Curled up for a night of binge-watching Netflix, Nicole Madigan did what so many Australians have done this week: she turned on Baby Reindeer.

But unlike most of the 22 million viewers who have tuned in to Richard Gadd’s haunting retelling of his stalking ordeal, this is a reality Nicole knows all too well.

‘This was the first time I’ve watched something about stalking that has made me actually respond in any kind of emotional way,’ the journalist and domestic violence awareness advocate tells Daily Mail Australia.

Nicole was subjected to a three-year campaign of terror by her new partner’s ex-fling, starting in 2018. 

The ordeal only ended through court intervention in early 2021, when her stalker, Karissa*, was handed a two-year community corrections order. 

By this point, Nicole had been impersonated, humiliated and harassed beyond measure. Her family had received a barrage of messages from this woman, and personal details about her life shared on the internet for all to see.

‘Most stalker films or television shows depict this really extreme type of stalking situation,’ she says.

‘This type of stalking can happen, but it’s less common. This was one of the most realistic depictions of stalking I’ve ever seen.’

Nicole Madigan (pictured) was subjected to a three-year campaign of terror by her new partner's ex-girlfriend, starting in 2018

Nicole Madigan (pictured) was subjected to a three-year campaign of terror by her new partner’s ex-girlfriend, starting in 2018

Curled up for a night of binge-watching Netflix , Nicole Madigan did what so many Australians have done this week: she turned on Baby Reindeer (pictured, a scene from the Netflix show)

Curled up for a night of binge-watching Netflix , Nicole Madigan did what so many Australians have done this week: she turned on Baby Reindeer (pictured, a scene from the Netflix show) 

Much of what Nicole recalls about her experiences mirrors what Gadd illustrates in his wildly popular show.

‘They get to know their target. It doesn’t always seem scary when it’s written down or told to someone,’ she says. 

‘If you report a specific incident to the police, it’s probably not going to sound that bad. 

‘But stalking is a pattern of behaviour, and often a series of legal behaviours. That’s what makes it so difficult to prove.’

Gadd’s own attempts to report his ordeal, as per the show, were thwarted by a similar realisation.

His experience was hard to wrap up neatly into a concise complaint that police could work with. 

This opening scene, of Gadd’s character Donny fumbling over his words as he attempted to report a crime, stopped Nicole in her tracks.

She was drawn to the show after watching the trailer and recognising the similarities with her own experience. But it wasn’t until that unnervingly accurate opening scene that she Googled the show and realised it was based on a true story.

As the story continued, Donny was undermined further when he attempted to take matters into his own hands. 

In the show, police revealed they had received information which suggested that Donny was in fact as much of a perpetrator as the woman stalking him.

Nicole understands exactly how this would have played out.

‘One of the experts I spoke with described it this way: you almost develop a relationship with the person, for want of a better term, who’s stalking you,’ she reveals.

‘Because they have become so obsessed with you, the by-product of that is you start to develop that same preoccupation because you’re so anxious at the time for the next message or attack.’ 

Over four and a half years, Gadd says he received 41,071 emails, 744 tweets, letters totalling 106 pages and 350 hours of voicemail messages from the older woman, whom he calls Martha in the show

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Over four and a half years, Gadd says he received 41,071 emails, 744 tweets, letters totalling 106 pages and 350 hours of voicemail messages from the older woman, whom he calls Martha in the show 

A fleeting moment 

Her own ordeal began at her child’s school cricket match in Queensland. At the time, she was quietly going through a separation with her husband. 

She snapped a quick picture of her son as he took his turn at batting. A woman she didn’t know swept past her, asking: ‘Are you taking pictures of Adam?’

Adam was another parent and the coach of the team, and not someone she knew particularly well. Certainly not somebody she was trying to take a photograph of.

It was a blink and you’d miss it moment, and one that she may never have thought about again. But later that evening, Nicole received a Facebook private message from the woman, Karissa.

‘Hi! Sorry, totally didn’t mean anything by my comment when the boys were playing cricket,’ the message read. 

Days later another message arrived, this time asking if Nicole was married. After several more messages asking questions in the same vein, Nicole messaged Adam to let him know.

He apologised, but didn’t seem necessarily surprised. Over the coming months, her contact with Adam became more frequent and they began to date.

When they finally made their relationship public, about a year later, Karissa’s harassment escalated rapidly.

Karissa had previously dated Adam, and started harassing Nicole via social media when she learned he’d moved on.

‘Enjoy sleeping in the bed we f***ed in hundreds of times,’ one message read. 

Karissa would go on to threaten Nicole, harass her and even go so far as to impersonate her online.

She created fake profiles of women, claiming they worked with Adam. These profiles would message Nicole, telling her that Adam was flirting with them. 

Pictured: Nicole and her husband Adam. Nicole's ordeal began when a woman Adam had previously dated became fixated on her - before she even had started dating him

Pictured: Nicole and her husband Adam. Nicole’s ordeal began when a woman Adam had previously dated became fixated on her – before she even had started dating him 

In another attempt, Karissa told Adam she was friends with Nicole’s ex-husband, and made up an elaborate story claiming Nicole was crazy and had tried to stab him.  

‘Sometimes it takes time to understand that you’re being stalked, until then you spend a lot of time questioning your own reactions,’ Nicole now says.

‘It’s a prolonged, nuanced experience… In many cases, you’re the only one that knows what that person is trying to say to you.’

So when Gadd’s character, Donny, approached police in a way which minimised and downplayed his own experience, in spite of the fear he’d felt for such a sustained period of time, Nicole couldn’t help but nod along.

‘I could relate to his responses,’ she says. 

