My Case for Examining Existing Stalking Laws

Because my stalker didn’t physically assault me, the police put a lot of the burden on me to stay safe.

by Luca Bernstein

iStock, Jorm Sangsorn

One day, I was sitting outside with my mom and her friends at a coffee shop when a 50-something looking man who looked like The Dude from The Big Lebowski complimented me on my bicycle and asked if he could take a picture. He said he was a photographer. He was polite and had a shaggy dog, which he offered to let me pet. Since my bike was a vintage collectible, I didn’t think much of the exchange, so I said yes. I was 13. 

About three days later, I started seeing the man at the park where I ran every afternoon. He sat in his BMW, idling. Sometimes his eight-inch camera lens seemed to be pointed at me.  

My mom noticed him too when she accompanied me on my runs. But we both thought he was just a harmless, slightly weird guy.  

But then, I noticed his car everywhere I was: parked in front of a Brooklyn cafe, a store in Soho. 

He Follows Me Home  

There were two conflicting voices in my head. One voice said You have now seen the same man 10 times in the past three days, this could be dangerous, while the other voice said, You are overreacting and being irrational; it’s just a coincidence. 

Then, I saw him in front of my house.  

Did he always know where I lived? I snuck inside through the back entrance. But I wasn’t sneaky enough because when I looked out my window later that evening his car was still there. He knew I was at home.  

Later in the evening, he left, and I immediately felt relieved. But he was back the following day. And the day after that. My mom and I could no longer pretend it was all a coincidence, so we called my mom’s friend, a journalist, who asked: “Why haven’t you called the cops already?”  

But when I called my dad, he said, “I wouldn’t worry much. He’ll probably go away.” 

We Call the Police 

I didn’t know what to do. On the one hand, I knew it wasn’t right that this man kept following me. On the other hand, he hadn’t actually threatened me. But the next day, when I saw him again, we called 911.  

Two policewomen arrived at my home. I was scared and confused. I struggled to articulate my answers to the dozens of questions they asked me. Toward the end they asked me if he said anything to me and I said yes.  

“I never felt as vulnerable as I did then standing a block away from my house, the stalker’s car circling me and the phone ringing and ringing.”

“What did he say?”  

“He asked to photograph my bicycle.”  

“You said yes?” 


“So you let him take the picture?” 


“Did he touch you?”  

“Thankfully no.” 

Because I had let him take my picture, I felt like it might be my fault that this man was following me. A part of me felt like the policewomen thought this too.  

They explained that unless my stalker physically assaulted me, or threatened physical violence, they couldn’t arrest him. They told me to try to stay home for the next few days and when I did go out again, to switch up my routine, to stop jogging at the same time, for example. If I saw him again, I was to get his license plate number and call it into the precinct. Most likely, they said, he would go away.  

But then, as they walked out the door, one of the cops whispered to my mom: I’m gonna be honest—seems like the kind of guy who keeps girls locked up in his basement.”  

My mom and I felt like the policewomen were not doing enough. So after staying inside for a few days, my mom and I went to the cafes and stores where we had seen him to try to get video footage from their CCTVs.  

I stopped going on runs and I didn’t feel safe at home, where there are four points of entry. After learning that tasers and pepper spray are not entirely legal in New York, we bought an ax. I started self-defense classes over Zoom. I learned that with my fingers, I could poke out his eyeballs with the same effort it takes to poke through the skin of an orange.  

Finally, Help from a Detective  

About three days after the police visit, we saw the stalker parked in front of our apartment for just a few minutes. We were too scared to go outside and try to take a photo of the license plate. But we called the precinct to report him again. We were told to stay inside and that they’d be in touch. But they never called us back.  

For the next three nights, we saw the stalker in front of our apartment. My mom called the precinct five times, until, finally, a detective picked up. He said he would see what he could do. She emailed him the video footage we found at the cafes. 

