Knowledge. Power. Choice.
There are moments when I get stuck in the oddness of it all. My mind drifts back to how my life was altered by a stranger and how my livelihood, freedom, and sense of security were slowly stripped away.
I didn’t have a choice in the matter. This wasn’t some type of horrible accident, cyber fraud, or a random act of violence. What happened to me was and is targeted and personal and terrifying. It has been nearly eight years since this nightmarish roller coaster ride started, and today, I am on an ascent. Over the last couple of years I have learned how to shift from living in trauma and have started to build a new life. My circumstances haven’t changed, but with a lot of grace and support, I have learned to use them as tools to educate and guide others.
My phone rings on a busy winter night as I wait tables at a cozy Vermont Inn. I don’t recognize the number. After ignoring the first call, it rings again…and then again. Annoyed, I pull my phone out of my apron and glance at it as I toss it onto the server station. Every call is from Kentucky. I don’t know anyone in Kentucky. But, I do know that VINE notifications come from Kentucky. VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) was trying to get a hold of me. They are calling to notify me that my offender’s custody status has changed. And in that moment I am forced back into the reality of my life. Everything in that busy dining room goes quiet and just kind of swirls. The clanging and voices feel distant, and I am frozen. I listen to the message—the offender has been transferred to a different facility. I punch in my PIN, signaling to VINE that I’ve received this information, throw my phone down, take a deep breath, and jump back into the chaos of the evening.
My name is Anna Nasset. I am a public speaker, graphic designer, three-legged dog owner, a victim and survivor. When I’m not tucked away in my small studio apartment in Vermont, you can find me speaking at universities, military bases, victim service conferences, and community venues. I own a small business, Stand Up Resources, through which I provide support and train victim services providers across the world. I am passionate about the work that I do. I am humbled that I have the opportunity to be a voice for stalking victims, victims of crime, and their rights. It took a long time to get here, and you can still occasionally find me working at that cozy Vermont Inn or tucked away grappling with my fear and trauma.
It will be eight years this November that a man approached me as I worked on the window of the gallery I owned in Washington State. At the time I was living my dream. My best life. I had purchased my gallery four years earlier with $200 in my bank account and a very strong business plan. I worked tirelessly and passionately to promote arts in the region, and I loved it. That’s why I was creating a window design that Friday night in November.
Around 8 o’clock that evening, a man I vaguely recognized—but did not know—knocked on the gallery window as I worked. I hopped down, opened the door just enough to have a brief conversation. As he left, he gave me a small painting as a gift. That five-minute, seemingly harmless conversation would change my life forever.
What transpired from that night is a blur of letters, phone calls, and messages. His first message was to submit artwork to show at my gallery, but his language quickly shifted after I denied his submission. This man began to contact me, proclaiming love, anger, desire, hatred. I was stunned and…quite frankly, confused.
The situation escalated quickly. I responded to only one of his communications—to tell him that I would not show his artwork at my gallery. The messages kept coming. And after a short amount of time, I went to local law enforcement. They knew this man from other small crimes committed in the community. They also knew him to stalk people for short spurts of time, and it appeared that I was his next victim. While they believed he was likely to move on, law enforcement conveyed to me the seriousness of the situation. Stalking is a very dangerous crime, both psychologically and physically. After they taught me how to keep a log, create an exit strategy, and gave me tips on how to keep myself safe, I walked back into the world.
Of the 7.5 million people stalked each year about 10% are stalked by individuals they do not know. The vast majority of victims know the person stalking them and often had an intimate relationships with them prior. In nearly every partner homicide, the victim was stalked prior to their murder. In my case, the offender was a diagnosed schizophrenic, but he is believed to have a rare mental health condition called erotomania. Erotomania is a delusion in which a person believes another person is in love with them, and acts out in love and anger towards that person.
After reporting him to the authorities, the offender’s behavior only worsened. I wrote to him, as directed by law enforcement, telling him that he was to no longer communicate with me in any way. But he continued. He followed me, wrote me, called me. He was seen outside of my business. It was debilitating. I was constantly on edge, paranoid, distracted, and scared. My business started to suffer. Because I couldn’t devote the time and energy needed to run a small business, my sales plummeted. I struggled to sell even a small piece of jewelry.
