It’s been 32 years since Clint Eastwood directed and starred in “Play Misty For Me” and very little seems to have changed since. In these movies a man and a woman have a casual sexual encounter. At least so the man thinks. The woman, however, usually has other ideas and when she continually fails to win back his attention goes on a murderous rampage in which no one, from his faithful wife/girlfriend to the cleaning woman to domestic pets, is safe.
Very rarely do we see a movie in which an out-of-control psychotic man stalks a woman. Which is strange because studies show that most stalkers are male and most stalkees are female. The majority of men who have casual sexual encounters walk away unscathed and their wives and pets are usually none the wiser. Meanwhile, many women who have relationships with seemingly normal men get a right land when they try to end things. The one area where “Swimfan” deviated ever so slightly from its predecessors was the use of technology. The scorned female doesn’t just endlessly telephone her target, she bombards him with text messages, pages and emails as well.
Last year, I had my very own techno stalker. Luckily, he never got hold of my email address and how he got hold of my phone number is beyond me. Like many paranoid New York residents, I don’t give my home phone to anyone (thank God for mobiles) and it’s not listed in my name. The calls began on St. Patrick’s Day at 7 a.m. I picked up assuming it was my mother calling from London, hoping to catch me before the insane round of breakfasts, lunches and receptions that make up St. Patrick’s Day in New York. It wasn’t my mother, it was a man who told me his name was Jose and he had once called my phone number by mistake and had fallen in love with me because of my “beautiful voice” on the answering machine. Jose continued to call me at regular intervals and always, always at very unsociable hours. Had I been in the market for a stalker, which I wasn’t, I certainly wouldn’t want him calling me at 1 a.m., 2 a.m. and 7 a.m., which is when Jose usually made his “love” gesture. Finally. I installed Caller ID, Call Waiting ID and if the number of the incoming call wasn’t displayed, I let the answering machine pick up. Jose really couldn’t have been as enamored of my voice as he let on because when he couldn’t get me in person he stopped calling.
This experience was more annoying than scary. Some women are not so lucky. Men who stalk are generally very controlling. In the case of undocumented women, the abuse is exacerbated by the fact that the victimizer has a powerful weapon, the threat of exposure to the INS. A few years ago, I was friendly with an undocumented girl from County Tyrone. Sheila had been living in the States a couple of years when she met a guy who we’ll call Chip. She and Chip began dating around Christmas. By Valentine’s Day it was true love and he showered her with gifts, 14 in all. By July, Sheila decided that the relationship had run its course and broke it off. All normal enough so far, people date and people break up, right? Not according to Chip.
A few hours after Sheila delivered the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech, the phone calls started. She didn’t get any sleep that night because Chip called every 15 minutes. At first she answered his calls. He begged, he pleaded, he cried, and he threatened. She stopped answering and let the machine pick up. The following day he bombarded her with phone calls at the bar where she worked. Her boss wasn’t too impressed. He was even less impressed when Chip arrived at the bar that evening and started a fight with a customer who he thought was paying too much attention to Sheila.
When Chip had done this a couple of nights in a row, Sheila decided to quit her job. Switching jobs is no easy matter when you don’t have your green card, but she felt as if she had no alternative. She didn’t want to involve the police because she was afraid that they would question her status. Chip didn’t take it very well when he turned up at the bar and Sheila was no longer there. The phone calls became more threatening and abusive. Finally one night he left a very calm apologetic message saying he had been wrong and he felt terribly bad about his behavior over the previous weeks. He then left a number and all but begged Sheila to call it. When she did, she got through to INS. When Chip called back, he told her that she either resume their relationship or he would call INS and have her deported. As a result of this, Sheila had to not only find a new job but also a new apartment. She has since returned to Ireland.
Sheila’s case was bad enough, but there are several worse. Plenty of undocumented women find themselves in physically abusive relationships, which they endure rather than risk deportation. Apart from personal relationships, being undocumented leaves women and men vulnerable to all sorts of ill treatment and exploitation. Employers and landlords can be just as manipulative of the situation as any abusive partner. That isn’t the only common characteristic which these employers, landlords and violent partners share. They all appear to be perfectly normal and functioning members of society. They could be your neighbor or even your friend. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
And this, folks, is going on right here in the United States today.
The opinions expressed represent those of the writer, not necessarily those of the Irish Echo.