Sunday Survivor Story: Suzanna
Posted on August 19 2018
After 13 years of marriage to a man who would eventually be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, I left with my two younger sons and moved in with my mother in my home state of Arizona. Though he did convince me to come back, the situation only worsened until I left a second and final time in 2013. After, I suffered through a brutal divorce since he was determined to punish me for leaving him.
By early 2015, though I was very much still immersed in the healing and recovery process, I felt like I was on a path forward to finding peace and joy in my life again. This all changed within a matter of minutes, however, when I found out that for the nearly two years since I had left, he had been cyberstalking me, which left me feeling as though a rug had been pulled out from under me. And though I didn’t realize it then, my life as I knew it would never be the same.
One of my sons had been visiting his father in Wyoming and while on his father’s computer came across a five-page spreadsheet detailing every single online account I had. Among other details, it included personal information about my long-dead relatives, my parents’ wedding certificate from 1965, my mother’s license plate number, and the log-in to my personal computer.
He had infiltrated every area of my online life and kept a meticulous accounting of everything from my bank accounts, credit cards, phone records, emails—even security questions and answers. He had also set up a fraudulent account in my name with LifeLock, an identity protection company, which allowed him to receive alerts when I got a new cell phone, applied for a car loan or changed my address with my bank. On top of all of that, when I had applied for a new credit card, he called the company (Wells Fargo), impersonated me over the phone, and closed the account without my knowledge.
But the stalking didn’t end there. He had the password for my oldest son’s Facebook account so he could read our private messages to one another. He hired a private investigator to follow me. And once, while visiting our children in Arizona, he went through my office and bedroom closet, something he later revealed through emails when he was harassing me about what I was doing and who I was connecting with.
And all of this was done while we were estranged, going through a divorce and living in different states.
The most troubling aspect of all the information he possessed was that I had already been actively changing my passwords regularly on all my accounts. I created aliases for all security questions and made up a new email address altogether because of past experiences with him that warned of his possessive ways, such as when I discovered during our marriage that he had been recording all my conversations on our landline at home.
This wasn’t a matter of “I think he’s stalking me” or “I have a feeling he’s doing something wrong”—it was as black and white as it gets. I had the proof. I had the evidence. And I had the law—or so I thought—on my side.
So I did what any naïve justice-will-be-served type of person would do: I went to the police. I obtained an emergency court order of protection. I gathered up all the evidence, which was immense. I gathered up the witnesses, which were many. And I put my faith in the justice system to hold my ex-husband accountable for his felony crimes of cyberstalking and identity fraud, along with ripping my life wide open to the point where I would never be the same again (I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD and acute anxiety, along with suffering from numerous health problems because of the stress).
After filing a report with the police in Arizona, the case was transferred to Wyoming where my ex-husband was, a move that would set the stage for the mishandling by the prosecuting attorney who I felt couldn’t be bothered enough to care about what had happened to me.
And so began the next year and a half of a personal hell that I have yet to fully recover from, all at the hands of a criminal justice system and in a state where the laws haven’t been updated to reflect the new and modern way to abuse: cyberstalking.
During the entire investigative process, there were no witnesses ever contacted or called for their testimony (though there were strong ones) and I was never contacted at any point to inform me of the status of the case. For over a year I never knew at any given point what was going on, including not being told of meetings, plea deals, court dates or even rescheduling of those court dates. In short, I lived every day in the worst kind of hell, not knowing if he was still stalking me and being in the hands of a county attorney who acted like he simply didn’t care.
In the end, I was told I could write a victim’s statement that would be read in court the day of his plea of “no contest” to a misdemeanor. Since the court was in Wyoming where my ex lived, I remained in Arizona due to the fact that I was too afraid to look at him in the face knowing he had gotten away with his crimes. I poured my pain and suffering into my victim’s statement and waited with a stomachache for it to end and for the court advocate to call me and let me know what happened.
And what happened was that my victim’s statement was not allowed to be read because my ex-husband’s attorney objected to it. The judge then legally sealed my statement so that while the records for the plea deal would remain open to the public, my statement—my voice—would not. My ex-husband was ordered to pay a fine of less than $200 and told to “no longer cyberstalk” me.
I’m not giving up on my fight for justice, even if that justice won’t apply in my own case since the only way to end the darkness is to shed light on it. It is my hope that by sharing my story, I can be that light for others who are still suffering at the hands of an abuser who is using cyberstalking as a tool to further traumatize their victims.
I can use my voice to put the justice back in the justice system in order to protect anyone else from having to share my experience. And that’s a voice that no court has the power to legally seal.
This article originally posted on domesticshelters.org
Sunday Survivor Series is a bi-weekly blog series highlighting survivors of domestic violence and their success after abuse.