friendship

For 9 months, I was relentlessly abused by a stranger online. It turned out to be my best friend.

I first met Lucy* at a music festival in Queensland. Our boyfriends at the time were great mates and had decided that we should all go camping together.

Lucy was from rural Victoria but had met Henry*, her boyfriend, while studying in Melbourne. She didn’t know Henry’s friends, so I took her ‘under my wing’, so to speak. I knew that Lucy and Henry, now having completed their studies, intended to move back to Brisbane soon. I thought about how much easier things would be for Lucy, moving to a new place, if she felt like she already had a group of friends there.

Lucy and I got along immediately and had no problem finding things to talk and laugh about. By the time Lucy moved to Brisbane, I felt like we were firm friends.

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In her first year in Brisbane, I introduced her to all of my friends and invited her along to everything. Occasionally though, some of my more intuitive friends would say things like, “I’m just not sure about Lucy, there’s something not quite right about her.” I’d shake my head and say that they just needed to get to know her better. Lucy soon became a regular in my life and one of my closest friends.

In those first 12 months, I never suspected anything was amiss but now looking back there were some warning signs. Like, the time she thought it was funny to text her boyfriend in the middle of the night and say she was being followed home and that he needed to come and pick her up, immediately. Or, like the time she thought it was funny to send a dick pic to her old boyfriend’s new girlfriend and claim that he had recently sent it to her. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

It was in the second year of our friendship that my (new) partner and some of my friends began to notice that Lucy had become quite possessive of me. She would ring me early in the morning and then again late at night, every day. 

She would quiz me about what I had done that day and who had I hung out with. She would become upset if I’d done something with someone else and hadn’t invited her. She’d also become upset if I didn’t answer one of her calls or if she felt that I didn’t put enough effort into writing back to one of her many daily text messages. 

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Lucy would sometimes become sullen and angry with me for weeks at a time and would then punish me at social events, continually trying to exclude me from conversations or making snide remarks regarding my appearance.

Lucy’s passive aggressive and controlling behaviours began to take a toll on me. At 27 years old, I didn’t want any drama, so I decided to slowly and subtly distance myself. 

After several months of gradually reducing my contact with Lucy, I got to the point where I would only see Lucy at group events. She would no longer call me every day and we rarely hung out just the two of us. I was no longer the source of her dark moods, or so I thought.

It was around this time that the messages started. The messages that turned into nine months of unrelenting cyber abuse.

It began with anonymous emails being sent to my workplace. These emails claimed to be from a “concerned parent” (I had recently begun working in a local childcare centre). The emails were very vague but claimed that I hadn’t allowed one of the centre’s children to go to the toilet, which resulted in the child wetting themselves. 

Fortunately, my boss knew that the emails were malicious nonsense and informed HR that I was being targeted by an anonymous individual.

Soon after this, my workplace began to receive emails with photos from my private Instagram account. One photo was of me holding a champagne glass (heaven forbid) and the email simply said, “Is this the kind of person you want working for you?”

I was so confused. How had this person accessed these photos from my private account? I only had a small number of followers on Instagram and all of these were people that I knew personally.

It was not long after this that the whirlwind of abuse truly began. Within weeks, my workplace’s social media was plagued with damaging posts regarding me as a person. Pseudonyms were used to post destructive comments, with these comments supposedly coming from close friends of mine who were reiterating my alleged opinions.

As well as this, a number of fake accounts that claimed to be associated with my workplace also began to comment on these pages. These accounts would post extremely cruel and untrue passages about me, with one account even going so far as to accuse me of being a paedophile. 

One example of the Instagram accounts targeting me. Location has been removed for privacy. Image: Supplied.

 

These horrific and extremely damaging lies were then perpetuated further and made available to the wider global community, with several Google reviews being written in connection with my workplace but instead focussing on berating me as a person.
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It wasn’t long after this that I began to receive a flood of cruel messages to my private Instagram and Facebook accounts. These messages would vary in their approach, often suggesting that I was secretly despised by all of those around me or making crude remarks regarding my physical appearance.

In particular, the comments would often focus on the size of my forehead. For example, one of the comments tagged me in a graphic surgery image and stated, “Look, you can get surgery on your f*cked up forehead as well!”

Another example of the bullying. Names have been removed for privacy. Image: Supplied.

 

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Accounts were made using my name and identity, as well as the names and identities of some of my closest friends and co-workers. 

These accounts would make damaging comments on public and high profile Instagram and Facebook accounts, always relating the remarks back to me. 

For example, commenting on my work’s Facebook page and suggesting that I thought all of the children and families that attended the centre were bogans and “horrible people”. 

I would report and block these profiles and moments later, yet another profile would be created and another attack would occur.

As well as contacting my workplace, my partner, my family members and my friends were also contacted and dragged into the abuse. 

