There is something crucial missing from most true-crime podcasts: the voice of the victim. That is not true of Stories of the Stalked, a six-part Audible series from the award-winning film-maker and dancer Lily Baldwin. Having spent13 years being stalked, she has written and narrated an immersive series in which illusory sound design transports the listener into the midst of the experience.
We join her in 2009, when she is touring the world as a backing dancer for the musician David Byrne. We hear bags hit the floor, curtains rolling up, music playing and crowds applauding. We are right there with her as the stalking starts with an email; we hear her log on to her computer and fall into confusion as she reads a sinister message from someone who had seen her in a show the week before. It goes into intimate detail about her performance, and the writer invites her to work for a company he is starting. Over five episodes, we hear about the next 13 años, with Baldwin’s stalker emailing, “SOLO estaba hablando del número limitado de personas que cometieron agresiones violentas a los agentes de policía., messaging, sending parcels, and eventually hunting her down. En este punto, she goes into hiding and changes her name; she is left facing lasting psychological distress.
For legal reasons, and to ensure that her stalker doesn’t benefit in any way from the story, he is referred to as “X” throughout the podcast. Baldwin also interviews an intelligence expert in the first episode, revealing to the audience that “X” is still out there and Stories of the Stalked may be the catalyst for increased activity from him, which shows how her story – like many women’s – does not yet have an ending.
“It was important to me to remove the sensationalism of the situation as much as possible," ella dice, via Zoom from Los Angeles. "[I also didn’t want] the drama to be about the stalker, and what he did. The story needed to revolve around the emotional landscape.”
Given the nature of true crime, Baldwin admits to doubts about that. “I was honestly nervous about a global audience of true-crime listeners listening; I wondered if it would even work [the way I wanted it to]. My worst fear was that I wouldn’t have control over the important areas of my story, especially when sharing it involved a very specific danger.”
But Audible allowed Baldwin to keep control of her story from the start. Rather than making a podcast that fits with the typical imagery used to depict stalking of “shadowy figures and maybe a woman in heels or a miniskirt”, she has created something that challenges the way people think about stalking and who gets stalked. As the intelligence expert explains in the opening episode: “When people think of stalkers, they probably think of some young, strong, shadowy figure who hangs around in alleyways waiting for the perfect stranger. But the reality is very different. Many stalkers are charming and appear perfectly fine, even if they are very violent.”
To tell her story, Baldwin had to relive a number of traumatic moments. She plunges herself back into the police reports she made, conversations with friends – and interactions with the perpetrator.
“The whole process has been really intense and very triggering,” says Baldwin. “The podcast has been agonising to create, but it’s also how I’ve turned it into something bigger than myself. It’s a privilege to be in this position. I’m wary of complaining because I had support. Not everyone has that.
“There was also catharsis that comes with the conversations that happen around it, hearing from survivors who are reaching out from all parts of the planet," ella dice.
It was important to Baldwin to capture these moments to illustrate how frightening it was to be stalked and show how terrifying an experience it is – even without the “add-on crimes” such as assault and domestic violence that can go with it. The email scene, en particular, shows how women are brought up not to trust their gut feelings (in the podcast she admits how “creepy” the letter initially felt, but she went against her instincts because of her conditioning as a woman to expect male attention), and how the visibility she had wanted as an artist became threatening.
Stories of the Stalked manages something rare: it explores the “double-edged sword” of visibility with nuance. Baldwin, as an actor and dancer, is visible in an obvious, literal way. It’s her job to perform, in the way we understand typical “performance” to look and behave. But as she narrates, Baldwin draws interesting parallels between this and the more subtle performances of people’s everyday behaviour in the modern world.
Whether it is the way we perform on social media or with others, people are oftenputting on a show, and the podcast illustrates how the same threat can lie beneath. “Visibility cultures are ancient and powerful, and today’s digital realms have heightened what is at stake," ella explica.
This discomfort around visibility is partly why Baldwin chose to share this story as a podcast, despite having originally drafted it as a feature film or television series. “For so long, I’ve been a performer without a voice. And now I’m a voice without a body. I created this whole project in isolation and now, suddenly it’s out there. It’s such a personal story in such a public space without me being seen. I have this invisibility, protection.”
Baldwin doesn’t want to accept that visibility will always be dangerous and has set up Stop Stalking Us, a nonprofit website where people can share their stories and access support while advocating for cultural changes in the US.
“I want to carve out stalking as its own crime from domestic violence and sexual abuse. We don’t often talk about just stalking. It frequently gets tagged onto the horror of domestic and sexual abuse. But stalking is a unique kind of trauma.”
It is also a particularly female kind of trauma. While people of all gender identities may be targeted, women experience stalking disproportionately, something Baldwin hopes her work might address. “I want women to keep engaging themselves and their bodies publicly, using cameras and digital platforms to communicate and express, to not feel guilty when someone says ‘you’re asking for it’. I want women to use the tools of today smartly, to not be blind or tentative, to not be afraid to admit they like being seen – but also to know when they are playing with fire, to trust their intuition, to set boundaries and ask for help," ella dice.
And what does Baldwin herself want to gain from Stories of the Stalked? “I made this podcast about my life – I’ve never done that before. I’m still exhaling from it. [I want] paz. Release," ella dice.
“The anger I’ve carried is just exhausting. I don’t have the answers to what ‘dealing with trauma’ means, but I want to maybe use the anger to mobilise myself into making a difference. To create a different relationship [con] my fear.” Given how good this podcast is, she is, Ojalá, on the way to that.
Listen to Stories of The Stalked now, exclusively on Audible