News outlets compete hard for scoops. Breaking news. Exclusive reports. And we love to pat ourselves on the back when we get them – and complain when others don’t give us proper credit.
It’s a cutthroat business … and it will grind you down (and distort your proper perspective) if you let it.
I know … because I used to let it.
In the case of the mysterious Upstate text stalker(s), though, it wasn’t the media that broke the story … or the police. Instead, it was a hard-working mom who decided one day that she’d had enough of being harassed – and hearing from her friends about being harassed by a repugnant mystery messenger.
Like so many stories these days, this unsolved mystery has its roots on social media … specifically, one of the many online communities which have cropped up on these platforms to support entrepreneurs whose businesses are built through online interactions.
For those of you who missed our initial report, dozens of female business owners in the South Carolina Upstate have been terrorized in recent months by anonymous, unsolicited text messages from an unknown sender(s) – messages which have been increasing in frequency and vulgarity in recent weeks.
The deluge of vile, harassing messages – sent using an application which switches numbers – included references to these women’s social media pages, stalking behavior which has escalated over the last few weeks.
Among the dozens of women on the receiving end of these messages is Ashley Benson. Benson is the owner of Train Hard Mom Hard, a personal training business based in Greer, South Carolina.
(Click to view)
(Via: B. Knox Photography)
Benson (above) began receiving messages from the stalker(s) a week before Thanksgiving.
“It was borderline humorous at first but then it just became a bombardment,” Benson recalled.
The 39-year-old North Carolina native initially suspected an ex-boyfriend – a common theme amongst the many female entrepreneurs who have been inundated with these insulting, at-times menacing messaging threads.
Benson received additional incoming “bombardment” from the same stalker(s) a week later, which she shared with a friend who is also a personal trainer. To her surprise, the woman had been receiving almost identical messages – leading them to believe the sender(s) might have been targeting women in the personal training industry.
“We noticed the way they were recycling the insults but it was very clear they were watching us – which is a little unnerving,” she said. “Who knows what kind of behavior this person is capable of?”
After a third week of getting bombarded, Benson decided enough was enough. So on Tuesday afternoon of this week, she posted the following message to a local young professionals Facebook page …
(Click to view)
From there, the floodgates opened …
Benson told me she had “no idea” her message was going to alert and inspire dozens of women who reported experiencing similar harassment from what certainly appears to be the same stalker(s).
All of these women are business owners (or realtors who run their listings through a parent company). Nearly all of them are white. The vast majority of them are in their thirties or early forties, she said, although a few are in their twenties. And all of them appear to work in and around the Greenville, S.C. area.
In the hopes of advancing the investigation, Benson will be among the women presenting evidence to the Greenville, S.C. police department on this case tomorrow (December 16, 2022) at 8:30 a.m. EST.
“There’s so many of us at this point,” she told me. “I just hope they take us more seriously. We just want to be taken seriously. And I just hope they catch whoever it is. I want this person shut down.”
According to Benson, her concern is if law enforcement is unable to identify and apprehend the individual(s) responsible for the messages that they “are going to disappear.”
Benson added that the harassment has placed her and other female entrepreneurs in a difficult spot – having to choose between retreating on social media (and losing revenue as a result) or risk potentially exposing themselves to danger.
“Most of us have no choice because we have to keep a visible face on social media,” she told me. “If I completely went off of social media I wouldn’t have any business. People keep saying, ‘change your number, go private.’ Well, if they got my number the first time what’s to stop them from getting it again?”
“I shouldn’t have to change my number,” Benson added. “I shouldn’t have to be less visible because of this jerk.”
Benson told me the barrage of messages did not discourage her, but that many of the women who received them were concerned about what might happen it someone being bullied by them were already going through a difficult time.
“I’m pretty sound in my mental health but it’s not hard to see how this could impact someone in a crazy, devastating way,” she said. “One wrong text message to someone who is already having a bad day or going through a bad time could lead to something truly tragic.”
Count on this news outlet to continue tracking this story – especially as the law enforcement component of it (hopefully) starts ramping up. In the meantime, thanks to Benson and everyone who has been willing to speak with us about their experiences.
Stay tuned for much more of those conversations in the days to come …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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