I Was Stalked – Here’s What Baby Reindeer Got Right

As the Netflix show sparks a national debate, Laura Barton shares her own stalking terror.

Baby Reindeer

by Laura Barton |
Updated on

There is a scene at the start of hit show Baby Reindeer in which Donny walks into a police station to report that he thinks maybe, possibly, he is being stalked. He details the perpetrator’s behaviour – her pattern of showing up at his workplace, her mounting obsession, the onslaught of messages and threatening behaviour. ‘What took you so long to report it?’ the police officer asks.

Baby Reindeer is based on real events in the life of its star and writer, comedian Richard Gadd. Despite its rave reviews, it’s a series I initially hesitated to watch. I was nervous that it might dredge up feelings around my own still quite recent experience of being stalked.

Unlike Baby Reindeer, the majority of stalking victims are women – an estimated one in five of us will experience some form of stalking, compared to one in 10 men. And cyberstalking has flourished in our increasingly digital age. My own experience began online, with a man who followed me on Twitter. I’ve been a music writer and broadcaster for more than 20 years and, during that time, readers and listeners have often sought me out. But, by and large, I felt able to navigate it all.

This man, who I’m calling Peter, asked me to follow him back; he had a work matter he wanted to discuss via direct message. It seemed an innocuous request, so I followed. My politeness only seemed to embolden him, and from then on Peter wrote regularly. Mostly I did not reply, but occasionally I would thank him for complimenting my work.

I had recently moved to the Kent coast – close, it turned out, to where Peter lived, and, after a while, he started to show up at events I had mentioned on social media. One time he travelled hundreds of miles to attend a festival where he knew I was performing and followed me about as if we were there together. He was always alone and always awkward and, while his presence made me feel strange, I also felt sorry for him; he seemed lonely and unaware that this was not a normal way to behave.

It was during the pandemic that Peter’s behaviour escalated. His messages to me became more frequent and more personal. I asked him to stop. Meanwhile, I became increasingly concerned that he had worked out where I lived. I told Peter I was going to stop replying to him, but still he wrote, the messages growing yet longer and more persistent.

It was after he alerted me to a threatening blogpost he had written about me – and only after considerable encouragement from others – that I contacted the police. I worried they might think me silly or dramatic but, in fact, they were hugely supportive. He now knows that if he ever contacts me again he will be charged.

What took me so long to report it? To explain that is to unravel a strange jumble of emotions: I felt feeble and histrionic and, on some level, I felt complicit. Like Donny, I was also deeply worried about Peter’s wellbeing and, to some extent, perhaps I even saw something of myself in him, too.

There was much to praise in Baby Reindeer but, above all, I admired the way it captured the complexity of most stalking cases; how obsession grows incrementally, and how peculiar it feels to be its focus. How most perpetrators are not pantomime villains, but people whose minds have become distorted. How there are conversations to be had about behaviours and boundaries and what to do when people break them. And above all, just how terrifyingly easily we can become someone’s baby reindeer.

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