Still Asking Why

A PTSD Awareness Story
June 27, 2023Liz McOsker and Emily McOsker

(Trigger warnings for sexual harassment, stalking, and PTSD)

I am very proud to be Emily McOsker’s mother. She is a very strong woman. In 2021, Emily was stalked. Fortunately, the perpetrator was identified, arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated. Emily is sharing her story with us.

In the April 13, 2023, Advocacy Matters e-newsletter, there was an article, “Our Hidden Stories,” written by Trish Joseph, Trina Novak, and Shoshana Dweck. We learn from them that telling stories of trauma is difficult. Afterward, the storyteller feels lighter, as if there were “less of a burden on our souls.” People living with trauma need to be believed and supported by their community, and sharing their stories is critical to obtaining belief and support.

WRJ says STOP: An Initiative Against Sexual Harassment and Assault is an initiative from Women of Reform Judaism that addresses discrimination many of us have experienced or witnessed, from micro-aggressions to harassment to assault. As our Executive Director Rabbi Marla J. Feldman said in her statement commending the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act: “Our Jewish tradition teaches us that the impact of personal injury, including sexual violence, is multidimensional: One who injures another person is liable on five counts: for the injury itself, for pain, for healing, for loss of time, and for embarrassment” (Bava Kamma 8:1). The repercussions of such violence reverberate far beyond the specific moment of the act, such as lifelong trauma. Gender-based violence violates the Jewish belief in kavod habriyot, the fundamental dignity of every individual, and is a violation of the sanctity and wholeness of the body and health of another person.”

With this in mind, I now hand this article over to Emily McOsker:

From Emily:

Below is my victim impact statement, written for court in October / November 2021.

January 9, 2021 was the scariest afternoon of my life. I got home, checked the mail, and saw an envelope with the shortened version of my name on it, in handwriting I had never seen, in with my normal mail. I opened the envelope carefully just thinking it was Bible Spam and pulled out a note, read it and immediately started shaking and crying. Through those tears I called my father, confused and scared and he told me to call the police. I did. Through those same tears and shaking voice, I told the dispatcher what I received in the mail and read part of it to her. She told me an officer would be there, to stay put.

I spoke to that officer, and went through questions I never thought I would ever have to in my life. I explained that my life is "not an exciting one” I go to work, the gym and see family and friends. I come home and keep to myself. My words were "I am a very boring 32-year-old.” I didn't stay home that night, in my house, that I was still so proud of buying not that long ago.

January 27th in the evening after work, there was another weird envelope in my mailbox, same handwriting but different, not the white letter one that I got first, again in with my mail. I felt the tears before I even realized I was crying. I carried the envelope into my kitchen like it was a mouse or a wet leaf, careful not to touch it too much, and opened it with a kitchen knife. Inside was a photograph of genitals. Again, I called the police. A different officer responded, but the same questions were asked and the same explanation given. I do not know who was doing this to me and why it would be me.

I stayed with my parents for two weeks, back and forth every day to get more or drop off things at the house. By this point, my house didn’t feel like home. It didn't wrap me in the sense of protectiveness it once had. I ordered a home security system, I didn't spend the night in my house until that was installed. Even then, my sleep suffered, I couldn't fall asleep or stay asleep. I was always up too late or early, my work suffered, and my relationships suffered as well. My boyfriend at the time asked me to go for a walk and get dinner, I couldn’t even do that without feeling terrified and anxious. Not many people understand the debilitating fear of leaving your house when it feels like someone is sharing your skin with you. How the anxiety and fear were always just under the surface, and not knowing who was doing this only made it that much more uncomfortable to be so exposed.

The day after my mom’s birthday, on March 5, I received the third mailing.  A closer look at his genitals. This time with a note written in black permanent marker. "Not Bad,” it said on the back. I vomited into my kitchen sink as I sobbed, more hysterical than any previous time. All of the "why's” were going through my head while also just wanting my parents there to hug me, to make it stop. All those questions that no one has been able to answer for me. Questions that since January have haunted me, while at work or with family and surrounded by love, it didn’t matter. I felt gross and unclean no matter how many times I showered. It had felt like someone was sharing my skin with me for months, and no matter what I did, it was never enough to escape that feeling.

