Online harassment survivor's advice to victims of stalking and harassment
Lindsey Goldrick Dean was subject of an harassment campaign for over 13 years by a man she met just four times. After her release from the hands of her online harasser for over a decade, she came back to the offices of Cohen Davis Solicitors to speak to harassment lawyer specialist Yair Cohen about her case and to provide help and support to other victims of harassment.
The conversation between Lindsey and Yair should give some comfort and help for victims of online harassment, many of which believe that there is no help available to them.
Yair: Lindsey, why did you want& to talk about your harassment experience?
Lindsey: I want to talk about my experience, Yair, which is why I went to the media after it was over because of several reasons. Firstly, I wanted to make an example of him publicly because he had hijacked my life for 13 years and he wasn't going to get away with his controlling, bullying and violent conduct lightly. I had the power, not him. I also had to give the message to other perpetrators of harassment that they are not invincible and can be found and that they are not 'hiding' behind the internet, no matter where they lived and how they try to cover up their crime.
Thirdly, I wanted to highlight that online harassment is not just social media related and there is a misconception there. I didn't have a social media account. Fourthly, because he offered me silence money to not talk about the case or he would sue me (which enraged me that this is allowed to happen), I wanted to give the message that you cannot just throw money at something to make it go away. You gave me back my life, feelings of safety, career and voice - and I am not saying that lightly!
Of course, the quarter of my life dealing with this pernicious online harassment would all have been in vain if I didn't go to the media, Yair. Do you remember me telling you at the beginning that I did not want financial reward from this and that I just wanted to help others? I want to give hope and help for victims of online harassment and guide them to you because nobody before you, Gabor and Gervase could help me. The help that I received from you all, I had to pay forward, Yair.
To tell the story in brief, I had been subjected to a 11 year campaign of online and offline harassment that started in 2005 and would be continuing today, had I not called Cohen Davis and spoken with you, Yair in late 2015. (The perpetrator continued during the litigation, so it was 13 years in total). I had met the perpetrator online and went on four dates with him and realised that we were not right for each other and subsequently ended it. Then, the harassment began and it involved him creating at least 15 malicious websites about me, bearing my name as domain names in every permutation.
They were full of untruths with sexual connotations and indicated that I was a person of low values and these sites were escalating by the year. The perpetrator maintained these websites to reflect my life throughout the years. It is important to remember Yair, that I was not on Facebook or any other Social Media site (until he impersonated me on them) and so, I hadn't any information about me online, so his research was extensive. This was only half of what he inflicted on me because he harassed me offline, too. He hijacked my life, my career, my feelings of safety and my voice.
Who did you try to seek help from? Surely the police would have done something about it, right? It is a job for the police to help victims of internet harassment, isn't it?
I thought so but for all of that time, the police, solicitors, MPs, Google, domain registry sites, private investigators, everyone...told me that they could not help me (nor had any suggestions what to do, other than change my name!) because my harasser lived and changed addresses overseas and until he physically harmed me, there was nothing that could be done. I was also aware that any legal costs would be prohibitive to me (and I think it is amazing that you can offer these services under a no win no fee agreement for people suffering online harassment). I was desperate and fearful and searched online over and over throughout the years, seeking help for victims of online harassment and then found Cohen Davis Solicitors.
The moment that I spoke with you, Yair, I felt relief. I didn't have to explain, as I had done in so many years to blank faces and confused voices at the other end of the phone. How did you know, Yair that you could help me, when everyone else had been saying, 'What do you want me to do?'.
Yair: How did I know that I could help you? It's what I have been doing for over 20 plus years, providing help for victims of online harassment. I started studying the internet when I was a law student. I came to the UK as a foreign student in the early 90s and bought a pc to learn how to code websites. I then created websites for local businesses to help finance my studies and websites were rather a novelty at the time, as people didn't really have them. I knocked on doors of hotels and restaurants and convinced them to have websites and in my spare time (usually in the middle of the night), I would sit and create websites for them. We used to take reservations from the US to hotels in London and we did this by fax.
In those days, there wasn’t Ecommerce and that phrase wasn’t even invented yet. The only way to take reservations was by email and then confirm it by fax and then there were all sorts of ways to get deposits but that set me in this direction, in the very early days of being a law student. There was very little internet law in this country – it didn’t exist - and I was sourcing a lot of information from attorneys in the United States of America and learning how they did things because the internet was so far more advanced in America.
