When Cyberstalking Wreaks Havoc
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Victims’ rights advocate Lenora Claire shares her story
Stalking can be defined as any unwanted attention from an individual. This can include intimidation, harassment, and overall obsessive behavior. It’s a compulsion whereby the stalker fixates on a victim and idealizes him or her. If the stalker is rejected, then he or she sets out on a delusional path to change reality and control the victim.
Recent studies indicate cyberstalking is one of the most disruptive and distressing types of stalking, as the threats and surveillance are supported by technology, ergo geography is not an issue and a stalker can post damaging or personal information about a victim at any time. When stalking online, it takes very little to wreak havoc on someone’s life and emotional well-being. And the phenomenon is only growing with the expansion of technology.
In general, ex-flames or spurned admirers become stalkers, and the majority of victims are women. Dating sites are a mecca for stalkers. If you stop interacting with someone, he can obsessively check your profile and status, post negative comments about you, or try to hack into your accounts. Worse, he has access to all your personal information (including your home address) readily available on the Internet and nearly impossible to remove.
TV producer and media personality Lenora Claire most recently featured on CBS’s 48 Hours, continues to endure a stalking nightmare equal to any Hollywood horror movie. A man she met only once has stalked her for six years.
An LA Weekly article featured an art show Claire was curating wherein the “most interesting guests” would be photographed and have their pictures hung on the walls of the exhibit. Justin Massler, a 34-year-old diagnosed schizophrenic who legally changed his name to “Cloud Starchaser,” showed up at the event dressed in a space suit. He told the stunning Claire, “You look like Jessica Rabbit and Leeloo from The Fifth Element. I think you’re a supreme being . . . and I’m gonna stalk you.”
Since then, Massler has bombarded Claire with e-mail tirades, texts, and videos—some extremely violent. Claire currently has a restraining order against Massler, and while he has not shown up in person, he has with some of his other targets.
Massler, who served jail time for stalking first daughter Ivanka Trump, travels from state to state. Every day, Claire checks her computer for his location. Any day he isn’t in California is a good day. To Claire, it’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.
Q: What advice do you have for women who date online?
A: Always get as much information as possible and do your research to see if they are in fact who they say they are. Never let them pick you up at your home. Never tell them where you live. Always meet in a public place. Give their full name and phone number to a trusted friend. Make an agreed-upon check-in time with your friend. If he sends you a photo or there is a photo on a dating profile, try entering it in Google reverse imaging to make sure he is who he claims to be. Google is your friend! Make sure things match up.
Q: How can I tell if I have an actual stalker?
A: If a person is giving you repeated and unwanted attention that feels threatening, it’s a good sign you have a stalker. Not all of these situations escalate, but if you are feeling uncomfortable, document everything and be as detailed as possible. Every case is different, but confrontation is rarely advised. If you receive a threat online or in real life, a protective order is the first line of defense. Please do not be discouraged, as it can feel intimidating. Have a friend go with you if you need support. Fees can even be waived. Law enforcement will do very little unless you have a protective order and it has been served, as only then can they establish what they consider to be a continued threat—even if it already feels very real to you.
Q: What do I do if I have a stalker?
A: I want to be careful not to say anything that encourages victim blame or shame. People are so quick to place blame—especially on women. Anyone can acquire a stalker. There are some common-sense things we can do like not post photos showing where we live or places we frequent. Never post where you are until after you’ve left and understand “geotagging” (attaching your location on a status report you post online). You may not realize it, but you may be giving your exact location by just posting a photo.
Q: What antistalking laws are in place?
A: Every state is different. I will say they are mostly archaic and can feel useless, especially if there is any element of a cybercrime.
In my research and conversations with Claire, it became apparent that one of the primary issues with stalking laws is the actual definition of stalking. How many phone calls? How many e-mails? What is a legitimate fear? What if police started arresting every person someone thought was out of line? And while, yes, one’s personal freedoms must be protected, a victim’s rights must be considered as well.
It’s a conundrum that, sadly, is being addressed far too slowly.
Bottom line is if you think you are being stalked, avoid all contact with said stalker, take measures to up your security, and inform your family and friends. Save all of the emails, texts, voicemails, etc. If you can, try to get your personal information off the Internet, and get to the police as soon as possible so they can intervene.
Currently, Massler is living on his own in Nevada, near his mother. He is receiving and taking medication on an outpatient basis.
Meanwhile, Claire is using her harrowing experience to advocate for victims rights and establish laws to protect women from these predators, and is in the process of launching a nonprofit resource, V.E.R.S.E. (Victim Empowerment Resource Safety and Education Center).
Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 18, and William, age 14.
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