In the mid to late-90s, I ran the Personals & Promotions Department at the Philadelphia Weekly. In addition to managing a 10-page section of the paper and roughly 500 personal ads each week, I penned a popular dating advice column called, Ask Me Anything.
Each week, I received dozens of letters from readers, that ranged from complimentary to straight-up creepy. I’d respond to the best of the bunch each week in my column, and my credibility as a dating expert soared.
When the local late-night TV show, Philly After Midnight, needed an expert to weigh in on threesomes in the wake of the 1996 murder of Anne Marie Fahey, I was their source. (Note: I was 23 at the time and by no means an expert, but learned to fake my prowess. Twenty-three years later, I can say without pause that I’m a sex, dating, and relationship whiz.)
In addition to managing singles and doling out advice, I was hosting events for heterosexual couples, gay couples, and the “Anything Goes” section. These events ranging from Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin sing-off contests and hosting Shampoo Nightclub’s weekly LGBT dance party, Shaft Friday, to hosting swingers’ events in South Jersey. I loved my job and the wild variety of people it allowed me to interact with – until I landed a stalker.
January 2020 marks the sixteenth annual National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM), an annual call to action to recognize and respond to the serious crime of stalking. The term 'stalking' means engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of others or suffer substantial emotional distress.
Here are a few things to think about:
- An estimated 6 to 7.5 million people are stalked in a one-year period in the United States.
- Nearly one in six women and one in 17 men have experienced stalking victimization at some point in their lifetime.
- 11% of stalking victims have been stalked for five years or more.*
- One in seven stalking victims move as a result of their victimization.*
- Stalking victims suffer much higher rates of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and social dysfunction than people in the general population.*
*Every single one of these points applies to me.
It all seemed fairly harmless when I received Mark’s first letter:
(Note: Name changed for safety.)
August 31, 1999
Please help me! I’ve not had a girlfriend in 5 years. I’m on 26. I really only had one – when I was 20-22.
I lost my virginity at 21. My girl was better looking than most models. And, I had already (by then) been studying sophisticated and obscure materials about how to satisfy women the best! For one, I was able to suspend her in an “Extender Sexual Orgasm” – as I could any woman.
See how good-looking I am (pics enclosed)!
I’m brilliant and cool. Everything I’m wearing is made of hemp 00 as is this very paper too (form American Hemp Mercantile, Inc.).
I have such an extraordinary well-developed awareness and appreciation of female sexuality. I’m even well-hung (7 1/2” x 5 ½”). This Thanksgiving will mark 5 years without sex for me. I’ve lived in Hunting Park for 3 years - there are just NO white girls…
I have so much respect and appreciation for you, Charyn – especially how you help other women finally, openly, acknowledge the existence of the clitoris. (Too many girls never masturbate!!!) I need a girlfriend. One like you, too. Please help! I’ll be forever so grateful!
PS. I’ve spent hundreds on those newspaper personals – to no avail (just a bunch of fat & ugly’s).
PLEASE hook me up with someone – I won’t let you down! (I’d be honored to be yours too, Charyn).
I was born Dec. 4, ’72 if you do astrology, too…)
I did not respond to this letter. But I did make a point of sharing his pasty shirtless Polaroid with my coworkers. Mostly because I couldn’t believe that a guy wearing such short cutoffs could have a penis of such size. Also, well, because he seemed a little off.
I’m damn glad I did because this visual intel proved useful when he later started showing up at my workplace and sending emails to editors at the Weekly (and every other major publication in Philadelphia).
Here’s the next letter I received:
September 18, 1999
I am so frustrated that I can’t find a girl to practice my ESO with (Extended Sexual Orgasm). I am an expert in this – and have been going to school, for it and studying for years. I could teach YOU so much about sex – you’d be forever grateful and utterly more aware! I can suspend any girl in an orgasm – despite the fact that most guys are so stupid and ignorant that they merely cause girls to try faking something they’ve never even had.
I cannot FIND an available, decent-looking girl! It has been 5 years! Help me, please!
I am so jealous when you talk about guys you’ve had as one-night stands – who couldn’t even find your clit (or know how to treat it). I would be the best you’ve had! I am the best cunnilinigus expert around!!! And, I can’t even find ONE girl who’ll at least just use me for this! I have two houses of my own. I still cannot FIND ONE girl!!! Help!
All the pretty girls are too busy offering their bodies to rapists and terrorists who don’t even use real names. I can’t find any left anywhere! I have been trying my best all day and night every day and night for 5 whole years! I need your help! I can help humanity so much – one day, I’ll be the world’s greatest lesbian pornographer…women will flock to my vids – learning much about their own sexual potentials – and making me rich – all for making the world a better place – where women are happier than ever before! But, I can’t get ONE girl!!!
I have wasted thousands of dollars and hours on newspaper personals for 5 years. You wouldn’t even print the last three ads I faxed for PW. If I don’t get a girlfriend soon, who is not attached to some Arabian-International-sex-terrorists, I am really going to turn over a dark new leaf. I have cried for women everywhere because they’re not more satisfied than they are – and they won’t give me the time of day before throwing themselves at the feet of filthy rapists…so, if I can’t find a girl soon, I am going to give up for good – and put my all into upsetting and shaming American in repentance.
