Over the last four years, I have lived with the constant threat from a stalker – a stalker who is now in jail for the third time for violating a restraining order.
Every day I live with these questions: What if today is the day that my stalker posts bail? What if today is the day that he discovers my parents’ new address? What if I go to a lecture on campus and he shows up there?
I feel that I have no control over my life. My family was forced to move. I have had stay indoors, keep drapes closed, avoid posting on social media sites, and even change my car. It’s almost like being held hostage.
Should myself and other female victims just have to put up with this? The answer, hopefully, is “no.” Women must be able to defend themselves. The most effective way of doing this is by using a gun. When police arrive to enforce a restraining order, it is usually too late.
I have been living such a nightmare for over four years. I was 16 and working a café in San Diego when a 67-year-old man, Richard Bennett, came in the store for coffee. He kept coming back, staring at me for long periods of time, and trying to flirt. He then would sit outside the store for the entire day.
The nightmare soon got much worse. He followed me around outside of work, demanding to talk and saying that he was “trying to protect [me],” then he began bothering my friends, security had to remove him from scholarship pageants that I participated in, and he attempted to attack my then boyfriend in high school. I was forced to take out a restraining order.
Today, Richard Bennett is facing trial for yet another restraining order violation. In June of this year, I returned home to San Diego from Dartmouth College and early the very next morning, Bennett was at my door, wanting to talk.
He was arrested and police searched his car. They discovered what police call a “rape kit,” including rope tied as slip noose, a knife, gloves, and other items. When police got the warrant, they found my pictures all over Bennett’s house as well as illegally obtained guns.
Bennett’s bond originally required him to put up $10,000 for a bondsman. This was later raised to $30,000. So far, Bennett hasn’t posted bond and is still in jail. However, he has hired one of the top defense attorneys in the area.
I thought that I would be safe when I started attending Dartmouth College on the East Coast two years ago but over the last fourteen months, Bennett has sent me multiple messages in which he promised to come all the way to Dartmouth.
Fearing for my safety, I finally contacted Dartmouth College’s Department of Safety and Security in June and asked if I could keep a permitted handgun on campus. But no luck. The advice was that I call campus security and arrange for an escort if I ever felt unsafe after dark. I was also told that there was no way to appeal this decision.
Yet, the escorts have proved to be impractical and humiliating. Campus security has told me, “you can’t keep calling us all the time.” When requesting transportation, I am grilled over whether I have a justifiable reason.
Campus security tells me that I can’t call until after 9 PM, but my stalker doesn’t really care what time of day it is.
What are women in these circumstances supposed to do? Keep themselves locked in their dorm rooms, as I have done?
Dartmouth thinks that banning weapons will keep students safe, but a gun ban isn’t going to stop the Bennetts of this world from attacking. A restraining order didn’t stop him from approaching me countless times in the three years since it was issued. Neither will Dartmouth’s gun ban.
Having a gun is by far the most effective way for victims to stop crimes. The annual National Crime Victimization Survey has shown this for over 30 years running. Because of the large strength differential between male criminals and female victims, women benefit much more than men do from having a gun or carrying a permitted, concealed handgun.
The concern that permit holders represent a danger to others is misplaced. A recent report from the Crime Prevention Research Center cites statistics from Florida and shows that from October 1, 1987 to May 31, 2014 (almost three decades), Florida has issued permits to more than 2.64 million people. These permits have been revoked for firearms-related violations at an annual rate of only 0.0002 percent. This is less than a third of the rate of firearm violations by police.
Nine states ensure that permit holders can carry concealed handguns on public university campuses. There has not been a single reported problem with a permit holder.
Gun control groups push expanded background checks for gun purchases as the solution for stalkers, but Bennett was already a convicted felon. He was banned from getting guns. California already has the background checks that President Obama is pushing, but he was still able to get guns illegally. In addition, Bennett is much larger and stronger than I am and I felt in danger even without him having a gun.
If schools and society can’t guarantee my safety and the safety of victims like me, it’s time we have the chance to defend ourselves so we can stop living in fear.
Editor's note: John Lott, president, Crime Prevention Research Center contributed to this article.