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On Sexual Harassment & Stalking (Why I Write Under a Pen Name)

4933 Views 43 Replies 29 Participants Last post by  Simply_Me
In real life, the responsibility of keeping our communities healthy rests on the government and the people. These things don't take care of themselves. They fester and decay without maintenance.

Let's start a dialogue about keeping our internet communities healthy.

Kboards is our writing community. We seek support and guidance here. We celebrate each other's victories and learn from our failures.

So, I want to tell everyone where I went wrong. Where I failed as a community leader.

Back in 2012-2013, my YouTube channel was at its peak. I didn't have millions of subscribers or anything. No, no. I was in grad school and had moved home. My spare time was spent making videos in my parents' basement. I garnered a few hundred thousand views a month, and I loved my little online community where we talked about books and nerd culture and supported each other creatively. Things were great. I published a story under my real name. I had a P.O. box where my viewers/readers would send me letters and packages.

It was all good fun. Until it wasn't.

All of that changed when I began receiving messages, photos, and videos from a certain user. The nature of his correspondence was sexual and threatening---not to mention completely insane. His threats and requests rarely made any sense. Blocking and ignoring him wasn't enough. He sent post cards from various states to my P.O. box, he knew my home address, eventually started posting letters, and then, finally, sending packages with contents I'd really rather not discuss.

I knew he was watching each time I'd upload a video. I knew he was reading my stories. I couldn't shake the paranoia I felt over his obsession. I didn't understand why I was his target. My channel was small. I was insignificant. Not a celebrity. Just a girl who made videos about nerdy things and wrote stories.

Eventually, the paranoia and anxiety overshadowed my enjoyment of making videos, and I abruptly quit my channel without explanation. I unpublished my title from Amazon. I disconnected my true identity from my social media platforms. Any titles I released following this incident were published under the Fran Seen pen name.

And I regret everything. Absolutely everything.

I let him win by giving him the satisfaction of sucking the joy from my life and what I loved to do.

Not being able to ask my community for help was my fatal mistake. I thought that asking for help made me look weak.

Please, learn from my mistake. I know we're not all posting videos of ourselves on the internet, but most of us have our written work online, which means there's pieces of ourselves scattered across the web. We can't control who consumes our content. We can't control how people will respond to our writing. We can't control the reviews they leave or the emails they send or the blogs they write about us.

We have no control over others. We only have control over ourselves.

-Social media is wonderful, but please, beef up your privacy. I recommend keeping your friends and family out of the public eye (i.e. on your author pages). Create an author page separate from your personal one.

-Document everything if you find yourself in a situation similar to mine. (Emails, photos, video, etc.)

-Ask for help if you need it. Ask for help here, on Kboards. Look to friends and family. Seek out peers. Don't downplay the seriousness of a situation if it's bothering you. Don't laugh it off. Don't ignore it.

-And most of all, don't allow any deterrent to steer you away from what you love.

Here's a video I made about the whole ordeal.
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Wow, Fran.  :(

I don't think you should see your retreat from your online community as a failure. It seems like a reasonable move, to me. You've remained physically safe -- that's what counts.
Fran, that's terrifying.  Thank you for sharing your experience. 

I used to work with law enforcement as an evidence tech, and I would add to this: If you're afraid, go to the police.  Even if it seems silly or small, if you're afraid (and those postcards, let alone the rest--wow), go to the police.  That's what they're there for. At the very least, they can help document what is happening or direct you to more resources. 

And I second what Becca said.  It's never a failure to do what you need to do to feel safe. 
Becca Mills said:
Wow, Fran. :(

I don't think you should see your retreat from your online community as a failure. It seems like a reasonable move, to me. You've remained physically safe -- that's what counts.
I agree with this comment.

That's why I want to write under a pen name and that's why I've never wanted to get on youtube and make videos like one of my friends. I just want a quiet life in my PJ's writing books. I know people can find out my real name behind my pen name but unless I make a huge dent in the publishing world, I'm sure no one will really be looking into my real identity.