The offender was arrested and prosecuted in 2012—sentenced to 364 days in jail. It was at this time that my advocate told me about VINE. A service that notifies victims regarding any changes in their offender’s custody status (e.g., transfer to another facility, release, death) in real-time?! I had never heard of such a service. I was angry and scared that I needed such a service. I vividly remember calling to sign up for VINE, my voice stammering and breaking as I stumbled over my words. The voice on the other end was compassionate and warm…reassuring in a very vulnerable moment. In the end, that person helped me sign up for a service that was designed to give me the information I needed to stay safe. And every time I receive a life-saving alert from that Kentucky number, I think about the amazing people who work at Appriss—the developers of VINE. VINE Representatives know that victims are receiving terrifying news, and yet they are also the most incredible comfort. They are giving us the gift of knowledge, and knowledge, in turn, becomes power and choice.
In 2013 I lost my business, largely due to the ongoing terror and fear of the offender. After he was released, he physically stayed away from me, albeit briefly. With his high intelligence and intricate knowledge of the legal system, he turned to stalking me in other ways. He would reach me however he could: threatening letters, images of my home posted on social media…I have hundreds of examples. The psychological turmoil was too much; my life became a shell of what it once was. I became withdrawn and hidden, doing whatever I could to disappear. But I didn’t want to leave my town, my community, my friendships – my life was there … I couldn’t let him “win.”
I did spend some time away from Washington in 2015 to be with my father as he was dying. During the time away I found myself doing the “normal” actives I had stopped doing in Washington. I ran errands without fear, I took walks in the evening alone, I met friends for a drink in town. These small normalcies had been completely removed from my life, and I returned to Washington knowing I had to leave. I arrived in the Green Mountains of Vermont one year later, determined to disappear and start a quiet new life. No one would know my past. No one would know about my “situation.” It was over and I was free.
I quickly realized that victims of stalking are never really free. Yes, he found me.
As his threats and proclamations of love followed me to Vermont, law enforcement worked tirelessly to build a case. He was ultimately arrested and incarcerated on two felony counts of stalking. Once again, I turned to VINE. And over the last two years when he has made bail or was transferred, I get that jarring call from Kentucky. I am just so grateful to know. After every alert, even though I’m thousands of miles away, I change my routine. I go over my safety plans and exit strategies. I become more aware. VINE gives me the ability to let my guard down when I know he is in custody—I breathe a little easier, I walk more confidently, enjoy more freedom. I to go to the movies or grocery store—normal places—without fear. VINE allows me to just…be.
Two years ago I came to the realization that despite periods of imprisonment, this “situation” will never really end. My life had become so small; I missed the brave woman I used to be. This led me to ask myself, If this is my one beautiful and brilliant life, what am I going to do with it? Last year I traveled to NOVA’s (National Organization for Victim Assistance) annual conference where I spoke publicly for the first time—and I haven’t stopped since!
It is an honor and privilege to travel and tell my story, highlighting the incredible work my service providers have done and CONTINUE to do from across this country. I speak about the crime of stalking, tools for working with victims of crime, as well as empathy and believability. I have just launched a podcast focused on victim services. I am even attempting to write a book about it all. I am once again privileged to speak at NOVA’s conference this year. If you are planning to attend, feel free to sit in on my July 24 session, or just stop me and say “hi”!
Because of VINE and the tireless efforts of my countless service providers, I have knowledge and power. That knowledge and power have given me the agency of choice. What I have chosen to do may not be right for everyone, but I have a voice again and I am determined to turn this crime into something positive.
There is no conclusion or happy ending to my story. I still have bad days. I struggle with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and physical issues. I still have days where all I can do is watch Gilmore Girls and snuggle my dog. I see a therapist regularly to navigate life as an on-going victim. It’s not easy. But I find being able to speak and share my story—hoping that just one person walks away with a new tool or a deeper understanding of stalking—well that makes it all worth it. And as I’ve started to speak publicly, I have seen myself come back. I’m not the same woman I was eight years ago, but I am strong and getting stronger. Because of VINE and through the guidance of my service providers, I am here today. I am so grateful.
At the time of publication, the offender in this case is currently awaiting trial on two felony charges (stalking and cyber stalking) for stalking Anna Nasset.