Almost two months ago, the granniepants project went viral. Though the mantra of the project will never be effected by the number of people who may have heard of granniepants, there is one aspect of the situation that has been hugely altered. That aspect, above all else, is my sense of safety. A question that has been posed to me time and time again in the past months is, "aren't you afraid of something bad happening to you because of this?" My answer has been, every time, an unwavering, "no". Every time, that answer has been a lie.
The truth of the matter is, yes, I am afraid. I am afraid because I have been bombarded with very specific, graphic death threats from a man I drew. I am afraid because I know he lives within driving distance of me. I am afraid because my information has become incredibly public. I am afraid because I am a small woman and he is a big man. But more than anything, I am afraid because the police just don't seem to care.
It has been over a month since these threats started and the police were notified. I have kept quiet in the hopes that the system put in place to protect us all would act competently and with care, but that has not been the case. Violence against women is too prevalent to take threats lightly and to not act swiftly against them. I am lucky that my threats have not been acted upon, but too many women are forced to silently deal with violence, abuse, and rape without any real support. Fear is the greatest weapon in silencing people, but it is important to remember that our voice is the greatest tool in enacting change. So yes, I am afraid, but I need my voice to be heard.
This is the truth of the matter:
In the days immediately following Buzzfeed's story, I am inundated with messages. Some of them are negative, but the vast majority of them prove to me how many amazing, kind people exist in the word.
In today's world of the Internet, there are at least a dozen ways to contact any one person. People are communicating with me via email, Instagram, Facebook and, most of all, this website. With a simple click, anyone is able to leave a message in my website inbox. They are asked to give their name and an email address, so I will be able to reach them, but it is also possible to leave this section blank or give false information.
It's April 28th and and I'm sitting in bed checking my website inbox, when I feel my heart fall to the floor. For a moment, I'm not sure what to make of the messages I've received. I'm a deer in headlights staring back at the oncoming tractor trailer. I take a few breathes to calm myself as I take in the messages on my screen.
This is what they say:
The two death threats have come exactly ten minutes apart and sit side by side in my inbox. They are from the same person, who has listen his first and last name as "John". The email address given is obviously as fake as the name he wrote. Next to every message I receive via this website, there is an IP address. I click the IP address and it takes me to a map that pin points the exact location of where this messages are coming from. Now I am terrified. This man knows my name, my story is all over the internet, he wants to hurt me, and based off his IP address he lives in the same city as I do.
Based on the wording, I'm almost positive this is a man I've drawn for granniepants. This fact does nothing to calm my nerves. He has proven that he does not respect women, that he does not value them as human beings, and that he very much has a vendetta against me. I check my personal email account, but there is nothing. Then I check my Instagram.
This comment has been left:
I click on the username and it leads me to a relatively uninteresting account full of dog photos. The only interesting fact is that the message came from someone's real, personal account. This person was also unwise enough to enable the GPS locator on their photos. I click on it and the map leads me to the exact same cross streets as the IP address from the other messages did. This is the same person.
The Instagram comment is left beneath a particular man's photo, let's call him Fred. Plenty of men don't like their naked drawings, but this makes me remember that Fred reacted by threatening me on Tinder before I blocked him. There were no death threats, but he did say bad things would happen. This must be the guy. I screen shot everything.
I pick up my phone and call the DC police. A man answers and I try to explain to him as calmly as possible the situation, but she refuses to listen to me over the phone. Angrily, I hang up and call another police station. This time, a woman answers. Maybe it's sexist, but I was glad. She'll understand this is serious.
When I finish explaining there is a pause, then she says, "honey, just delete the messages."
"What?" I legitimately don't understand what she is suggesting.
"The law's not really caught up with all this cyber bullying, so we can't really do anything. It's best to just delete the messages so they don't upset you," she explains.
I am enraged. She's not trying to upset me, but in this moment I have never hated a person more. "Are you a complete idiot? Deleting the messages does not delete the intent behind the messages," I've completely lost it and can't help but start to cry.