The world is full of really nice people and really nasty crazy people. The internet gives them easier global access.
Leaving the online community was not letting him win, it was a perfectly normal response to being threatened. The only one who "let" anything happen was the jerk who was doing that to you. Victims are not responsible for their abuse; they must attend to themselves. You did what you had to at the time. That it's several years later that you are making this post says to me not that you are weak, but that it was a frightening time and only now do you feel safe making any statements.
How terrifying. I know what you are going through as one of my Va's has a similar story and she doesn't post anything personal online anymore.

If it helps, this wasn't a failure. It probably was the single one move to avoid a protracted experience of stalking. You are mistaken if you think that your circle of friends could have helped you in those circumstances. Just think of the support celebrities have, and still they are stalked, at times for decades. What you did managed to stop him. That's a success, not a failure.
franseen said:
That's a really good point. Definitely go to the police if you feel threatened.

I never did. I was afraid to dive into the extent of the situation with my friends and family. I didn't want to tell my parents that this crazy internet stranger knew their address and knew details about them. I was afraid that they would think I subjected them to that sort of exposure since it was my decision to put myself online.

But that's how my brain worked back then. Not now. His obsession wasn't a reflection of me or my family or my decision to make videos. It was just a reflection of him.

Hindsight is 20/20.
I'm glad you know this. And again, thank you for sharing, because some people who end up the targets of stalking and intimidation do feel alone and helpless. Knowing that this happens to others, and help is available, is important. And there really isn't anything anyone can do to prevent it. You can be a celebrity or the most average person on the street, and you can post stuff online or not. Guys like this can pick anyone, for any reason, and it's not ever their target's fault.
That sounds terrible. I don't know where you are from, but where I live stalking is a crime, and it sounds like you had plenty of evidence of being stalked. Like others have said, definitely go to the police right away and have them put a stop to it, and hopefully have the creep arrested.
I'm so sorry you went through such an awful, stressful experience, but I'm glad you took the steps you needed to feel safe at the time. That's far from a failure in my view! It's easy to look back on any traumatic experience and see ways you could have handled it differently, but harassment of any kind has a way of making you want to cut off any link to the threat and go into isolation.

I also use pen names for anonymity as I've been stalked in the past (entirely unrelated to writing) and it makes you wary. Too many people believe that stalking only happens to A-list celebrities, which is far from the case.
I'm so sorry this happened to you--what an evil CREEP. But thanks for reminding us that we need to protect ourselves from the mentally unstable out there.
I'll echo what others have said: I'm sorry this happened to you, and kudos to you for jumping back in.
No, Fran, no: You did not fail by erasing your old accounts. You did what you felt was necessary at the time to protect yourself. Never beat up on yourself for that! Your safety is and should be your number one priority.

Stalkers are effing scary. I've dealt with a few over the years, both online and IRL. It's never easy and every situation calls for a different response. It's also usually very difficult, as people with complaints of being stalked aren't often taken seriously. Your advice -- documenting everything, keeping your author pages separate from your personal ones, asking for help -- are spot on. I'd also add filing a police report and possibly restraining order. I know these two actions are usually flimsy, but they're mostly documentation tools. I think it's also important to notify people within your safety circle -- people in your IRL world who you trust to have your back. Also, the block tool on social media is your best friend.


I'm really sorry that this happened to you, but please don't be ashamed of how you handled it. Your safety is so much more important than any YouTube channel or Amazon sales.

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My opinion:

If you're the target of an online stalker and concerned about your safety, do not seek support from an internet community. Do not report the stalker to the police. Neither will do any good.

Instead, contact your local FBI field office and provide them with as much data as possible.
There are plenty of crazies out there. Something very similar happened to me back almost 18 years ago when I was writing in a particular fandom online.

I loved the reviews and emails from my fans, many of which are still friends to this day, but then HE showed up. It progressed like yours. Emails became letters, became "gifts" sent directly to the house. He managed to get my home phone number and left threats and rambling messages on my answering machine.

I tried to hide and disappear, and this guy ended up finding my sellers account on eBay and started buying things from me to get my new address, sending in letters with the checks he used for payment. He made over 20 different online accounts to contact me on every chat server, forum, and website I frequented. He spammed my reviews on my stories. I'd block one, two more would pop up.

