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Netflix's 'Baby Reindeer' Highlights Dangers in Stalking

Difficulty seeking help and victim-blaming are common in stalking.

Key points

  • "Baby Reindeer" underscores the urgency of recognizing and addressing stalking behavior early.
  • Victim-blaming messages can reinforce the shame that many victims grapple with every day. 
  • Furthermore, difficulties in recognizing stalking behaviors can leave stalkers with more avenues to continue.

Baby Reindeer, a documentary film available on Netflix, provides a harrowing account of the effects of stalking on its victim, Richard Gadd, who is also the filmmaker and protagonist of the story. Through the seven episodes, we witness the main character experiencing horrible traumas in his life, including the experience of stalking.

As a therapist who works with clients who are victims of psychological abuse such as stalking, as well as someone with personal experience, I found that this show sheds light on several important lessons about stalking:

1. The invasive nature of stalking: The film illustrates how stalking can escalate gradually, starting with seemingly innocuous behaviors such as persistent messages and unwanted attention. These things are often easily overlooked as innocent or even awkward, which may make it more difficult for the victim to realize what is going on as the behaviors progress. For many of my clients, as their stalker becomes increasingly obsessive and invasive, their difficulty with recognizing the behavior becomes a major hurdle in their ability to stay safe.

Image by cristian vanegas salcedo from Pixabay
Source: Image by cristian vanegas salcedo from Pixabay

2. The devastating impact on the victim's mental health: Baby Reindeer vividly portrays the profound psychological toll of stalking. Gadd's experiences with his stalker compound with a previous trauma history led to severe anxiety, paranoia, and trauma. The constant fear of being watched and pursued takes a heavy toll on victims' mental well-being, often disrupting their personal and professional lives. Many of my clients have reported these experiences negatively affecting their work and school performance, as well as having a devastating effect on their families.

Hypervigilance, a state of heightened alertness and awareness, is a common response to stalking. Victims may find themselves constantly scanning their surroundings, monitoring their online presence, and second-guessing everyday activities out of fear of encountering their stalker. This heightened state of vigilance can be exhausting and overwhelming, leading to feelings of exhaustion, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.

3. The challenges of seeking help: Throughout the film, Gadd grapples with the challenges of seeking help and support in dealing with his stalker. He faces skepticism from friends, difficulties navigating the legal system, and a lack of understanding from those who underestimate the severity of his situation. Despite going to the police for help, the stalking behavior was often dismissed or ignored.

Like all forms of violence and abuse, when stalking behavior is dismissed or minimized, it perpetuates a culture of victim-blaming and shame that exacerbates the trauma experienced by victims. Instead of receiving validation and support, victims may be met with disbelief, judgment, or even blame for the harassment they endure. Not being believed, especially if their stalker is a female, is one of the major barriers that victims of stalking often encounter when trying to access support and protection. This can reinforce the victim-blaming and shame that many victims grapple with every day.

4. Victim-blaming is common: Like the main character who is asked to move out of his apartment when his landlord discovers he is the victim of stalking, victims are commonly blamed for being on the receiving end of this form of abuse. From the victims who lose their jobs due to their bosses not wanting to put the company at risk to those who are asked by the police what they are doing to attract the behavior, victim-blaming is an unfortunate reality for many survivors of stalking.

5. Stalkers are often given the benefit of the doubt: Stalkers may exploit loopholes in the legal system or exploit gaps in law enforcement resources to continue their harassment with impunity. For example, stalking behavior conducted online or through technology may fall into a legal grey area where existing laws are inadequate to address the complexity of cyberstalking. Similarly, stalkers may exploit loopholes in restraining orders or protective orders to continue their harassment while technically complying with the letter of the law.

Baby Reindeer serves as a powerful testament to the devastating impact of stalking and the importance of taking action to support and protect victims. The film offers valuable insights into the complexities of stalking and the realities that victims face. This show demonstrates the urgency of recognizing and addressing stalking behavior early on while recognizing the difficulty in getting others to take it seriously.

It is essential for victims of stalking to seek support from trusted friends, family members, and mental health professionals who can provide validation, empathy, and resources to help cope with the psychological impact of stalking. By addressing the mental health effects of stalking and providing comprehensive support to victims, survivors can receive support to heal and move forward.

Furthermore, seeking support from a mental health professional who understands this form of abuse can help.

If you are struggling in the aftermath of abuse or dealing with stalking, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-(800) 799-7233.

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