Online Harassment at UCT

It began in MAM1001W in 2012, rumoured to be the most difficult first year maths course in the country. Most of the year I was simultaneously trying to concentrate on what the teacher was saying and win the affection of this boy I liked, Mark*. We were chatting quietly, when a good-looking white boy told us to be quiet. A reasonable request – we were talking while the lesson went on in front of us.

A few weeks later, this boy added me on Facebook, “Nick.” No mutual friends, but I recognised him from maths class, so I accepted. I was flattered, but there was an unsettled feeling in my gut. How had he found out what my name was?

At first his messages were friendly, if not slightly weird. “I sense weird tensions between us,” he said. I was curious, and I wanted affirmation of my attractiveness. Regardless, I replied in a neutral way. I sensed he would take this bait and continue messaging me – this “sense” arose from the persistence I was used to in dealing with men who have wanted to be with me, or get into my pants.

Nick and I had spoken a total of four times in real life and online by the end of the year. They were short, surface conversations, with nothing unusual about them. But during the December vac his messages transformed into something else. “I’m basically in love with you”, he said. I replied, perplexed, “… you don’t even know me.”

From then on it was ugly. He spoke as if we had a relationship, not a vague acquaintance. His messages dissolved into threats. He told my then-boyfriend, Mark from MAM, that I didn’t truly like him. That Mark should cut his hair, wear contacts and stop wearing skinny jeans. That I actually like Nick, not Mark, and Mark should be more like Nick if he wants me to like him. In his messages, Nick mentioned something that only Mark and I had spoken about. He had been listening to our conversations in maths. Mark replied telling him, essentially, to leave him alone. Then Nick threatened to break Mark’s legs. Mark stopped replying.

After that, Nick became more incoherent, and more threatening. He said I shouldn’t be scared of him, that he could be my drug connection, that I’m a mean lesbian. That Mark and I “should start fucking each other (SEX :)SEX :)SEX :)SEX :))…please say you’re not a virgin….start pomping!!!!”

Then he started with the death threats. “Give enough time and i could resort to murder…. just like oscar…shoot you on campus and say you were violating me J” His last message to me on Facebook was in February 2013. It reads “DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE you insect of a woman”.

By this time I had changed faculties, and hoped I wouldn’t see him again. But all of it made me feel sickly fascinated. Like I was watching a reconstruction of someone else’s life on the Crime Channel. I didn’t even think to report it to the police or to DISCHO. Would they care about this online harassment? It seemed like too much administration, with too little reward. Getting a restraining order would require lawyers, costs, time. His words disturbed me, but I felt removed from them; dream-like. I blocked him and the multiple profiles he created to invite me on Facebook, and I thought this was enough.

It was an unremarkable day in November 2015 when I received an email in my private inbox – the subject line: “A secret admirer (who loves you)”. I was hit by a cold wave of shock, fear. How had he got my email address? He said he hoped I was “still single”. How did he know that Mark and I had broken up about a year ago?

After his email my family sprang into action. They met with Nick’s family, who already knew who I was because he had mentioned looking at my social media, talked about something I had said on Twitter. They revealed that Nick had a mental disorder. They spoke to Nick, and Nick gave his word to never contact me again, barring an apology letter.

His apology letter, which he titled “Big Nick’s Apology”, was filled with the delusional narratives he played out in his head. He wrote that it was a joke. That he did it because he was feeling hurt and “rejected”. He gave his word he wouldn’t contact me again.

But he did.

 

 

*Names have been changed

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