what she is asking for? To carry a gun in response to a stalker, she is planning to kill that person. She really needs to work out under what circumstances she would be able to do that. She will also need to train in the use of that gun under high-adrenaline situations, or she is likely to accidentally drop it or fire it at the wrong time.

She may have some fantasy of threatening him with her gun; perhaps pointing to him with it and telling him: "Stay away from me. Don't come back, or I'll shoot!" But her stalker is insane. He will not believe that Taylor, the love of his life, will actually shoot. He will instead approach her and tell her that he loves her. He will say that she loves him, too. He will not stop. And then she will have to kill him.

And then her real problems will begin. Because when you fire the gun, there will be an arrest, and investigation, and a hearing to determine whether she was justified. And Fox News and the NRA will also make her their poster child. She will always be known as 'that girl who killed the stalker'.

If she does make the stalker leave her vicinity after pulling the gun, it only means that he will work out a better scheme to kidnap her.

Why not pepper spray? Pepper spray, as I advised a co-worker, means that you don't have to depend on a threat to make someone leave. You simply determine a radius within which you will use it. Whenever the stalker appears, if he is within the radius, you spray him. Do not try to 'deter' him with a threat. Spray his eyes and disable him with blindness. Call the police, and get him in jail for violating the terms of his restraining order. If he shows up again, spray him again and let the police and courts know that he is an incorrigible repeat offender.
posted by DanYHKim at 12:49 PM on August 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Samizdata wrote: "Why should the one being stalked have to bear the expense of said training (which tends to be an ongoing process which can take a while)? As a corollary, a gun is pretty much a one shot expenditure."

A gun is not exactly easy to use effectively. Without training, she is likely to break her own wrist when firing it. She has to go to a range and learn how to safely and quickly draw, aim and fire her weapon. She also must maintain her gun so it will be reliable. If she cannot aim and fire reliably, she may easily kill some bystander, especially on a college campus. If she is in a high-stress situation, adrenaline will make her all thumbs. She must train enough to be a good shot when she is impaired by stress. Also, how will she carry it? In her purse? How long would it take to find her gun. I've seen people take minutes just to extract their keys from a purse. She will need a good holster to keep the gun clean and clear of debris and also readily accessible, and she will need to practice to be able to draw and fire.

Also, she must determine what conditions call for drawing her gun and killing her stalker. Does she do this on sight? Would she kill him if he approaches her? If there are bystanders nearby or in the line of fire, will she still shoot? These are important decisions that should be made beforehand. The idea of brandishing a gun to make the stalker 'go away' is a ridiculous fantasy for television. She must not reveal the weapon except to kill her stalker, otherwise he will be warned, and will make plans to neutralize its effectiveness.
posted by DanYHKim at 1:02 PM on August 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


DanYHKim: good points all.

A handgun is absolutely not a magical "make problem go away" device. If your life is truly at risk, and the authorities are not taking things seriously, it may make things a bit better, psychologically. However, in a real crisis, an operator needs to be trained enough to draw, sight the target, make the shoot/don't shoot decision, and then fire the weapon until the threat is removed. An untrained shooter is a significant hazard to the surrounding area.

The idea of threatening the stalker to "make him leave" is counterproductive - now he knows (along with everyone else) that she has a gun, and her potential for surprise is eliminated. And, she may face sanctions for breaking the university's rules.

Assuming that she arms herself, the gun needs to remain holstered until Ms Woolrich has made the decision that her stalker has crossed enough lines, her life is in imminent danger, and her stalker needs to be killed.

A lot of "SHOULD"-s have already been violated here:

- this man SHOULD not be stalking this woman

- the university and/or local police SHOULD be taking her safety more seriously

- the stalker SHOULD not violate a restraining order

Her choice to arm herself is coming at the end of a long chain of safety decisions that have not worked.
posted by theorique at 1:40 PM on August 16, 2015


"The cops are basically telling her they can't do anything to keep her safe and she should be prepared to kill a dude because a) it will most likely escalate to that level and b) the cops can do nothing before it does escalate."

I now have to go through armed shooter training at my job and this is pretty much what we got told too. Odds are that the cops can't get there before the shooter can find you and if you can't run or hide from them, you will have to fight them directly, and you'd better be prepared to kill them back if you can disarm them. Don't feel bad about it if you have to, they said.

Unfortunately, the only real likely solution is gonna be that (a) he murders her, or (b) she murders him. It's vaguely possible that he gets arrested for something else and does a few months or years of jail time and then it starts all over again, but that won't be a solution either in the end. We don't just jail people for precrime and we don't take a scared woman seriously and stalkers can play these games for a loooooooooong time and get away with it before they finally decide to kill.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:19 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, the only real likely solution is gonna be that (a) he murders her, or (b) she murders him.

A small nit-pick: (a) makes sense since the stalker is the aggressor here, but I recommend different language in the case of (b), since "murder" refers to "unlawful killing". Maybe something like: "(b) she kills him in lawful self-defense, fearing for her own life".

The tl;dr point: the two hypothetical deaths are not morally equivalent. Killing someone in self-defense is not generally treated, legally or morally, as murder.
posted by theorique at 3:54 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why should the one being stalked have to bear the expense of said training

So, others have addressed this question fairly well. I'd like to add that -- IMHO -- self defense training will have a beneficial effect on Ms Woolrich's quality of life. As the article notes, the major effect this stalking episode has on her life is the resulting terror and uncertainty. That will stay true until the situation resolves, which is largely out of her control.

What is in her control is something like the training, so (1) it allows her to take productive action, which is empowering, and (2) yields the result that she feels more physically powerful and safe within her own body, which is invaluable and she gets to keep that pretty much forever.


(And now for the patented Samizdata Comedy Option (tm - I suck at Unicode.) - What if you are a spaz with major joint problems like me? Self defense training isn't so much an option.)

I'm guessing that physical training will help with the spaz issue. The joint problem issue.... could go either way ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
posted by danl at 10:31 AM on August 17, 2015


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