I took a screenshot of a recent email I received and posted it to my personal Facebook page.
The email was replete with vulgarities, insults that would be classified as “fighting words” had I been face-to-face with the email’s sender.
To repeat only the nicest words in the message, the sender suggested I was ugly, incompetent, worthless and stupid, among other things, and claimed that I am a failure at anything I do (while specifically listing some of the things I do). The sender also accused me of “abusing sheep” and threatened “to report you for animal cruelty” for the “sick shit that you are doing to those poor animals.”
The message concluded with “F*** off and die!” (Edits not in the original.)
The keyboard correspondent used a common surname so I won’t reveal it, and the message was associated with a mail.com account, the free email service where most of the abusive emails I receive originate.
It appears that this same person routinely changes the email account name that his emails originate from, and as the years have passed, his messages are getting longer and more detailed, as though the sender has learned a little more about me since his last vile message.
I’ve been receiving the messages for the last six years.
I don’t know what triggers the message sender, but I have learned a few things about him (I’ll keep details close for now). I’ve no quibbles about criticism regarding the content of my work, but comments that are entirely personal attacks focused on how I look or my gender, or are sexist or misogynistic, are not. That’s boilerplate harassment.
His attempts to humiliate, degrade and insult me won’t impact my life’s trajectory or my work or my level of comfort with my own being.
These first arrived as private messages on Facebook, and after deleting and blocking them, I changed the app’s settings to hide messages from people I don’t know.
When I first started receiving the emails, I routinely deleted them and blocked the sender. As the messages continued, I reported the abuse to the sender’s email service provider, but the messages continued under different email accounts. Now I file them away in an “abuse” folder in case the situation escalates.
The emails are harassment rather than actionable threats of violence. Still, they make me wonder what drives a person to do such a thing, and with such dedication. I imagine a pitiful existence may generate such vitriol, for joyful living doesn’t wish suffering or misfortune on others.
As a newspaper reporter in small town Wyoming, I’ve twice had to enlist law enforcement help in dealing with stalking and harassment by men, and on three occasions I’ve had men physically step in to shield me from other angry men who were upset at my reporting or writing — two of them in public buildings, and once from in the shadows of my newsroom at night after a government meeting.
There was a time in my reporting career that as I sat down to work in the deserted newsroom at night, I placed a loaded revolver on my desk. I’ve written before about some of my experiences that led to my seeking a concealed weapons permit and why I did so in a public way by publishing a feature story in the local newspaper. All these years later, I still have a concealed carry permit.
With few exceptions, I’m too thick-skinned to be bruised by words, but when vulgar emails are combined with an illegal impersonator on a news site last month, and some vandalism and trespassing on the ranch, my hackles are raised — whether these things are related or not.
Because we live and work in a relatively remote area, our family tries to remain aware of the need for personal safety, and we take it seriously.
I believe that it’s important to stand up for what’s right if you can and believe those who hide behind anonymity for convenience are cowards.
After receiving the nasty email early one morning last week, I had fun writing what I thought was a pithy response, but my husband advised I shouldn’t directly engage with the email pal/cyber stalker. Alas, I substitute that witty reply with this week’s column.
I’ll close by metaphorically throwing down the gauntlet to the cowardly to enter the public arena. We’re waiting.
Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.