The Stalking Sergeant
It Can Happen To Anyone. Here's What Survivors Say You Should Do If It Happens to You.
Stalking is unique. I can't think of another crime where ordinary behavior can have such a sinister meaning. It's a crime where the context is everything. And because of that, it can be so difficult for victims to convince others of the danger they're in or understand the terror they feel.
Here's an example. Let's say your ex-husband sends you red roses on your wedding anniversary. Nothing criminal about that, right? But what we don't know – and you do – is that your ex knows you hate red roses. He knows they reminded you of your mother's funeral when you were six. And, after it was clear to him that divorce was inevitable, he repeatedly told you that the next time you saw red roses would be the day you died.
Another unusual aspect of stalking is the people who do it. I used to be astonished by the news that a now-arrested stalker was also an attorney or doctor or model or rock star or successful businessman. Not anymore. Stalking cuts across all demographic lines, intelligence levels, and common sense. It takes over the victim's life and seems to take over the life of the stalker as well.
Our case this week – which happened in my backyard – is a good example.
Crime of the Week
Forty-three-year-old Mariusz Czas, a former San Diego police sergeant, will spend the next year working in a prison furlough program. This man was a police officer for eighteen years. This man knew better.
And yet, he stalked and harassed his ex-girlfriend for months after they broke up. He didn't just send her a few unwanted texts and emails or repeatedly drive by her house to check up on her. He began a systematic terror campaign.
Czas sent texts to his ex from unknown phone numbers demanding money. He sent anonymous messages threatening to post nude photos on pornographic websites and her personal and business contacts. When she confronted Czas about these messages – which she (rightfully) believed were from him – he claimed that he, too, was being victimized by the same "hacker." He offered to use police resources to investigate.
But that's not how he used police resources. He conducted a "traffic stop" to ask his girlfriend why she was leaving him. He used police databases to find her license plate and track down her new boyfriend's address. He repeatedly abused the power of his badge to torment her; even a restraining order didn't reign him in.
He then made a bad situation worse by covering up all the evidence of his crimes.
The Number One Piece of Advice from Stalking Survivors: Get Help
Unfortunately, this story is not uncommon. It underscores just how "creative" stalkers can be, the professional and personal risks they are willing to take, and the helplessness many victims feel in getting the behavior to stop. Fortunately, in this case, no one was physically hurt, although we can only imagine the psychological toll.
What do you do when an ex starts his stalking? Research shows that victims typically try several interpersonal strategies first – reasoning with their ex-partner, confronting them, ignoring the harassment, etc. These endeavors inevitably fail. Once a stalker ex has started, victims almost always need help getting it stopped.
Stalking survivors routinely say that they wish they had gotten help sooner, before and after going police. Organizations like Safe Horizon are priceless. They've seen thousands of victims and helped them deal with thousands of perpetrators. They can help victims gather and organize the information they need and form a game plan to present it to the police. And, after filing a police report, a victim's advocate (a free resource that victims can ask for but often don't know about) can be a godsend in terms of helping navigate the legal system and getting emotional support.
The Bottom Line
Stalking can happen to anyone. Doctors have been stalked by their patients and celebrities by fans. But over fifty percent of stalkers were once in a relationship with their victims. If a former partner or lover starts harassing you, please take it seriously, know your rights, and get help.
That’s it for this week, Mind Detectives. Let me know if there’s a case you’d like to cover. And stay safe!