I moved several times, and he kept finding me. I eventually dropped out of fanfiction completely over it. Had I not, I could have ported who knows how many of my readers over to my original fiction, but it wasn't to be. Last year, I got a friend request from him on Facebook, like I said, this started nearly 20 years ago. I only began to crawl back out of the shadows five years ago, but I will never return to fanfiction. I think of what was lost in the meanwhile. I should have found better ways to deal with it sooner, and I should have forged on.

When they force us to give up something, they take it from us and we often can't get it back. That is absolutely a violation. I still feel that spike of anxiety whenever I get a new friend request somewhere, or I see an fan email from someone I don't know. I'm glad to see you're coming back out of hiding much sooner than I had the proverbial testicular fortitude to do. You have my absolute admiration.
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Wow.  Fran, thank you for posting this. In passing along your experience, you are fighting back. This sort of stuff is important to take seriously. Some of these assholes are psycho enough to go through great lengths to terrorize others. Him having your home address is frightening but not surprising today because it's relatively easy to find someone if you really want to. I'm glad you're okay...did you contact police?

Please, don't think he won. You did what you had to do to ensure your protection. Nothing is more important that your safety and health. Hugs.
There will always be people out there in the world trying to stop us in one messed up form or another. You being able to push onward and be productive speaks to your character. YOU will be the one they remember, not the creeper. The good fans outnumber the nuts. That's what it comes down to in the end. :) <---boy, a happy face feels so inadequate here, but yanno.
franseen said:
I totally understand your point, and I appreciate your kind words.

But am I suppose to hide forever?

I uploaded that video to my YouTube channel yesterday. If he's not dead, he'll probably watch it. And if that stirs him from the shadows, then I'm not backing down this time.

Being passive eventually made him lose interest. It stopped him from escalating things further. It stopped him from hurting me. But I got hurt in the long run anyway, didn't I? Because I had to back down from what I loved.

And like you said, celebrities have stalkers they deal with for decades. I'm not a celebrity. I wasn't one back then. But I still became his target. Some people reading this might encounter someone like him during their time in the author spotlight.
I was glad to see this part of your post. While I would definitely not encourage you to do anything to deliberately provoke him or get his attention, it made me sad to read that you regretted going incognito and had that sense of loss. I was going to suggest that if you felt safe enough, you could try to take back control over that - as long as you contact authorities in the (hopefully unlikely) event this guy raises his head again.

Do you still have copies of any of those letters or emails, any evidence of his prior harassment? My instinct would have been to burn it and then pee on the ashes, lol, but if you do have it, maybe get together with someone (for morale boosting/emotional support) and organize it all by date, and draft a document summarizing it. Then - just on the off chance - you'll have everything ready to go if you need it.

Stalking and internet harassment is being taken more seriously now than it was even just a few years ago. Not too long ago (five years maybe?) the admin on a forum I frequent was targeted by a man who's a serious psychopath - there's a treasure trove of info on him out there but I am not going to type his name. He thrives on the attention. Anyway he started sending her death threats and even though he's clearly just a blowhard without the means to make it across the country to harm her, she took it to the police anyway. They basically shrugged and said, "Don't talk to him online, and if you see him in your neighborhood make sure you lock your doors." He recently showed up again (online) and she filed another report, and this time they took it much more seriously - sent an officer to interview her, take evidence, all that.

So don't hesitate to ask the authorities for help - maybe even go talk to someone now, so that IF it comes up you'll already have a plan of action and won't have to make any decisions while you're under stress.

You did what you needed to do then to keep yourself safe, and you're doing what you need to do now to take back your empowerment and be the author of your own destiny. Good job.
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I agree with everyone saying to contact law enforcement. A knock on the door from the folks in blue (or whatever color they wear) may make the wrongness of the situation a little more apparent to the people doing the harassment. And also clearly indicate that someone is watching them. Someone is paying attention.

As for what you did, discontinuing the things you loved, you did what you felt was best to protect you. And now, clearly, you are ready to start a new chapter. Good for you.

It's lame to quote song lyrics, so instead I'll opt for the faux-Latin version of the same thing: Illegitimi non carborundum.

Don't let the bastards grind you down.


That is, of course, not exactly what I wrote.
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