January 5, 2021|ABC News
Megan Fox, ABC News Writer
After 9-year fight to prosecute her stalker, woman shares story to help other survivors
Anna Nasset believes she should be dead. She is among the extremely small percentage of stalking survivors who successfully put her offender behind bars.
In 2019, the man who stalked her was sentenced to 10 years in prison, granting her what she calls “a decade of freedom.”
According to the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC), one in six women and one in 17 men are stalking survivors. Roughly 15% of those individuals said the stalking forced them to move. Among that group is Nasset.
As Nasset, 40, looks back at the challenges she endured in her pursuit for justice, she hopes she will empower other survivors by sharing her story.
Nine years to get justice
In November of 2011, Nasset says she was living her dream life — owning and operating an art gallery in Port Townsend, Washington. That dream life was stolen from her, she said, when a man she did not know entered her gallery and expressed interest in showing his work.
After their first interaction, Nasset said the man made numerous attempts to call her and began sending her messages on Facebook that grew increasingly personal, from describing her appearance to mentioning the many places he apparently watched her. Nasset said he also tried sending her handwritten letters, which never reached her because her address was kept private and also wrote about her to public officials.
A friend convinced Nasset to make a report to the Port Townsend Police Department, and upon speaking to law enforcement officers, she came to discover they were already familiar with this individual.
The police, she said, told her the man had a reputation of stalking people “for small spurts of time,” and “it looked like I was the next victim,” she recalled. A restraining order was filed, but it did little to discourage her offender’s behavior.
In 2012, Nasset’s stalker plead guilty to misdemeanor harassment and was sentenced to 364 days in jail.
However, his sentence didn’t deter his stalking, and after his release the following year, he intensified his harassment. Nasset said he began sending violent threats that made her fear for her life. She said she closed her art gallery in October 2013 because of the psychological toll and ultimately fled to Vermont in 2016.
The move did little to discourage her stalker, Nasset said, saying he continued sending her messages that “were becoming more and more violent.” She feared that the offender would physically pursue her to Vermont, and she filed a report with the state police.
But Nasset said the police dismissed her concerns and told her, “There’s nothing we can do to help you.”
Shortly after that interaction, Nasset received word from the Port Townsend police that her stalker had been arrested again, and a prosecutor decided to pursue stronger charges against him.
The prosecutor “decided to take on the impossible,” Nasset said, explaining that stalkers are “very, very, very rarely” prosecuted.
Few stalking perpetrators are arrested, and even fewer are prosecuted, according to the BJS. Of the roughly 40% of stalking cases reported to police, a 2009 report from the Bureau indicated only a fifth of victims press charges. Once reported to police, just 8% of stalking perpetrators are arrested, the report showed.
The BJS is expected to release updated stalking statistics next year, as national victimization surveys are usually completed once every decade.
“Stalking is one of the only crimes that criminalizes legal behaviors. It’s not illegal to send someone 12 dozen roses, but when you look at it in the context of a stalking situation, it could become illegal,” Brady said. In addition, Brady said a person guilty of stalking may be arrested and prosecuted for a separate crime that is easier to prove in court, such as physical assault, which also impacts the data.
Prosecutors have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a crime was committed. For Nasset, it took several years for the prosecutor to build her case to prove that she was a victim of stalking. In 2019, the case went before a judge, as her stalker opted against having a trial by jury, she said. Nasset added that her stalker was allowed to represent himself, “so he was able to cross-examine me,” she added.
Nasset said that during her cross examination, her offender “started questioning me about things that took place in 2008,” and she realized that was when he began stalking her.
The judge ruled in Nasset’s favor and released his verdict a month after the bench trial.
“When the judge said 10 years, I lost it. I basically kicked the chair out from behind me and collapsed onto the floor, not even sobbing, but like gasping for air,” she said. “I couldn’t breathe once I realized what had happened.”
Now, with her own ordeal behind her, she is working to educate victims of crime on how to navigate the criminal justice system.
Hindsight is 2020: Ask for a victim’s advocate
If she could go back, knowing what she knows now, Nasset said she would have obtained a victim’s advocate much earlier.
“Before you set foot in the police station, go to your local crisis shelter or center, give them a call, and get an advocate,” Nasset advised.