She's obviously flustered by my reaction, but sticks to her guns regardless. "Usually these threats are empty, hon," she says in an attempt to cool me down.
"Yea, well I'm glad you're satisfied gambling my life on 'usually', but I'm not," I shriek as I slam down the phone.
It's a few hours later and my Dad has pulled every connection in the book to finally get a detective's attention. He helped a friend with a situation once and has agreed to speak to me. I'm lucky he has even agreed to that, because it is becoming increasingly apparent to me that is not always the case in these matters.
In the hours since this morning, I've also received a new threat. It is attached to the same IP, but this time it is in the public comments section of my blog.
This is the message:
I'm at Starbucks with my Dad waiting to get a call from the detective because I'm too afraid to wait at home. I give him my phone and show him the new message and I can tell he's rattled.
"Anna, take the drawing down," he says.
I've been thinking about it all morning and I haven't been able to bring myself to do it. The entire granniepants project revolves around the fact that women should not put up with bad behavior from men. We should be treated with respect and if we aren't, we shouldn't have to be pressured into putting up with it. I started the project as a way to stand up for myself and it goes against every piece of my being to succumb to threats. The project, to me, is a much smaller example of these threats, and if I take down the drawing I will be a hypocrite in every thing I stand for.
"I don't negotiate with terrorists!" I shout and his eyes look like they might pop out of his head.
"You need to protect yourself," he implores me, "don't be stupid."
My phone begins to vibrate on the table so the issue is dropped. I answer and the detective is on the other end. Again, I explain my story. I explain granniepants, Tinder, Instagram, my website, the death threats, the IP addresses, the fake email account names, and who I believe the threats are coming from. I tell him that I've printed out screenshots of the threats, IP addresses, maps of where the threats are coming from, his Instagram account, his Tinder photo and name, and I ask if we can meet in person so I can hand the information over. The detective is hesitant to meet me and says I should go home and wait until he's wrapped his head around the matter.
"Can I at least delete the public message on my blog now that I have a screen shot," I ask the detective because I don't want any one else online to see.
He thinks for a moment and then says, "actually, you should respond to him on there and tell him you called the cops on him."
"What? I don't want to make him more angry at me," I say and the detective decides he will leave a comment beneath my blog instead.
The detective writes:
You will only receive this warning only once. Any further contact or threats to Anna Gensler with result in your immediate arrest. I am a Detective with the ------------------ and also a Task Force Officer with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. If you would like to discuss this further feel free to contact me at -----------------.
He seems pleased with himself, says that this should make the guy stop, and he agrees to call back in a little bit. My Dad, who has been lurking over me throughout the conversation, asks, "so are we going to see this detective now?"
"No," I answer, "I don't think he wants to meet in person."
My Dad, who for better or worse is much pushier than I am, huffily calls the detective back and refuses to hang up until he has agreed to meet us face to face so I can give him the information.
For some reason I will never understand, my Dad and the detective have decided on meeting in a grocery store parking lot roughly half way between us. It's pouring rain and I feel grateful, as we wait for the detective, that the men at least decided on a parking lot that is sheltered by a roof. A shiny black car creeps towards us and a man rolls down the window.
"Anna?" he shouts through the loud rain.
"Yes," I answer.
"Hop in," he says as he waves us into his car. I slide in the front seat and for a moment take pleasure in the fact that my Dad is sitting in the back of a cop car. It feels like a scene right out of a movie where the people meet under cover to exchange top secret information. I hand the detective my bright red folder full of information and an overwhelming sense of relief washes over me. I basically did his job for him, now all he has to do is go get this creep. I know everything will be okay now.
Since I've already explained everything over the phone to the detective, he doesn't have many remaining questions. He explains that they will need to subpoena the internet providers to find out for sure who this person is, then the police will be able to go to his house and talk to him.
"You'll have to decide from there if you want to press charges," he say as he looks over at me. I nod that I understand.
