A casual conversation with a stranger on a night out turned into a nightmare for a Christchurch woman when he started harassing and stalking her for months afterwards.
“His intense psychological abuse destroyed and violated my whole life and trust towards others,” says the 32-year-old. “I wish I never met him.”
It is more than 10 months since the night Timothy Braid, 31, introduced himself to her, but his victim is still coming to terms with all that’s happened since.
The woman, whose name is being withheld to protect her identity, met Braid on August 8, 2019 when he approached her while she was out with friends. “We had shared one lecture in 2016 and I had never spoken to him before until that night,” she said.
There was no romantic relationship between them. “I hardly knew him. He did not even have my phone number.”
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Only a week after their first meeting, she decided to stop all communication with Braid. “I had a bad feeling about how he was acting, and he was coming on too strong for the small amount of time we had known each other. He would send multiple messages and then turned up to an event that he was not invited to.”
Braid did not respond well. He continued sending her messages on various social media platforms; more than 50 messages in the next 24 hours, she said.
He continued to contact her, despite her having blocked him on all social media platforms. Braid tried logging into her social media accounts by using the “forgot password” function in an attempt to reset her passwords.
“Once I [had] blocked him I then received several password resets trying to access my emails, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat accounts,” she said. According to her, most of Braid’s attempts would happen in the middle of the night.
“He created fake profiles posing as other people trying to get to me through my friends’ and family’s accounts. He also started messaging me on email accounts I had not shared with him.”
“Terrified” by Braid’s excessive attempts at contacting her, the victim turned to police for help. A temporary protection order was issued, which was later made permanent.
But the harassment continued.
“He made threats against my life and would send graphic messages to me on how he would physically harm me,” she said.
In November, Braid created fake profiles on dating apps, using her name and listing explicit sexual services. She became aware of the profiles only after strangers tried to contact her. “The messages were absolutely disgusting and disturbing,” she said.
The online harassment escalated to physical stalking when Braid was noticed sitting in a car close to her home twice in December.
She moved house twice in an attempt to find somewhere where she could feel safe and borrowed friends’ cars in an effort to travel undetected. She changed her normal routines and started wearing a Safelet bracelet that enabled her to send a GPS location to a chosen network of people in an emergency.
“He took away my sense of freedom, made me feel terrified for my life and put me under extreme stress.”
On May 29, Braid was sentenced to four months’ home detention after pleading guilty in the Christchurch District Court to breaching a protection order. During the sentencing it was mentioned Braid had struggled with mental illness problems since adolescence, and had been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Braid was ordered to undergo a psychological assessment and attend counselling as deemed appropriate by his probation officer. No special conditions were imposed preventing him from using the internet or possessing internet-capable devices.
After the sentencing, someone has attempted to reset her Pinterest password. Two of her friends have also received suspicious message requests from unknown accounts on social media.
While the victim suspects it may be Braid, Stuff has received no answer to a request for a response sent via his lawyer.
Braid wrote in an earlier email to Stuff: “I accepted the summary of facts, I have been punished and now I am trying to get help and move forward with me life.”
Although Braid has been sentenced, the woman said the “horrible” ordeal has had a lasting impact on her life.
While she is grateful for the support she received from authorities after she reported his behaviour to police, she felt Braid’s sentence of four months’ home detention was too lenient. “As long as he is not being monitored and continues to be allowed to use the internet, this type of behaviour will continue,” she said.
The harassment left her angry, confused and anxious. “This was not someone I knew for years or had a complex history with. Thousands of people interact, start and end relationships and move on every day. What he has done to me is simply not fair.”
Reon Viles of Wellington Investigations says there isn’t a person today who doesn’t have an online footprint and that it pays to be cautious when handing over any information, especially when you don’t know where it’ll end up or how it’ll be used. (Video first published in December 2019.)