When her stalker was arrested in 2012, she was assigned her first advocate through Dove House Advocacy Services in Port Townsend. She maintained contact with Dove House to assist with protection orders over the years and, after the prosecutor brought elevated charges against her stalker in 2017, Nasset was assigned a victim witness coordinator. Victim witness coordinators prepare survivors for trial in criminal cases.
In 2019, she obtained a Vermont-based advocate from the attorney general’s office to help her prepare for trial, adding that she was previously unaware that she could work with a local service provider in another state, because her case was based in Washington.
“A victim advocate [provides] nonjudgmental support, education and advocacy to victims and survivors of crime,” said Claire Selib, executive director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA).
Advocates help survivors navigate any criminal justice and medical processes, connect survivors to resources such as counseling and assist with obtaining victim compensation, Selib said.
Advocates work with victims of crime at no charge, but Selib noted survivors are often not made aware of the free resource or they aren’t given the option, because “communication breakdowns exist.”
“If you do report a crime, you can ask for the assistance of an advocate if they’re not made available to you by the responding officer,” she said, adding that survivors can also visit the NOVA website for help locating a local service provider.
Interacting with law enforcement
Victims and survivors should never feel like a burden when contacting law enforcement, explained Connecticut State Police Trooper First Class Christine Jeltema. The primary goal of an officer responding to a distress call is to let the victim “tell their story,” she said.
The more information a victim is able to provide, she stressed, the stronger their case becomes — even if the information is provided later in the investigation.
“We know that, as with trauma, things tend to be forgotten. … So as more information is remembered or as more information comes forward, they [need] to come back and tell us more of what happened, especially when there’s something so egregious, like a sexual assault or domestic violence or anything along those lines,” she said.
Once a victim of crime provides their evidence, it may take time for police to build a case, Jeltema said. For example, a judge’s approval is required for police to act on a search or arrest warrant, which must have enough probable cause for a prosecutor to review it, sign off on it and forward it to a judge beforehand.
Nasset admitted she grew impatient as she awaited updates regarding her case. But having been through the process, she offered a reminder for others.
“[Police are] working to protect so many people right now,” Nasset said. “They’re working on child sex crime cases. They’re working on human trafficking cases. They’re working on all this stuff. [You have to] remember that and respect that.”
While a majority of stalking victims say police took a report when contacted, nearly one out of every five survivors say law enforcement took no action, according to BJS data.
“Often, survivors of color do not want to interact with law enforcement because of the negative interactions and feelings of unfairness and fear, or lack of justice,” Vagins added.
Vagins recommended survivors write down and bring a “clear timeline of events” to police to make them “more likely to take the case seriously.”
“Stalking is one of the few crimes where the burden of collecting and preserving evidence falls on the survivor,” she said, adding that the NNEDV offers a free evidence collecting app called DocuSAFE that allows survivors to easily document abuse.
When to hire an attorney
While Nasset was fortunate to have a state prosecutor argue on her behalf, she knows she is the exception and not the norm.
In instances of stalking, Meg Garvin, the executive director of the National Crime Victim Law Institute, said survivors should consider hiring their own legal representation.
“Having an attorney along the way is critical,” Garvin explained. “Our system isn’t set up, civil or criminal, for a person who is not a lawyer to understand their rights. It’s really designed to have lawyers help people understand their rights.”
Start by contacting local victim service agencies, calling the legal services hotline of your state or visiting your state’s Bar Association website, she said.
Advice to survivors from a survivor
Nasset said one of the worst things victims of crime can do is anticipate that their case will play out like what they see on crime television shows.
“We can’t base any of our life, really, on what we’re seeing on TV. I think it’s just important to take out that televised Hollywood version of it,” she said. “This is real life, and in real life, things go differently.”
Nasset also said survivors should prepare for how draining the process of heading to trial will be and know they are not alone.
“It takes a toll on your relationships, it takes a toll on your work, it takes a toll on your ability to just do the dishes. I mean, everything,” she explained, adding she is still healing from her ordeal. “I think it’s really important to understand that is normal.”
Nasset, who founded an organization called Stand Up Resources to help raise awareness about stalking, said survivors should always know they have rights.
“There are services out there that are there for you and really good organizations that are there to support you,” she said.
“I feel really fortunate that I’ve been given this gift of a decade of freedom,” said Nasset, who added she is looking forward to what “I get to do with it.”