Be wary on social media

Police are warning young women to be vigilant on social media and to only accept friend requests from people they know. This follows the continuous stalking, harassment and intimidation of a 21-year-old local resident.

The young woman, who cannot be identified for safety reasons, has since moved house for the protection of herself and her four-year-old son.

The woman explains that she has been living in fear for the past seven years after accepting a friend request on Facebook from an unknown user who turned out to be a resident in her community.

“I have been living in Athlone for most of my life and have supported several tuck shops in the area. Most of the shop owners are foreigners and are known to the community. One day I received a friend request from an unknown man and just accepted it, not knowing it was an employee at a shop just down my street,” she explains.

“He has been stalking me for seven years, but I only found out two years ago when I noticed that he was acting strange with me at the shop. He started giving me extra change (money) and then letting me know this via text messages.

“He secretly started taking pictures of me when I visited the shop, and then he would send them to me. I would ask him to stop texting me, but things soon started getting worse as he started sending me sexual messages and threats.”

The young woman explains the situation has led her to attempt to commit suicide on several occasions.

“His obsession with me is crazy. I had to move out of my community because he started making contact with all my friends, family and colleagues on Facebook and threatened to harm me and my child if we don’t do what he says.

“He knew my every movement and who I was in contact with, and made it known to me that he was watching me. I have blocked several numbers and social media accounts from him already, but he just keeps finding a way to get hold of me.”

When asked what the man wanted from her, the young mother says: “He has an obsession to be with me and to have sex with me. He said he will not leave me and my family alone until he gets what he wants,” she explains.

“And if that doesn’t work out, he would then want R20 000 from me, because he claims he lost his job after my family complained about him to his boss, who also happens to be his brother.”

She says the man has been on the run since she visited Athlone Police Station last year.

“The police can’t find him. They (police) told me they can open a case, but cannot deliver a warning or restraining order if they don’t know his whereabouts or at least have an image of him.

“His brother who is the shop owner claims he doesn’t know where he is. As far as I know, he is out of the country for now, because he is texting me from a foreign number. I just want this to end. I don’t know what to do anymore,” she says.

Psychologists believe that stalkers can be driven by several reasons and their obsession with their victims is expressed in many ways, which include controlling their victims or even taking revenge on the victim.

This is explained by Dr Yusuf Lalkhen, an experienced educational psychologist in Athlone­.

“There was a time when our lives were very private and only a few intimate family members and friends had access to our private lives. One would also be selective about whom to share our personal experiences with or whom to befriend.

“The advent of the internet and social media platforms has changed all of that. We easily befriend and communicate with complete strangers, and cyberspace gives us a sense of security to do so.

“This girl’s incident is a clear indication that we cannot take anything for granted. The particular incident is an example of cyber stalking.

“This is when an individual uses the internet and social media to threaten another person or to make unwanted advances towards the person.”

He says this form of harassment can often cause physical, emotional and psychological damage to the victim.

“The unrelenting neurotic nature of the stalker can initially take the form of harassing their victims, calling them repeatedly, as well as sending letters and gifts. If these actions are fruitless, the individual may escalate to more intrusive behaviours such as spying on, and unexpectedly confronting their victims.”

Lalkhen says the young woman’s case constitutes a particular form of stalking. He explains there are other forms of stalking and the public need to be equally aware of what these are and more generally why individuals stalk their victims.

Lalkhen says if an individual wants to support a victim of stalking they should at very least try to listen and show support.

“Don’t blame the victim for the crime. Remember that every situation is different, and allow the person being stalked to make choices about how to handle it. The victim can also find someone he or she can talk to about the situation.

“The victim should also take steps to ensure his or her own safety, have no contact with the stalker, collect evidence of the stalker, and they should report the matter to the police.”

Sergeant Zita Norman, Athlone police spokesperson, confirmed there have been no similar cases opened at the station recently and urged locals to be vigilant on social media platforms.

Norman says anyone with similar issues should make contact with the police immediately­.