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Netflix’s ‘Baby Reindeer’
shows how some stalking victims
might not recognize or report
the crime right away

Carlos Cuevas, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern, said many stalking victims might wait to act after someone begins harassing them, as seen in the Netflix series “Baby Reindeer.”

A screen capture from the Netflix show 'Baby Reindeer'.
Netflix’s “Baby Reindeer” offers a glimpse of the messy reality of what happens when a person is stalked. Photo by Netflix

What do you picture when you think of stalking? Most people probably picture a man following around a woman who reports the behavior to police as soon as she realizes what’s happening.

But “Baby Reindeer,” a limited series on Netflix, offers a more nuanced look at stalking. The show, which is currently one of the most-watched series on the streaming service, follows a comedian in London who is stalked by a woman he meets at the pub where he works. It’s based on the writer, creator and star Richard Gadd’s experience with being stalked. 

In addition to subverting gender stereotypes, “Baby Reindeer” shows how difficult it can be to confront stalking, especially if the victim already has a history of trauma.

In “Baby Reindeer,” Donny initially gives Martha the benefit of the doubt. He engages her when she comes into the pub where he works, takes her to coffee, and even accepts her friend request on Facebook after learning she’s been convicted of stalking in the past.

Headshot of Carlos Cuevas.
Carlos Cuevas, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern University, said it can take awhile for someone to realize they’re being stalked. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Some watching the series may wonder why Donny didn’t take action sooner when Martha began stalking him. But Carlos Cuevas, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern University, said it can take a while for people to realize they’re being stalked. Once victims do realize what’s happening, fear can keep them from reporting it.

“Usually if somebody is engaging with the perpetrator, the perpetrator hasn’t done things that have made it clear they’re (stalking),” said Cuevas, who is also the co-director of the Violence and Justice Research Lab at Northeastern. “One of the things that’s kind of difficult about stalking is that you may not realize or recognize the behaviors. Somebody makes you feel uncomfortable — maybe they’re just quirky. There’s a whole host of reasons why somebody might feel like they’re clicking with someone. It’s not until you start to recognize the behavior as stalking that people really see that it’s not innocuous.”

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Cuevas added that stalkers target men less often than women and as a result, there are gender-based assumptions about whether a man can be a victim of this crime.

“There are some gender stereotypes about how if you’re a guy, you can handle it, or conversely, if you’re a woman, you’re more fragile,” Cuevas said. “These assumptions don’t recognize the reality of the behavior being dealt with.”

Despite how she continues to harass and follow him, Donny dismisses what Martha is capable of until she physically attacks the woman he’s seeing. At that point, Donny goes to the police, who ask why he didn’t report the stalking sooner and tell him he should listen to the hundreds of voicemails Martha left him to report any specific threats she made.

This is typical of stalking cases, Cuevas said. It often takes a while for a person to realize they’re being stalked, and once they do, many hesitate to report out of fear of their stalker escalating their tactics or the police not believing them. Like Donny, victims may often try to deal with a stalker themselves.

“It’s actually hard to go and get a restraining order,” Cuevas said. “There’s a lot of hurdles within the system to take — the first step which would be a no-contact or restraining order. And then pressing charges is difficult. You have to have a lot of proof that somebody’s stalking you. A lot of time (it’s) hard to convince police that this is actually stalking behavior.”

Complicating things is Donny’s past. In a flashback episode, viewers learn Donny survived multiple sexual assaults while drugged at the hands of a television show writer who promises to help Donny find the comedic success he craves. Donny suffers from a lot of shame and guilt from his previous assault, which causes him to isolate himself from others and colors the way he deals with Martha, the show’s stars said.

Cuevas said it’s not uncommon for people in this situation to avoid reporting subsequent crimes. 

“One of the things that we know about having been victimized in the past is that it puts your risk to be subsequently victimized, whether it be the perceived vulnerability for perpetrators or other factors,” Cuevas said. “That experience is certainly going to impact how the person reacts in terms of emotional functioning and whether they are willing to report it.”