“When you tell people that your boyfriend was abusive, they paint a picture in their head. I know that picture because there was a time when I could draw it too. We think that image keeps us safe. If we can just avoid men like that, we’ll be okay.
Xavier became abusive. Xavier became a rapist. But he wasn’t that summer. The summer I fell in love with him, he was none of those things.”
For over a decade, Julie Lalonde kept a secret. As an award-winning advocate for women’s rights and bystander intervention on sexual violence, she gave countless of presentations and media interviews across the country. But what most people didn’t know was that the tough-talking, take-no-prisoners feminist and champion for women was living her own personal and terrifying nightmare.
Lalonde had spent the better part of 10 years being stalked by a former boyfriend. What started off as a consensual relationship between two high-school sweethearts gradually became possessive and controlling. When she could no longer endure his behaviour and left, a different kind of abuse began.
What followed were years of relentless harassment, guilt-inducing messages — pages and pages of documentation she kept for the police — about how he would kill himself, obsessive stalking at her place of work, university, and every new apartment she moved to and he eventually located. It all abruptly ended when her stalker died in a car accident.
Sharing her story
Lalonde, who was recently in Montreal to give a presentation on sexual violence prevention for staff and students at Dawson College, will soon be travelling the country for another reason: a book tour.
Her memoir, Resilience is Futile: The Life and Death and Life of Julie Lalonde, is due to be released at the end of February. In it she recounts in painful detail the decade of harassment she endured and challenges the idea of resilience and how it’s often used against strong women who are victimized.
Resilience is Futile is an incredibly honest, no-holds-barred description of the exasperation, the confusion, the fear, and the fatigue a person experiencing relentless stalking faces. It also points accusatory fingers at society at large and our justice and legal systems, which all too often fail women and refuse to believe them. Because of the unpredictable and often extended nature of stalking, police investigations can be time-consuming and an exercise in frustration. Often, victims feel that they are not taken seriously enough by police officers, who may minimize conjugal violence or stalking as a “lovers’ spat.”
Lalonde describes her decade of being stalked as “psychological terrorism.” She did not find writing the book as cathartic as people thought it would be, and openly describes the physical and psychological ramifications that being a victim of stalking exacts.
“I’m still jumpy. I still hate crowds. I sleep with the curtains drawn and don’t advertise where I live.”
What are we doing to protect women?
Although anyone can be a victim of stalking, the statistics show that — like sexual assault and domestic abuse — overwhelmingly the victims of stalking are women. As with domestic violence or femicide, the motivation isn’t love or a broken heart, but a need for control and power. If the person doing the stalking is a former boyfriend, victims are much more likely to experience physical violence.
With femicide dominating the news cycle once again, the book is, sadly, as relevant as ever.
“There’s been a surge of femicides lately and I think that we don’t talk about it enough,” Lalonde told me over the phone. “I think it’s up to all of us to think about what we are doing every day to make the world safer for women and girls.”
The Ottawa-based advocate would like to see more money being invested to prevent violence against women in the upcoming federal budget.
“Are we investing in prevention programs, are we investing in shelters and sexual assault centres, or are we just giving all that money to the police?” she asks. “Police have a role, absolutely, but police don’t prevent violence, they respond to it. We have to be thinking about where we, as a country, prioritize our time and our money.”
Lalonde partially blames the way stalking and possessiveness is often perceived by society as harmless, instead of the dangerous abuse it can be.
“We give people really problematic messages around romance and we act as though someone being obsessed with you is flattering, that it’s a compliment,” she explains. “I think that really feeds this idea in the minds of stalkers. It also makes a lot of victims feel like they should be flattered.”
When resilience is weaponized
A significant part of Lalonde’s book focuses on the concept of resilience and a world that often forces women to perform their trauma in order to see some form of justice.
Because she was able to continue excelling in school and establish a successful career while being stalked, some people questioned the severity of the abuse. It’s akin to legal cases where rape victims were said not to be “scared enough” or “timid enough” or “destroyed enough” for judges or the public to believe their pain.
It raises the question: what does a traumatized person look like, and are they supposed to behave in a certain way in order to get justice?
“The Ghomeshi trial was a real eye-opener in terms of how the media and the public treated trauma and resilience,” she said. Similarly, in her book she states, “My resilience was used to erase my pain. Traumatized people don’t win awards, get graduate degrees, and build a life in the public sphere.”
“Even more importantly,” she said during our interview, “when we focus on resilience, we ignore the structures that force us to fight so hard.”
Pausing, she added, “My trauma didn’t make me a better person, it made me a different person.”
Resilience is Futile: The Life and Death and Life of Julie Lalonde, published by Between the Lines, will be available Feb. 27, 2020.