It started with an email.
In 2009, when Lily Baldwin was touring the world as David Byrne’s backup dancer, the man who would stalk her for the next 13 years first initiated contact. In the message, her stalker, a British man Baldwin refers to as X, invited her to work with him at a company he was starting. But the email was also laced with unnervingly vivid descriptions of her performance at the David Byrne concert the night before.
Shortly after the first emails, the situation began to spiral. Soon, X was sending Baldwin and her mother disturbing packages with sometimes tender, sometimes angry letters. He’d even send pieces of garbage and personal effects from his day-to-day life. He was leaving her obsessive voicemails, referring to her as his wife, and accusing her of leading him on despite never once interacting with or responding to him. Then, about a year after his first email, X crossed an ocean to be in the same city as her, and when he came to the US again in 2012, this time, she was forced to hide in safe houses in Los Angeles and San Francisco, afraid for her life.
All of this unfolded years before the rise of platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, which encourage people to location-tag their posts and stories at all times—making X’s dedication to stalking her all the more terrifying. Baldwin, a dancer, filmmaker, and writer, has since created the new six-episode Audible podcast Stories of the Stalked, recounting her ongoing experience with stalking in bone-chilling detail. In it, she reflects on the limited protection afforded to her by law enforcement and public policy, as well as the psychological and physiological toll of experiencing stalking. Throughout Stories of the Stalked, Baldwin talks candidly about the struggles of working as a woman in media, and raises intriguing questions in the age of influencers: What is the price of being a woman and actively working in the public eye? And why are women like Baldwin expected to pay this price without complaint? “Visibility is currency,” she observes throughout the podcast. So, what did it cost Baldwin to literally fall off the grid and hide for her life in 2012?
Now, Baldwin tells Jezebel she thinks women working and striving to be in the public eye want the same things we all do. “We want followers—we don’t want to be followed. How do we keep the first happening, but not the second? I’m not interested in advocating people disappear,” she said, noting the “double-edged sword of visibility.”
There are no easy answers or “bite-sized” solutions to this problem, Baldwin told me, but one thing’s for sure: No matter how famous a woman is, no matter how visible her career requires her to be, no one is ever “asking for it” when it comes to stalking. Nor is any stalking victim overreacting. Stalking, like all forms of abuse, is about power and control—and, like any other abusers, perpetrators use fear to exert power over their victims. Anyone, regardless of their career or how many Instagram followers they may have, can be a victim.
According to the CDC, one in six women and one in 17 men have experienced stalking, which can include behaviors ranging from sending incessant unwanted messages or phone calls, showing up uninvited at someone’s home or workplace, following or tracking someone, or leaving strange and potentially threatening items for the victim. One report found two-thirds of female journalists have experienced gender-based online harassment, including frequent rape and death threats, while local news anchors are regularly subjected to stalking and harassment from male viewers. Yet, both implicitly and explicitly, women in media are told to accept these horrifying conditions as part of the job.
In this post-MeToo era, spawned years after X first began stalking Baldwin, there is minimal awareness and resources for stalking victims because many aren’t even seen as victims—by society or even by themselves. “How do we measure violence when there’s no blood?” Baldwin said. This question has prompted her to identify what she calls “invisible violence,” like her experience being stalked but not physically harmed by X.
On Stories of the Stalked, Baldwin recalls seeking help from a lawyer and the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit. She sought them out in 2012 after X flew from Britain to where she lived in New York City, and showed up at the office of the law firm representing her after she sent him a cease and desist letter. The SVU spent years monitoring X’s activities and building her case against him. X was eventually arrested and briefly held at Rikers Island after following Baldwin from New York to Los Angeles in 2012. But the case against him was ultimately thrown out, almost evaporating overnight, when X was deemed unfit to stand trial due to his mental state.
From the moment Baldwin first entered the SVU building, as she encounters numerous women with visible bruises and injuries from intimate partner violence, including some with small children, she immediately questions whether she even deserves protection. At the height of X’s stalking, Baldwin recalls almost wishing X’s abuse would become physically violent, so it would be treated with more urgency and as importantly as physical violence. The “invisibility” of his actions had her questioning her sanity, and whether she was reacting proportionately to the threat X posed. Baldwin told Jezebel that her own self-doubt and invalidation of her own trauma are unfortunately common among victims in a culture that gate-keeps what’s seen as gender-based violence, and what’s seen as severe enough to be taken seriously.
“A big thing I’ve struggled with is feeling entitled to my fear,” she said. “Am I making it up? Is this just one big mindfuck? It erodes your trust in yourself.”
As for the invalidating conclusion of Baldwin’s legal case against X, it’s hard not to see the irony of the outcome: X was able to wield his mental state to evade accountability for his actions—despite the severe toll of said actions on Baldwin’s mental health. Baldwin emphasizes that situations involving mental health are always deeply nuanced, but acknowledges that we live in a culture that often prioritizes the experience and comfort of men and abusers over women and victims. Notably, people with mental illness are substantially more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence and abuse.
While years have passed since X’s arrest and his consequent, brief stays at both Rikers and a psychiatric hospital, Baldwin continues to hear from him even today. As she details on Stories of the Stalked, producers, agents, and people she works with still hear from and encounter him, too. His stalking remains a persistent and indelible part of her life, nearly a decade later. Now, Baldwin is advocating for policy change to ensure stalking victims are accorded greater legal rights and protections, and leading her nonprofit Stop Stalking Us, a platform for stalking victims to share their stories and receive support.
Launching Stories of the Stalked to share her own story, despite how X remains at large, is just one of the ways Baldwin is trying to create change. “The amount of outreach that I’ve experienced from survivors and victims of stalking, and their stories, have been both heartbreaking and invigorating, and shown me there’s an important opportunity here to turn my horror into a call to action.”
Baldwin saw the podcast as an opportunity to both increase awareness and visibility around the issue of stalking, and challenge widely held misconceptions about stalking victims and stalkers. In one episode of the podcast, an expert tells her, “When people think of stalkers, they probably think of some strong, shadowy figure who hangs around in alleyways waiting for the perfect stranger. But the reality is very different. Many stalkers are charming and appear perfectly fine, even if they are very violent.” Throughout the podcast, both Baldwin and multiple experts on stalking, privacy, and security remind listeners that stalking is never the fault of the victim, no matter how visible they are, or what line of work they’re in. Women and all people deserve to live full, authentic digital lives as they please, Baldwin says.
Creating Stories of the Stalked has required her to relive some of the most intense traumas of her life—yet, it’s also been “healing.”
“Over time, I’ve really started to understand the level of my collapse, and hearing other people’s stories of being stalked that have the exact same sort of corrosion of self and isolation from others, as physical abuse,” Baldwin said. “I feel validated, that that is absolutely as violent as physical violence, just harder to pin down and talk about, and I want others to feel validated, too.”