Her advice to others in a similar situation is to seek help as soon as possible. “Even though it is a lengthy process it is worth it to take the time and report [it] to the police. The more we report the easier it gets for the police to stop people like him,” she said.
THE MINDSET OF A STALKER
Professor Troy McEwan, associate professor of clinical and forensic psychology at Swinburne University of Technology & Forensicare in Melbourne, said stalking was rather common, but occurred within a large scope of behaviour. It could range from relatively minor incidents to actions resulting in homicide in serious cases.
“Regardless of how damaging the stalking is, what we think motivates stalkers is really intense emotions,” said McEwan.
“Most of us get into situations that we feel really strongly about, that’s completely normal. And if we can’t do anything to change [the situation], we try to move on. Some people seem to be unable to let go of that emotion and it holds them back, and they kind of keep responding to it and responding to it.”
She said a common context where stalking behaviour occurred was after a relationship breakup.
McEwan said although it was common for stalkers to battle with mental health problems, that did not mean mental health issues were necessarily the reason for the stalking behaviour.
“Research in Australia and in the United States has shown between 50 and 75 per cent of people who have contact with the police because of stalking can be diagnosed with a mental disorder. But it is a pretty small number where it can be established that the mental disorder is actually causing the stalking,” she said.
“It is much more common that the person is struggling with life in general, and a mental disorder might be one of those challenges they’re struggling with. It might be that the situation that led to the stalking also caused them to develop a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety.”
McEwan said it was important for anyone on the receiving end of inappropriate behaviour to communicate clearly to the person they did not want them contacting them, and then avoid any further contact. If the unwanted contact continued, it needed to be reported, she said.
She said prosecuting stalking behaviour was vital.
“Sometimes the only way to get someone into treatment is to prosecute them.
“If someone wants to seek help, that’s fantastic, but that is often not the case. You need to have that lever that the court provides that says, ‘you have to get help for this because you are not stopping by yourself’.”
THOUSANDS SEEK PROTECTION
According to statistics from the Ministry of Justice, a total of 5995 applications for protection orders were filed in 2019, a 9 per cent increase from the previous year.
The majority (80 per cent) of these applications were ‘without notice’, where urgent protection was being sought. Of these ‘without notice’-applications, 96 per cent had a temporary order granted during the application process.
Most people protected by protection orders in 2019 were female (85 per cent), while most respondents were male (87 per cent).
In 2019 more than 3000 people were charged with breach of a protection order, resulting in a total of 5487 charges.
History has shown that protection orders, and even prison sentences, are often not enough to deter stalkers.
Glenn Green, a man labelled New Zealand’s most dangerous stalker, was imprisoned in 2012 on two counts of criminal harassment – offending he began three weeks after getting out of prison in 2011. While in prison he became obsessed with a female health professional who treated him, leading to his release conditions being tightened.
Within days of getting out of prison, he breached his release conditions by sending letters and texts to two women, earning him another year behind bars.
In 2015 Green was jailed for two years after being found guilty of harassing a woman sporadically for 20 years, and in 2017 he pleaded guilty to breaching yet another protection order.
In May last year, Green was sentenced to 17-and-a-half months in jail after admitting he blackmailed the chief executive of a prominent American company based in Los Angeles.
A protection order also failed to deter serial stalker Kerryn Mitchell after she became obsessed with a man she had a brief relationship with in 2005. In 2008 a protection order was obtained against her, which was later extended to cover the man’s new partner.
When Mitchell was sentenced in September 2013, the order had been breached nine times. She had left abusive messages on his phone and smashed windows, lights and a glass door pane at his house with a tyre iron.
While in prison, Mitchell tried to send 60 letters, including a threatening drawing of a stick figure with its throat cut, to her former partner from jail.
In 2018, she went to the couple’s house while they were out of the country and tried to open the back door. She ended up being sentenced to two years and nine months in prison after being convicted of breaching a protection order and burglary. Her sentence was cut to one year and six months’ imprisonment on appeal.