Two days later, we gave the detective a picture of the stalker’s license plate, which we were able to capture when we happened to be outside and saw him drive away from us. Along with the plates and the video footage, the detective was able to identify the stalker. One of the videos showed him parked in front of a cafe window, his camera pointed at me for thirty minutes while I ate a croissant. The detective also found that my stalker had other complaints against him, which the uniformed officers had apparently not investigated.  

After several conversations with my mom, the detective asked her how old I was. That’s when we learned that it’s illegal for an adult to stalk a child under 14, something the officers didn’t mention. Like the officers, the detective thought that the stalker would eventually get bored and leave me alone. But we were to call immediately if we saw him again.  

We Finally Catch Him 

My mom and I were too scared to sleep alone so we slept together on the couch. We kept opening one eye to see if the other was awake. We spent a couple nights like this, our unspoken night watch roles in place. My hands clasped around my ax, the one thing that I hoped would protect me.  

After the conversations with the detective, I didn’t leave my home for five days, and my mom only went out sparingly for food. When I finally went out for a walk with her, I was relieved to see he wasn’t in front of my house. The coast seemed clear for about a block. But then, there he was, pulling up slowly in his car from behind us.  

At first I wanted to run up and yell at him, but I couldn’t. I was terrified, and so was my mom. The street was empty. He kept driving slowly around the block.  

As soon as he drove past us, I called the detective. The phone rang, and rang, and rang; he wasn’t picking up. I never felt as vulnerable as I did then standing a block away from my house, the stalker’s car circling me and the phone ringing and ringing.  

Finally, the detective picked up and told me to stay where I was and to try and act as normal as possible. And so I did. In the 15 minutes it took for the cops to come, I stopped to pick a flower, tie my shoe, admire the river, and photograph a tree.  

Then I saw the detective, rolling up in a gray Toyota. He said quietly through the crack of the window, “Just keep walking.” I walked far and fast and didn’t look behind me until my lock screen lit up again. “We got him,” the detective said, “and all his cameras.” During the arrest, the stalker said to the cops, “This better not be about the girl that’s been following me.”  

He Is Still Out There 

The stalker was arrested for stalking in the fourth degree and child endangerment. He was released on bail after two days but it took a few months for an order of protection to be put into place, which forced him to stay away from my home, school, place of employment, and me—or face getting arrested again. My mom and I agreed to testify in court, and a trial date was scheduled, but my stalker didn’t show up. It has been about a year and a half since the stalking. There’s still a warrant out for his arrest.  

Before, I used to be friendly and smile at everyone. These days, I wear big baggy clothes and try to hide myself as much as possible. I struggle with a lot of self-doubt, and my therapist says I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety. I get jumpy any time I see a BMW. I still keep the detective’s phone number in my wallet along with an ax under my bed and a pamphlet of self-defense moves on my bookcase.  

Thinking back, I’m not sure why my dad downplayed the potential dangerousness of the stalker. He still brushes off what happened, saying “The guy wasn’t really a stalker.” Maybe unconsciously we all thought he wasn’t too dangerous since he was a white man driving a BMW.  

The police officers who handled my case should have investigated further. I’m not sure why they didn’t. It might be possible that they didn’t know the full range of the stalking laws in New York State. I learned while doing research for this story that stalking laws are relatively new. Stalking in the fourth degree is considered a crime when a person “intentionally and with no legitimate purpose engages in conduct that s/he knows or should reasonably know: will cause reasonable fear of material harm to victim…or causes material harm to mental or emotional health of victim.”

But in my experience, although the statutes do address emotional harm, my claims were taken less seriously since I was not physically threatened. Instead, I felt that the police put a lot of the burden on me to try to keep myself safe.  

I know that my stalker broke the law, but at times I still doubt if he really did anything wrong, since, as my father and others remind me, he never touched me. It’s not easy, but I’m trying my best to fight this feeling of doubt. Writing this story is one way I’m trying to do that.  

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