Dating Danger in the Digital Age: “Nobody’s Victim” by Carrie Goldberg

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A couple of months ago, I was wandering in one of my favorite spots in the world, The Strand Bookstore in New York City, when a book with an unusual cover caught my eye: Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls by Carrie Goldberg (ebook & print).

What is this all about? I requested the ebook from my local library via the insanely great Libby app (which you should all get, by the way). A few weeks later, I had the book in my paws for freeeee, wheeee. Aren’t libraries incredible? For a man with a 160 book-a-year habit, yes they are

Halfway through the book, which I read in two sittings, I bought the book anyway because it’s scary good. As in both scary and good. So scary that I don’t think I ever want to have a daughter, jeebus.

Carrie Goldberg is a lawyer whose law firm helps people who have been targeted by “psychos, assholes, trolls, and pervs.” These are terms of art that I’ll let Carrie herself describe:

My staff and I have even developed a shorthand to describe the shitheads we see most often: psychos, who obsessively stalk, threaten, and intimidate their prey; assholes, who exploit or mistreat victims out of willful ignorance or arrogance or for their own financial gain; trolls, who terrorize victims under the cloak of internet anonymity; and pervs, who get off on overpowering victims into sex acts against their will.

The stories of Carrie’s clients are harrowing to read. It’s remarkable how awful humans can be to each other. Well, actually, in this book, it’s men being awful to women, and sometimes to other men.

Carrie knows about this kind of thing firsthand. In the book, she recounts two of her own stories: one of a psycho stalker ex-boyfriend who nearly wrecked her life, and another of a doctor she met online who turned out to be a world-class perv. The second story is almost too lurid to tell (involving a drugged drink and a sutured butt), but Carrie has the courage to recount it so it won’t happen to you. I won’t give it away but good lord what is wrong with some people.

A few takeaways from the book for you, {{ subscriber.first_name }}:

1. Never go out with total strangers. Online dating is how Bad Stuff happens to Good People.

Why? Because it’s THE venue where predators find their victims. There are psychos, assholes, trolls and pervs who have online dating profiles for the sole purpose of ruining people’s lives. And, for the record, both of Carrie’s bad experiences happened through people she met online (via OkCupid, which has a higher share of quirky or just plain weird folks).

Now I’ve written extensively about the perils of online dating and how you should only go out with people you meet in person. And at the same time I understand that it’s part of the zeitgeist, and you met your last 3 husbands that way, etc. 

So this is the thing you must keep in mind: when you agree to spend time with a total stranger, the amount of potential danger in the date goes up exponentially. Go out with people you already know, or at least know through a friend.

Like some wise woman once said: The worst thing that can happen to a guy on a date is he gets laughed at. The worst thing that can happen to a woman is that she gets killed.

So remember that a total stranger has a much higher probability of doing something stupid and evil to you. On the other hand, if the guy is somehow in your network – e.g. school, church, work, mutual friends – the probability of bad behavior goes down significantly.

2. Never, ever send naked photos of yourself to anyone for any reason. Hell, don’t even have them on your phone.

Many if not most of the chronicles of pain in the book have to do with revenge porn: an ex vindictively posting naked photos (or worse) of a woman on social media, sending it to friends, family, coworkers and bosses. This results in a lot of unnecessary heartache, embarrassment, social stigma, damaged reputation, unemployment and more. A good rule of thub: don’t text anything you’re not comfortable seeing tomorrow on the front page of a news source. 

And you know what else? It’s not even safe to keep those photos on your phone, even if you don’t send them! Hackers can and will find them. Why do you need naked photos of yourself anyway? If you need a reminder of how good you look, take off your clothes, stand in front of a mirror, and voila! No need for digital evidence of your physical magnificence.

If you don’t believe me, look up “the fappening”, when hacker shitheads broke into the phones of many celebrities and posted their compromising photos for the world to see.

3. If a relationship with a new guy is too good to be true, it is. Run.

I wrote about this in The Tao of Dating in the section on Bad Boys. Carrie explains it very well:

The more Francesca revealed about Thompson, the more convinced I became that his behavior fit the pattern of some of the most dangerous criminals we see at my firm. Thompson exhibited the telltale signs of offenders we call “psycho stalkers.” He was deceptive, manipulative, and ruthless in his attacks. But more of a giveaway than anything else, Thompson, like every psycho I’ve ever encountered, was a master of charm and charisma. That’s how he’d swept Francesca off her feet.

All my clients who’ve been targeted by psychos describe the early days of their relationships in the same breathless way: as a whirlwind romance that progressed at lightning speed and felt like nothing they’d ever experienced before. One client described her relationship as an “insta-marriage”; another marveled at the way her psycho ex “wifed” her from day one. Another said, “It was so intense, right away it felt like me and him against the world.”

Superficial charm is the hallmark of the psychopath. Recognize it and let it raise the red flag to high heaven. Then run. More on how to spot him:

Thompson was following the psycho playbook to a T. He’d captivated Francesca with his stellar conversation and flattered her with fantasy. He’d muse aloud about the wonderful life they’d have together changing the world, and write her over-the-top love letters claiming his undying devotion. “I feel at this very moment that I have nothing to declare more proudly than my love for you,” he insisted in an email. He also engaged in a signature psycho tactic I call “strategic oversharing.” He’d tell Francesca tragic stories of his difficult childhood, urging her to open up as well. Normally guarded, Francesca found herself telling Thompson all her secrets; she confided in him about her insecurities and deepest fears. Little did she know he was hoarding this information like an arsenal of weapons to ultimately use against her.

4. Reduce your social media presence.

If you’re on Facebook and your entire friend list is open to the world, then a miscreant can wreck your life in 10 minutes by sending them compromising photos or rumors. Why would you want to let total strangers know the names of your friends and family anyway? Go to your Privacy settings and set “Who can see your friends list” to “Only me.” Or even better, delete your Facebook account entirely.

Same goes for Instagram, Snap, TikTok, and the whole evil lot of social media apps. Recognize that these apps are surveillance devices that make money off your private info, which is how they can be “free” and still make billions for their owners. This means that bad guys can use them to figure out where you are, when you’re home (or not), and all kinds of other stuff that you don’t want stalkers and pervs to know. The less online “attack surface” you have, the better off you are. 

Also, when you show yourself off online, everyone can see it. Especially the pervy stalkers. Sugar is to cancer cells what social media glam shots are to stalkers: fuel for their growth and encouragement.

And please cover with tape all the cameras on your digital devices when they’re not in use by you. Especially your laptop. Hackers can activate them remotely and spy on you.

5. Know where to find help.

There’s a lot more to Nobody’s Victim. Heck, I haven’t even gotten into sextortion, doxing, and swatting. I’m hoping every woman will find the time to read this book and give copies to their daughters. Half the stories in the book are about underage kids, and they are horrifying. Get the book, even if just for the Carrie’s Essentials resources section.

In the meantime, some resources to get you started:

The digital revolution has brought many boons to our lives, but also many banes. I hope this article has made you more aware of some of the ways agents of ill will can seriously damage the quality of your life and that of your loved ones. Be vigilant and be prepared.

PS: Questions on your love life? Met a guy who’s just a little too slick? Something on your mind? Write me and I’ll do the best I can to be of assistance.

PPS: I read a lot of nonfiction books and will soon be launching a podcast called The Ideaverse. If you want to hear about more books, please send me a note with “Make The Ideaverse happen!” in the subject line. I could use some encouragement :)