‘For a lot of people it’s very comfortable talking about fear and stress and sadness and anxiety, but talking about those uglier emotions like anger and rage can be more difficult.’

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Escalation and reciprocal obsession

Nicole became particularly frightened after Adam proposed to her, when it became apparent that Karissa’s behaviour was escalating.

Details about the time and place of their wedding were soon plastered all over one of Karissa’s social media accounts. It also became apparent that she knew where they lived.

In order to work out how Karissa was finding out such intimate information, Nicole says she found herself turning into ‘a sort of private detective’.

After Googling different combinations of her name, Adam’s name, the word ‘wedding’ and various other factors, she found a link to her online wedding invitation.

The website they’d used to build their invitation and send their guests had defaulted to public. The couple – and their guests – had no idea.

‘We don’t know for sure that’s how she found out, but it seems the likely case,’ she says.

Nicole became particularly frightened after Adam proposed to her, when it became apparent that Karissa's behavior was escalating. Details about the time and place of their wedding were soon plastered all over one of Karissa's social media accounts. Pictured: Nicole and Adam at their wedding

Nicole became particularly frightened after Adam proposed to her, when it became apparent that Karissa’s behavior was escalating. Details about the time and place of their wedding were soon plastered all over one of Karissa’s social media accounts. Pictured: Nicole and Adam at their wedding

As for working out where they lived, Nicole says that was also likely deduced from social media.

‘Eventually, Adam said, I wonder if it’s my Strava account? She was using hashtags such as #running and #lovestorun. It was showing him running, starting and finishing in our street,’ she reveals.

A little bit of online sleuthing revealed that, yes, Karissa did have a Strava account. And Adam’s account hadn’t been set to private, meaning any user could track his runs.

‘It goes to show you have to be very, very careful,’ she warns.

This is just one way in which a reciprocal fixation can develop.

Baby Reindeer illustrates how a victim can feel so backed into a corner, so terrified, that they start to keep tabs on the abuse.

Nicole says it’s a by-product of the sustained harassment: ‘They have become so obsessed with you that the by-product of that is you start to develop that same preoccupation with them because you’re so anxious at the time for the next message or attack.’

Throughout this whole, three year ordeal, Nicole’s stalker maintained her full-time job. She appeared to be highly functioning in other aspects of her life.

Unlike Donny’s stalker, Martha, Karissa did not appear to have any other mental health conditions which could have impacted her actions.

In fact, Nicole’s research has indicated that only around 50 per cent of stalkers would have a diagnosed mental illness.

‘But at the same time,’ she says, ‘the quickness at which she would respond to my work-related social media posts would leave me confused about how much time she was dedicating to this. 

‘That’s what made it so disconcerting; that she could switch from a regular, functioning person to someone who was completely obsessed and fixated with my life. 

‘There could be people engaging in this sort of behaviour anywhere. There’s no real profile for a person who does this.’ 

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Victims need more help 

Nicole Madigan is the author of Obsession

Nicole Madigan is the author of Obsession

Stalking is an offence that can be easily misunderstood or diminished.

‘It is quite difficult to know how to respond to such an unusual and menacing situation,’ Nicole says.

But Baby Reindeer, through all of Donny’s misguided attempts to put an end to his ordeal, illustrated one important fact: ‘You can be an imperfect victim.’

Nicole is passionate about the men’s violence against women crisis.

It is an area of concern gripping the nation right now, as women take to the streets to march in rallies for their safety following the tragic deaths of 35 women so far this year in alleged family violence crimes.

‘The situation in Australia with men’s violence is catastrophic,’ says Nicole, who is also a board member of DV charity Friends with Dignity.

‘It’s so devastating to watch it seemingly get progressively worse. 

‘A lot more needs to be done, prevention-wise. A domestic violence order is mean to protect women from a dangerous man, and even a ‘minor breach’ or a ‘low level breach’ should be taken seriously.’

*Karissa’s name has been changed 

Nicole Madigan is the author of Obsession: A journalist and victim-survivor’s investigation into stalking – which details her own ordeal

Who are the women who stalk

Stalkers can be hard to characterise due to a case of chronic under reporting, behaviour analyst Wendy L. Patrick wrote in her essay ‘The Truth About Women who Stalk’.

‘Fuelling reporting reluctance, unlike domestic violence victims who often have visible injuries, stalking victims lack physical “evidence” to support their claims,’ she said.

But she argued female stalkers often pose an equal risk to male stalkers. 

Having a prior relationship with the victim often increases the intensity of the threats and violence, but women are also likely to pursue strangers, celebrities, or male acquaintances.

Melbourne woman Lydia Abdelmalek was sentenced to prison for routinely impersonating celebrities, including Home and Away star Lincoln Lewis, in order to attract victims online, who she would later go on to stalk and harass

Melbourne woman Lydia Abdelmalek was sentenced to prison for routinely impersonating celebrities, including Home and Away star Lincoln Lewis, in order to attract victims online, who she would later go on to stalk and harass

In South Australia in 2022, a woman was convicted of using a carriage service to menace, harass, or cause offence after she bombarded a man and his family with hateful, abusive social media messages.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was accused of delivering threats of torture, mutilation, cannibalism and death via Facebook messages.

Prosecutors also alleged she put a $300 bounty on the head of the man. The woman was found guilty via jury trial after denying the allegations and accusing the man of raping her. 

And in 2019, Melbourne woman Lydia Abdelmalek was sentenced to prison for routinely impersonating celebrities, including Home and Away star Lincoln Lewis, in order to attract victims online, who she would later go on to stalk and harass.

Abdelmalek had three victims, one of whom took her own life in 2018, following the trauma of being duped. 

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