So, I dealt with many online harassment cases before yours and I managed to successfully provide legal help for victims of online harassment. There had been other cases. Not all were as bad as yours but they were bad in a different way. The case of Paul Britton and Origin Design was one of them, back in 2012. There was no doubt in my mind that I could help you, Lindsey. What stopped us from helping you straight away was the complexity. I identified straight away that there was a huge amount of information there and that at that time when you first approached me, we were very small. I recognised that in order to succeed in a case such as yours, we would need to put in hundreds of hours of work and we didn’t have the resources at the time. We did keep in contact and subsequently, as the firm grew, we were able to spare some resources and we were able to help you too.
Lindsey: You were saying there that you couldn't help but in 2015, approaching 11 years of lack of understanding and people turning me away and feeling isolated, when I spoke with you in our consultation about the campaign of online harassment I was being subjected to... just talking with you, Yair, I picked up on your compassion and expertise (a rare combination). When you have become a target of online harassment, the impact on being a victim of online harassment stays with you your whole life and when I spoke with you, I knew that you cared and could help me at some point. I cannot tell you how much I tried to get help - innumerous days, weeks, months of searching- it was exhausting and frustrating. Nobody could help. There wasn't help for victims of online harassment anywhere online until recently. Everybody looked at me and asked, ‘What do you want me to do?’. I picked up the phone and talked with you and you were...are...so approachable and honest. I didn’t have to say much but for the first time, regarding this, I felt heard and understood. So, you did help me – you helped me tremendously and it was only a year later when you were able to help me pragmatically, because you had more resources.
Yair: It is good to know that by just having a conversation with someone and knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and knowing at that point in time we couldn't help you much more but just to know that there is help for victims of online harassment there and there is someone out there that can do something about it, is good. The internet is a big place and there are all sorts of problems and issues that people are having on the internet. When they Google their problem, they are in pretty much the same situation as you were. Years ago, they couldn't find the answer. My advice is to continue Googling.
We do different types of cases with different circumstances and we try to put information out there on our websites, so that it makes it easier to give help for victims of online harassment and to find us whenever they are seeking assistance and advice for a problem that they think isn't common or when they are having difficulties finding a lawyer to help them.
Lindsey: I think that is important to say, Yair, that you understand the internet as well as the law and I think that makes your law firm so special. You are dedicated to internet law. You also stand out because of your integrity, too and that is permeated throughout the company.
Yair: Honesty is important and I would like to think we can help. You have to specialise in this because the consequences of getting most legal problems wrong tend to be financial. If you are a property lawyer and you have got it wrong in a transaction, the worse case scenario is that your client has lost money and that could obviously be compensated. In a case of internet harassment and breach of privacy, you cannot really monetise the damage that is caused by getting it wrong.
Quite victims of harassment only have one go at it. They have to get it right. Imagine if your case wasn’t prepared properly? Your harasser kept denying his wrongdoing even after he was presented with undisputed evidence. He was trying to find holes in your case throughout. It wasn’t the case that your harasser for 13 years was going to accept responsibility straight away. Through his own lawyers he used intimidation and even after he accepted that he harassed you he claimed, absurdly though, that the offences he had committed against you were were too old. Eventually your harasser had to surrender because of the huge amount of evidence that we had (122 exhibits, if I can remember correctly), but still tried to say that it is not exactly a criminal offence. There were all sorts of arguments that his lawyers tried to put forward on their client’s behalf. He continued to harass you through his solicitors.
Imagine if your case had not been put together properly and you would have lost that? There would be nothing in the world that could have compensated you for that. The damage is just too great to monetise. You cannot possibly compensate for getting it wrong, so it is very important to go to a specialist lawyer that has experience with the internet and law and providing help for victims of online harassment and it doesn’t have to be us.
There are 3 or 4 specialists in the UK and that’s what they do: internet law. Go and speak to someone that specialises in harassment law. Not just one lawyer in a big firm. Having a number of lawyers in one specialised firm ensures that they are all in the right mindset. People feed from each other. There are peer views and a lot of experience between the people. For me, it was really important to have a law firm that specialises in internet law. That is all we do and we are refusing to touch anything else. We turn away all over work.
Lindsey: Well, all I can say at this point, Yair is that I have a perpetual gratitude to my legal team.
I don't know what I tapped into Google that day that led me to finding Cohen Davis. I think it was, Best Internet Lawyer or something similar because at that point, I knew that I needed the best to stand any chance. I didn't think anything would stop my perpetrator and his escalating campaign of harassment against me.