My friends and family would regularly send me screenshots of messages that they had received, which accused me of a range of things, such as hooking up with friends' partners. Some of my friends also received messages that they were then asked to pass on to me. 

Often these messages would simply be threats, demanding that I opened and read messages that had been sent to my social media accounts (as I often chose to ignore these for the sake of my own wellbeing). 

One friend received a message that said that they, the writer, would commit suicide if I did not open and respond to the latest abusive message in my inbox.

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Out of everyone in my life, Lucy seemed particularly caught up in what was happening to me. She started checking in with me every day and asking for updates. 

I thought this was slightly strange but also extremely kind, as we didn’t have much to do with one another anymore. Lucy was also the first of my friends to be contacted by the abuser.

Lucy was in the middle of planning her wedding and as part of this, she had sent out invitations to her guests and asked them to RSVP via a special website that she’d set up. 

I was not invited to the wedding but Lucy contacted me as she’d received an RSVP from me. Lucy sent me a screenshot of a really wacky RSVP that was supposedly from me. I was immediately very confused and rang Lucy. 

How could this person have accessed her wedding website? Lucy hadn’t shared her wedding website on any type of social media and only those who had been sent invitations had the access information. 

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I fired 101 questions at Lucy and quickly worked out that the person who was doing this had to be one of her wedding guests and one of her wedding guests who knew me and had access to my Instagram. This left only three people, one of these being Lucy. 

Lucy tried to suggest that her wedding site had somehow been hacked but we both knew that didn’t make any sense. I had a horrible nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach but I chose to push it down and ignore it.

Looking back, I realise how Lucy enjoyed staying in close contact with me, while she was abusing me. It also meant that I would unknowingly confide in her and tell her things that would ultimately help her avoid being caught.

At one stage, I began to receive incessant phone calls from a private number, where the caller would hang up as soon as I answered. 

My name and phone number were also linked to various fake advertisements on Gumtree and other public websites. 

Images that could be found of me by conducting a Google search were also taken and used in crude ways on various websites and social platforms. 

The thing that really got me though was the phone calls from the private number. How on earth did this person have my phone number? One day, my phone rang 54 times over two hours, all from a private number. I’d had enough. I contacted Vodafone and asked what could be done. 

Vodafone said that they could trace the call, if I answered three times and kept the person on the phone for a few seconds. 

I was over the moon, I was finally going to catch this person and put a stop to the abuse. Due to her interest in what had been happening to me, I messaged Lucy and told her the good news. Immediately, the calls stopped.

It was at this point that I began to doubt that there would be an end to the attacks. For nine months, I essentially ignored the abuse. 

Despite this, the abuse continued to escalate and my attacker seemed to have an endless array of techniques at their disposal, designed to hurt and degrade me. 

I had made several reports to the police and sought assistance from several agencies specialising in cybercrimes. I was repeatedly told that there was little that could be done given the nature of the abuse and given that I couldn’t prove who was behind the attacks. 

In one visit to my local police station, after a particularly serious and upsetting incident, I was provided with a contact information card for Kids Helpline and encouraged to ring the organisation for support and advice. I was 28 years old at the time.

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As a way of coping with the stress, I had fallen back into the binge drinking habits of my early twenties. It was a Friday night and I was out with Lucy when my best friend called me on the phone, extremely upset. 

She told me that she had just found out that her fiancé had hooked up with her younger sister. My friend was absolutely beside herself. 

I talked to my friend at length before hanging up the phone. When I got off the phone, Lucy having heard parts of the conversation was eager to know what had happened. I knew that my friend hadn’t told anyone besides me what had happened and that my telling someone else would only add to her hurt.

I told Lucy that it wasn’t my place to say and changed the subject.

The next morning, I woke up to my Facebook profile picture being shared repeatedly with a range of vicious captions beneath each one.

These captions detailed my friend’s fiancé’s transgressions and suggested that I had somehow been complicit in this. I immediately rang my friend and explained what had happened. 

My friend knew me well enough to know that I wouldn’t have told anyone what had happened but she was extremely confused and said, “But I’ve only told you, so someone has found out somehow”. It was then that I finally allowed myself to acknowledge who had been committing the abuse.

With shaking hands, I wrote a message to my former friend, Lucy. I explained that I knew that she was behind the abuse and that deep down I’d known for quite some time. 

I told her that I didn’t want to try and hurt her the way she'd hurt me but that they would no longer be a part of my life in any way. I ended the message by urging her to seek help.

I didn’t hear back from Lucy until that evening, which was strange for someone who lives with their phone in hand. 

In her text message, she said that she had no idea what I was talking about. I didn’t respond but a few days later, I received a garbled message stating that she’d been to the police and that the police knew that it wasn’t her and that they were intent on finding the culprit. 

I wrote back to Lucy and told her that if she contacted me again, I would go to the police and tell them that it was her.

I haven’t heard from Lucy since.

Feature Image: Getty.

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