Martha C. Nussbaum: There are limits to what the law can do to police cyberabuse

Martha C. Nussbaum in The Nation:

ScreenHunter_887 Nov. 12 13.29Like a surprisingly large proportion of Americans, I have a cyberstalker, whom I shall call S. “You know I hate you more than Aphrodite hates Helen,” S announced in his most recent e-mail. “If anyone hates you, it’s me.” A gifted, disturbed and drug-abusing former student, S slipped into paranoia almost three years ago, one fall night in 2011—I remember the shock of receiving about twenty obscene messages in a single hour. He has bombarded me with abusive, lewd and often threatening messages ever since—punctuated by periods in residential rehab, and by all-too-brief periods of lucidity thereafter. S is a gay Latino man, and the special nature of his paranoia is extreme hatred for the dominant white heterosexual academic world, which, he believes, has caused his drug addiction so that he won’t succeed. He has also created a kind of paranoia porn about the fantasized sexual organs of putative lovers or ex-lovers of mine, enraged that they have allegedly preferred a white woman to him (while glorifying those body parts, he includes denigration of female body parts, especially mine, in his rants). I have not replied to his messages since shortly after the break, when I advised him to seek psychiatric help, but I do read them to know how he is doing. He is not doing well. S used to be gifted, sweet and funny. (You can almost glimpse the old S, with his joke about Aphrodite.) Now he is not sweet and rarely funny.

Because the threats might be real, and because in any case S would very likely attend any public lecture I would give in his home city, C (he comments on my whereabouts in his e-mails and seems well informed), and probably cause a disturbance, I do not give public lectures in that city. (I don’t mind this. It is pleasing to have a clear excuse to say no to some invitations.) I have given all of his e-mails and his photo to officials at the University of Chicago, where I am a professor, but I have not involved the police, feeling that the Chicago police would not be interested in a perpetrator far away in C, and that the police in C would not be interested in protecting me here in Chicago. Besides, I feel safe, as S has no money and thus cannot travel. But also, I think S is suicidal, and I do not want to precipitate a tragedy. His e-mails do not alarm me (after the initial shock); they do make me very sad.

More here.