Stalking and the Role of Law: A Reflection through the Netflix Series “Baby Reindeer”

by Adriano Izzo, Civil Lawyer and President of the Gennaro Santilli Foundation,

The Netflix series “Baby Reindeer,” a true global phenomenon, has the rare power to touch on some common threads among all of us, stimulating reflection on the desperate need for attention and approval that nowadays, for some, is satisfied through the obsessive search for likes on posts published on various social networks.

In an era like ours, none of us is exempt from this reflection. We are so immersed in a culture based on appearance that we fail to notice the fragility of this form of self-representation, which rewards the display of the best side of ourselves, often non-existent or having a completely different face.

But what does all this have to do with “Baby Reindeer,” which is supposedly a series about stalking?

It has a lot to do with it because stalking is a narrative device to introduce us to the darkest depths of the psyche of its protagonist, for whom the definition of stalking victim is certainly fitting but only gives us a part of his true nature and identity.

“Baby Reindeer” is a Netflix miniseries from 2024, created, written, and performed by Richard Gadd and based on his eponymous one-man show, inspired by real events experienced by Gadd himself.

Donny is a young bartender and aspiring comedian in his early thirties who finds himself involved in a stalking situation when he meets Martha (played by the talented Jessica Gunning). From that moment, Martha begins to send him an excessive number of messages and emails, convinced that she has a relationship with him. Martha’s invasive actions do not stop there: she begins to sexually harass him, awakening in Donny memories of a trauma suffered many years before.

It is precisely this trauma and its posthumous elaboration that offer us an interpretative key to the drama that Donny is experiencing, only partly attributable to his harasser. A journey into the abyss that generates discomfort mixed with a sort of compassion towards the protagonist and his vulnerabilities, which are the children of our time and a toxic culture regarding success and personal fulfillment.

The television series is an opportunity for legal reflection on stalking and the measures provided by the legislature to protect victims.

The term stalking (from the English “to stalk” meaning to lurk, follow, or harass) represents a form of aggression carried out by a stalker who intrudes repeatedly, unwantedly, and destructively into the private life of another individual, causing serious physical or psychological consequences to the latter.

With the term stalking, therefore, we refer to the conduct typical of someone who pursues another person in order to torment them and make their life impossible, through annoying and harassing behaviors that become continuous and end up constituting serious and systematic violations of personal freedom.

We are generally inclined to associate the stalking victim with the female figure, but the chronicles and sentences of the courts demonstrate the transversality of the phenomenon, which unfortunately also affects men, who are often less inclined to report and seek help in the name of a culture that considers them the “stronger sex,” capable of solving their problems autonomously.

At the European level, stalking is considered a crime and recognized as a form of gender-based violence. The European Union has adopted various measures and policies to combat stalking and protect victims. For example, Directive 2011/99/EU establishes minimum standards for the rights and protection of victims of crimes, including stalking.

Directive 2011/99/EU, based on the principle of mutual recognition, regulates the European protection order with the aim of ensuring that measures taken to protect a person from acts of criminal significance, which may harm or endanger their life, physical or mental integrity, dignity, personal freedom, or sexual integrity, are maintained even if that person moves to another Member State (art. 1). In particular, the European protection order can be issued if the person benefiting from the protection decides to reside or stay in another Member State (art. 6).

It is recalled that mutual recognition of protective measures in civil matters is instead ensured by Regulation No. 606/2013 of June 12, 2013. The measure ensures that measures imposing on a person determining the risk, in order to protect another person, the prohibition of any contact or the prohibition of approaching the protected person within a defined perimeter are respected in all Member States.

In various European countries, there are specific laws that punish stalking and offer protection measures to victims. These laws may vary, but often include no-contact orders, restraining orders, and treatment programs for perpetrators.

Europe has also promoted awareness and training campaigns to increase awareness of stalking and encourage victims to report. Additionally, support services and emergency hotlines have been established to assist victims.

Specific anti-stalking legislation has been enacted in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Returning to the Baby Reindeer series, the protagonist manages to report his harasser and have her convicted. It is the end of a nightmare but – it is useful to remember – Baby Reindeer is not strictly a series about stalking, and Donny, after finally freeing himself from his tormentor, is not yet safe.

PHOTO: The Netflix series “Baby Reindeer”

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