I am going to constantly harangue radio audiences everywhere on what a slut proverbial “Miss America” is…anything I can think of to get revenge (legally) on this Goddamn world. I am actually becoming HAPPY, now that so many women fake orgasms! Fuck them all! They’re assholes! I hate women! I would be the best boyfriend – the most satisfying, sexually, emotionally, affectionately, etc. – and I have never had a blowjob! I can’t get to meet any available women WHO DON’T LOOK LIKE SHIT! It’s killing me!
I am so good – and have been suffering so much misery over my constant, abject failure at simply trying to FIND one pretty girl who’s not fucking a whole football team at once! I will be forever grateful to you if you could help – at least show your readers some of what I’ve said so that they know what’s going on…or, I, Mark, who was born and God-given to become one of the greatest gifts to women – will, instead, out of spite and revenge and bitterness, become one of the worst women-haters in power. That’s the ultimatum.
The clock is ticking…get me pussy to lick! That’s all!!!!!!! HELP ME, CHARYN!!!!!
Again, I ignored the letter. At this point, Mark seemed legitimately unstable, but I thought if I ignored him, he would go away. I was wrong. A few weeks later, my boss received the following letter.
Ditto for seven editors at various other Philadelphia newspapers and magazines.
October 4, 1999
Charyn Pfeuffer has set the poorest example of how one should engage oneself in sexual relationships. Her descriptions of her own innumerable one-night-stands over past months have been a most dangerous disservice to our community. Taking her poor advice, countless young women have compromised their mental, emotional, and spiritual health – and may have been raped, contracted diseases, and conceived unwanted pregnancies!
One of Charyn’s most egregious personal commentaries was published on September 8, 1999. But even this week finds her expressing guilt over not having yet another one-night-stand from a “first date” – on her 22nd birthday. It is now at the point where Charyn Pfeuffer ought to be immediately silenced, ostracized, and vilified – just to avert and reverse the damage already done. Otherwise, she will continue to subvert and undermine society by her most ill advice and poorest example…unless, and, until, she finally falls victim, herself, to the very horrors and tragedies that she promulgates.
Concerned for the success of Philadelphia Weekly,
I demanded support from the Weekly and was met with very little concern. My section of the paper brought in a lot of revenue, and a big part of that was due to my very public persona. Two days later, I realized my employer didn’t have my back, so I reached out to the Philadelphia Police Department to file a restraining order and an incident report. The next day, I filed a private criminal complaint with The Philadelphia Municipal Court.
At the time, there was a serial rapist on the loose in Philadelphia, dubbed the “Rittenhouse Rapist.” Mark fit the MO of the man accused, so police took special notice of my case. When cops started parking outside my apartment and stopping by for welfare checks, I got really scared. Like, this guy may actually try to harm me. Scared, I tried to live life as normally as possible. Try dating though when you’re in a constant state of paranoia – having a stalker is in no way a relationship resume builder.
I never knew when Mark would break the restraining order or where he’d appear, or when rants would show up in my inbox or mailbox. Or anyone else connected to my professional life, for that matter. For four months, I lived in a constant state of worry.
At 9:00AM, on February 16, 2000, I appeared before the Philadelphia Municipal Court, Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia in Courtroom 806. A guy I was casually dating agreed to accompany me to court. I was a disaster, and although I wanted the saga to end, I did not want to see Mark in court.
Taking the stand was the single most humiliating event of my life. I was questioned, in detail, on everything from how old I was when I lost my virginity to how many sexual partners I’d had. The whole process took place in front of a packed courtroom, and I felt like I was the one on trial. When Mark was sentenced to one year in jail, I did not feel any sense of relief. He clearly needed mental health services, not a year in a cell. And when I voiced concern, I was ignored.
Sure enough, one year later, Mark was released. He started harassing me 24 hours later. I’d been playing with the idea of a move to San Francisco and his behavior cemented the plan.
The timing was not a coincidence, and I moved cross-country move a few months later.
The harassment continued for close to a decade.
In late 2002, I was the subpoenaed to appear in court in a protracted trial to testify on behalf of Philadelphia Weekly and instructed to bring:
Copies of ALL written correspondence over received by, or addressed to, this Witness/Defendant, CHARYN PFEUFFER, from any and all PW readers who ever responded to PW’s “Ask Me Anything columns, up until April 4, 2001; copies of all correspondence engaged between CHARYN PFUEFFER and any and all “escorts,” owners or managers of “massage parlors,” and any “escort services” that advertise in Philadelphia Weekly.
The attorney? Mark. The details of the trial made zero sense since I did not interact with the adult services sections of the paper. I did not appear.
I’m not sure why the stalking eventually stopped, but I was relieved when it did. Still, my head is on swivel when I’m in Philly, and somewhere in the back of mind, I wonder if he’s going to appear again.
The only difference is now, I refuse to live in fear or feel unsafe. I’m still mad as hell that I was humiliated for speaking up and that Mark didn’t get the mental help that he needed. If I’d known the scrutiny I’d face in court, there’s no way I would’ve come forward. I’m not afraid to use my voice, or of Mark for that matter, but my situation made me question the legal system’s ability to protect stalking victims.
For National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM), let’s educate ourselves and do more to advocate for victims.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911. For more information on stalking, visit the Stalking, Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC) or call the National Center for Victims of Crime