Ottawa educator launches short film to raise awareness of stalking

Julie Lalonde shares story of being stalked for over a decade

Nadia Drissi El-Bouzaidi, Reporter

The first steps to many relationships in 2017 happen online. In fact, many of us often take to “stalking” the objects of our desires until we know every little detail that their social media feeds have to offer. However for Ottawa-based public educator Julie Lalonde, this is one of her biggest pet peeves. “The language we use about stalking in an online context just infuriates me,” she says. “Everytime we say those things we’re really minimizing the impact of actual stalking.”

Lalonde, who is a sexual assault survivor, launched her short film, Outside of the Shadows, on Dec. 15 to raise awareness about the dangers of criminal harassment, more commonly known as stalking, by sharing her own harrowing 12-year ordeal of being stalked.

Shedding light on stalking

Criminal harassment is defined as engaging  “in conduct referred to in subsection (2) that causes that other person reasonably, in all the circumstances, to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them” in the Canadian Criminal Code and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Stalking most commonly occurs in the context of intimate relationships, but also occurs in situations where the victim is unknown to the perpetrator, or in cases where the perpetrator holds a grudge against the the victim.

According to StatisticsCanada, incidents of criminal harassment increased between 2000 and 2009, to just over 20,000 in 2009. Women were the most common victims, at 76 per cent of reported cases in 2009. Women were more likely to be stalked by former intimate partners, while men were more likely to be stalked by casual acquaintances.

“I just really thought that Julie’s story and this project spoke a lot to a lot of my own concerns and I loved that it came from a personal place, because the art I make always comes from a personal place and I find that’s the easiest way to start approaching a big subject,” said feminist artist AmbivalentlyYours, who animated the five-minute film.

“It’s all a labour of love; I asked people to donate money so that I can pay the artist, I refuse to exploit the labour of another woman,” said Lalonde.

“At the end of the day I still have to make a living and make ends meet and so it was really great that from the start she was very determined to pay me and not make me work for free,” said AmbivalentlyYours. “Above everything else she really recognized that what I would be doing would be work.”

A red flag ignored

Despite the high rates of stalking, Lalonde says there is a lack of attention paid to the issue, and that she didn’t often hear about it in reference to the continuum of violence against women. “I think if someone in my position, who is very privileged, who is very connected, who really I think is really on the ground and really seeing the work that’s being done, and I’m not seeing it happen, then I think it’s safe to say that it’s not really happening.”

“And yet so many people, women in particular, are being stalked and we need to talk about it because it’s horrendous, and it’s traumatizing but also it’s lethal.”

Lalonde pointed to Basil Bortuski, the perpetrator of the murder of three women in Wilno, Ontario in 2015, who in addition to years of criminal charges, had stalked the victims.

Lalonde points to two factors that explain the lack of attention to criminal harassment, one being the divisions within the violence against women sector. “There’s no organization in Canada that focuses solely on that issue unless the shelter movement takes it up, or unless rape crisis centres take it up; it’s just not being addressed.”

The second factor is that the very nature of stalking makes it very difficult for survivors to come forward. While Lalonde notes that all types of sexual violence make it difficult for survivors to speak up, stalking is particularly dangerous to speak up about. “Talking about stalking makes it worse, unless your stalker is dead or in jail, you talking about your experience endangers your life,” said Lalonde.

According to Lalonde, criminal harassment is often not taken seriously by law enforcement, and if it is, it’s considered in tandem with other crimes. “In my experience as a privileged white woman who is educated, and all those things, I wasn’t taken seriously by the police.”

“It’s not taken seriously at all, it’s not seen for what it is, which is extremely threatening and can oftentimes lead to women being killed or seriously injured. To me it’s really the canary in the coalmine, like if someone is stalking someone that is the first step towards harming them, it’s a form of harm in and of itself, but it should be a major, major red flag for the legal system.”

Protecting yourself and others

Lalonde highlights the importance of bystanders in stopping criminal harassment. “So many people enabled my abuser because they did not see what he was doing as violent, people would let him into the building even though I told them that he is dangerous and he’s after me and they wouldn’t take it seriously and thought it was so sweet and romantic.”

“Just a few days before he died a huge group of his friends were trying to access all of my social media accounts.”

Lalonde believes that “social media and the internet has enabled perpetrators in a big bad way,” pointing to the ease of monitoring other people’s activities. She recommends not enabling any GPS functions on any devices. While she offers practical types for people to protect themselves, Lalonde doesn’t think “it’s fair to tell women that they’re not allowed to be on social media.”

So far Lalonde doesn’t have any set plans to further raise awareness of the dangerous consequences of stalking. “I am hopeful that this is a conversation starter that will lead to in-person events and more than just a five-minute film and a poster,” she said. “I’m willing to take it wherever people think it needs to go.”

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