"If you did decide to, it would be a pretty draining process. You'd have to go to court and they'd ask you a lot of questions," he continues. Again I nod that I understand.
"You probably won't want to go through all that, but again, it's your call" he says. His obvious attempts at swaying my opinion are irritating me, but I keep my mouth shut because this is the only person in the world right now who has agreed to help me.
"So what are you going to do about this project of yours," he asks and changes the subject away from court.
"What do you mean," I answer.
"Well obviously this is just going to keep happening to you if you keep this up," he says.
"I hope most people don't think it's acceptable to issue death threats," I say and I hope my Dad will pipe up in my defense.
"You're an adult, so what you do is your decision," he says. I think he's coming around to agreeing with me, but then he continues his thought, " just so you know, we can't just keep coming in to protect you if you keep trolling these guys and they keep threatening you. That's not what the police are set up to do."
I can't believe my ears. The police department isn't set up to protect people? You can't protect me against a person who has clearly broken the law? If a person needs your help more than once, you can't provide it? You believe that I am the problem in this situation, the "troll", when this man started by sending me rude messages online, I drew a doodle of him naked, and now he is threatening my life? I want to shout all these things to the officer, but finally my Dad peaks his head out from the back seat.
"She understands, officer," my dad says. "Thank you so much for your help", my brown noser Dad says as he steps out of the car. I follow his lead before my small amount of self control completely escapes me. Once back in our own car, I agree to take down this guy's granniepants drawing as long as my Dad understands that I'm not going to stop the project.
"Happy?" I ask. I'm anything but happy. Secretly I am relieved that the image is off my site, yet I know it still exists all over the internet and nothing can be done by me to stop that.
The next morning I have two new comments waiting for me under my blog. They are from the guy, with the same IP, and they are in response to what the detective wrote the day before. One is directed at me and one is directed at the detective.
This is what he wrote:
I immediately pick up my phone and call the detective. I read him the messages and again, ask if I can delete them from my blog now that I've screen shot-ed them and the IP addresses. The detective tells me to leave them up so he can get back to his office and print them out himself. I leave the messages up on my blog for the next two weeks, just in case.
Over the next few days, I receive a handful more threats. They are the same IP address, the same guy, and obviously the detective's message did not deter him.
These are two additional messages:
I've been told that getting a subpoena should only take a few days, but I'm far too afraid to stay in my house until then. I ask some of my friends if I can stay with them until this is resolved and they say of course. It's no coincidence that these friends also happen to be big, strong men. I realize that people feel free to issue baseless threats online. I realize that the majority of these threats are never carried out, but I am taking this seriously and I want to feel protected. I feel comforted to know that I've surrounded myself with people willing and able to protect me, yet at the same time it upsets me. I am a strong women and shouldn't have to hide under the wing of any man in order to feel safe. But that is indeed the situation I find myself in.
My friends have quickly made their distrust of the police known and they think I should head to a more public forum to seek help.
"If you put this shit on Reddit, they'd get this guy in a minute," one says.
The other nods in agreement. "Yea, You know that Anonymous group? They'd ruin his life by lunch time."
I can't lie, the idea sounds appealing, but I trust the police and now that I've given them the information I know they'll sort everything out.
Two weeks pass by and I've heard almost nothing from the detective. For some reason, the subpoena has taken a very long time to issue. The detective assured me the issue was being taken seriously, yet I find that hard to believe when two weeks of stagnation drag by before any real news develops.
Finally after two weeks, the detective informs me that the subpoena has been issued and sent to Google. I am relieved, but also confused. Why was the subpoena sent to Google, when the IP address came from Verizon? I ask the detective and he seems baffled by the question.
"Well, this guys email was a Google email," he answers me.
"What email?" I ask.
"The one on your website," the defiant detective says.