The next day, March 6, 2021, was a Saturday. I had gone to the gym and picked up my groceries. I got home to find one little envelope in my mailbox, even though the mail hadn’t been delivered yet that day. This time three photograph receipts from CVS were enclosed. Each thumbnail was blacked out with permanent markers and included what looked like family photos to more questionable photographs. This had not been mailed to me. There was still no return address, but the same handwriting; this one had been found and hand-delivered by someone thinking they were doing the right thing. I called my dad, who was as confused as I was. There were still tears but added confusion. I called the police, who by this time knew my name, address, and what was happening in my life since they were driving by and getting daily briefings about my situation.

Seeing my full name written out in still unknown handwriting is enough to make me cry. I used to cry when I was so unbelievably happy or angry; now I cry when I’m scared or alone for too long. I have called my friends crying and asking “why” more times than I can count, scaring them in the process.

Home security system in place now for a while, I returned to a tentative routine. Don’t sit in your car, learn how to back your car into your driveway, spend as little time outside if you are home and if you are not home, rush into your house as soon as possible when you get there. Do not stop to look at the weeding you should do or hesitate for anything. I found a therapist, went and still go once a week and have a diagnosis of “Other Specified Trauma and Stressor Related Disorder.” I still don't sleep enough. I don’t like being away from my few safe places and I have since listed my house for sale. It didn’t feel safe, it didn’t feel like home anymore.

I have always been careful, but there is something so violating about going through this. This unknown man knew my name, my address, and what my smile looks like enough to tell me to keep smiling at the end of the first letter. I hate smiling in public now. I cannot wait to be out of Reading, OH, the neighborhood I thought would be my home for years, where children I had would grow up. Now, it just feels cold and scary when I think of it.

Above is the victim impact statement I read in court during my stalker’s sentencing in November 2021. I realize how lucky I am that my story started and ended within the same year. We, as women and as a whole community, need to address the different examples of what stalking is. It’s not always the Hollywood version; it is also what happened to me for three months. Many of you know my parents as loving and wonderful people, and to see them so worried and, in a huge way, very helpless in this situation is not a memory I enjoy dwelling on.

The conversation needs to change. The casual use of “stalking” in conversation needs to be phased out. Not everyone will share their experiences, so it is impossible to know what someone next to you has gone through. I process my experiences with humor; one line that has come up frequently is that I never wanted my life to become an episode of Law and Order: SVU, but since it did, at least I didn’t die… however if someone else makes a joke about my experience is feels dirty and upsetting. No one can or should dismiss something like this. If you are lucky enough to be someone’s trusted person, then please do not make the cliche comments in passing, “Oh, at least it’s over,” because it’s not. My experience was in 2021, and I still don’t have answers, still don’t smile as easily in public, and my therapist is still a weekly visit.

Back to Liz:

The man who stalked Emily was her neighbor. He chose her to stalk because he saw her doing lawn work, and then he looked into her windows.

At the time, Emily was being stalked in the Cincinnati suburbs, I was serving as the Central District President. I mentioned that this was happening in our family on a District Presidents’ call and found out that one of my seven colleagues also had a daughter who was also being stalked at that time.

From the Stalking Prevention Awareness and Resource Center, I learned that one out of every three women (and one out of every six men) is stalked during their lifetime. Annually, this happens to 13.5 Americans. Fifty-two percent of all stalking targets are followed or watched, as was Emily. Fifty-seven percent of stalking targets “receive communications” from the stalker, as was Emily.

What can we do?

First of all, thank you for reading Emily’s story. She does feel lighter after deciding to share her experience with all of you.

Second, please be mindful that PTSD is invisible and more prevalent than we can imagine. Listen to your friends’ stories and believe them. If you have a story of your own, please consider sharing it.

Third, please familiarize yourself with the WRJ Says STOP materials. Watch the webinars. Learn how to be an upstander. On December 4, the third webinar in the WRJ Says STOP series will be held. The focus will be on how to be compassionate and effective listeners and responders to people’s stories. When you see the registration, register and attend!

Related Posts

Celebrating 100 Years: A Journey Through Time

This year my congregation is celebrating a very special milestone: the 100-year anniversary of our community. Temple Israel Long Beach in southern California was chartered in February 1924. For this important anniversary, the temple has been celebrating with many events throughout the year.