At this point I am about to cry, because I realize what he has done. Instead of tracing the IP address, which is something I did on my personal computer in thirty seconds back in April, this detective has attempted to trace the fake email account the guy left as his contact on my website. I specifically explained back in April the email address was fake, that the name was fake, and that they should go after the IP address. If, for whatever reason, he really wanted to trace an email address, the detective should have subpoenaed this guy's Instagram account, which I gave him. You need a real email address to open an Instagram account, you do not need a real email address to write a comment on this website. What makes me even more baffled: the detective knew all this. He himself left a comment on the website two weeks ago. He knew it wasn't through his email.
"The weird thing is, Google says that email address doesn't exist," the detective continues.
My faith in the police has officially left the building. Two weeks have past and we are exactly where we started. It's clear that I'm furious as I explain to him what has happened.
I can't claim to read anyone's mind. I do not know why the detective did not listen to me. Perhaps he just wasn't listening when I explained it to him two weeks ago. Perhaps he never read the papers I gave him. Perhaps he doesn't actually understand how the internet works and how people communicate through it. Or perhaps he just doesn't want to take orders from a young woman.
It's possible that I'm projecting my problems with other men in my life on this detective, but I'm convinced that last reason is true so once I hang up my call, I immediately ask my Dad to call and speak to the detective too. Coincidentally or not, it is only on the phone with my Dad that the detective finally agrees to subpoena the IP address.
Again, another two weeks roll by with little information and it is now May 29th. Exactly one month has past since these threats began and the police have yet to do anything concrete. I have gradually become less afraid that this man is going to act on these death threats, but I am still staying away from my house. If anything, it makes me afraid that I am less afraid now. I am upset at my brain for letting its guard down, when this person is still out there and nothing has been done. It is possible this person is just waiting for the right moment to strike, or it is possible he is nothing more than an internet bully. Either way, it is outrageous that the police have not swiftly acted and treated this seriously. Again, I realize that I am lucky to have even gotten a police officer's slight attention into the matter. By "lucky" I mean it is rare. One should not consider herself "lucky" that the system put in place to protect her listened to her complaint, then ignored it. Threats are issues all the time against women and law enforcement does little or nothing about it and that needs to change.
I'm eating lunch when my phone vibrates with this text message from the detective:
He's obviously referencing the threat towards the himself that the guy put up on my blog. That part of the text I understand. What I don't understand is how in the world the detective is claiming I took it down before he had a chance to copy it. Again, back in April I asked when I could delete it. He said to wait until he got back to his office and had a chance to save it. Again, I ended up leaving the messages up for an extra two weeks just in case. The detective really couldn't manage to print one piece of evidence out in two weeks? The thing about this that makes me so upset is that if I hadn't saved a screen shot of this myself, there would be absolutely no evidence that it happened.
I decide to call the detective to see what's going on and surprisingly, he answers. He says that they finally traced the IP address to the suspect, who was in fact the person I thought he was. I feel slightly vindicated, but mostly sad that this conclusion took a month to come to.
The detective says the police will be going to this guys house later today and he would like the message with the threat aimed at himself to show this guy face to face. "I'm glad you're only concerned about the threat targeting you, detective," I'd like to say, but I don't. At least they're finally going and I can finally decide to press charges.
The next day, the detective texts me again. They never got around to going yesterday. He promises that they will go to this guys house tomorrow or the next day and that he will, of course, let me know when they do.
That was eleven days ago and I haven't heard back.
There is no happy ending to this story, other than that I am very lucky nothing has happened to me. But plenty of other people aren't so lucky and that is why I want to speak up. This issue of violence against women has been at the forefront of the news lately, but it took the tragedy in California with Elliot Rodger for that to happen. This issue should be important enough to not only address after the fact. After the fact does not save the lives lost in California. The police were warned in that instance and they didn't do a thing. They went to the man's house, he seemed nice enough, and they left him alone. He openly admitted that had the police investigated further, his plan would have been ruined. Those innocent people would not have been killed. Yes, I am thankfully alive and unscathed, but for that I thank God, or fate, or pure luck. I do not thank the Police department, because if this man had decided to act out on these threats like Elliot Roger had, I would be dead and the police didn't do a think to prevent that.