Promoter and Art Curator Lenora Claire Is Fighting to Change Stalking Laws
Courtesy Lenora Claire
Lenora Claire is the sort of person who seems to know everyone in Los Angeles. Bring up any subject that interests you and chances are she'll mention a handful of folks you should meet.
Claire is essentially a counterculture curator whose presence has been felt in nightclubs, art galleries and, now, in reality television, where she works as a producer. For years, she has brought together her large, overlapping networks of locals for purposes of fun. As a club promoter, she helped launch the party Mr. Black in Los Angeles. As an art curator, she put together buzz-catching gallery shows like "Golden Gals Gone Wild" and "Bettie Page: Heaven Bound." Then there were the birthday extravaganzas she would throw, such as a 2015 event, which I covered for L.A. Weekly, that featured punk icon Jello Biafra on DJ duties and multiple performances from the team at Bob Baker's Marionette Theater.
Now, however, Claire is making connections to help reshape laws against stalking. "The laws have not been changed since the early ’90s," she says. But technology has changed drastically and, with that, so has the nature of stalking.
A few years ago, Claire was at Pop tART, the now-defunct Koreatown art gallery that she co-founded, when she was approached by a man dressed in a space suit named Justin Massler, who proclaimed that he would stalk her. Since then, she alleges, she has been on the receiving end of his unwanted attention.
It started with letters Massler sent to her from jail, where he was serving a six-month sentence for aggravated harassment. "The first two years, they would be sporadic," says Claire, adding that, in this early period, she found the correspondence bizarre but not extremely threatening. As time passed, though, the frequency of the messages grew and the threatening content increased. "Then it turned to death threats. Rape threats," she says.
The tipping point came when her then-boss, a reality TV casting producer, received a death threat for associating with her. That's when Claire decided to go public. She shared a portion of that threat with Jezebel for a 2015 story on her case; it read in part, "If you continue to pursue a relationship or social influence over Lenora you will be killed."
But even though Massler is a convicted stalker, there has been very little Claire can do legally about her predicament.
Massler, also known as Cloud Starchaser, has made news before for stalking Ivanka Trump. But his location is often unknown, which makes serving a restraining order a difficult task. While he's able to threaten her online, even in public forums like Twitter, due to current laws, she cannot serve him with a restraining order via email. "If you threaten my life with every email, why can't I do this?" she asks.
The ordeal has taken its toll on Claire's professional and social life. This year, her birthday passed without a massive celebration. "I can't do public things like I used to," she says. "[When] there's someone telling you that they're going to rape and kill you every day, the last thing you're going to do is create a public event and have people there." When she interviewed for her current job, she had to disclose the situation. The same also holds true for her personal life; Claire has to tell her dates about the stalker, too.
Claire inhabits a space of renown that, while not unique to Los Angeles, is perhaps more common here than in many other places. She's not a celebrity exactly, but she has a public persona, and that visibility is what helps her get and maintain work. She is what marketing experts might call an "influencer" — someone with the ability to reach a wide range of people from various walks of life. That's not just what enables Claire to get her own projects off the ground; it's part of what makes her valuable to her employers, who may include anyone from gallery owners to club promoters to casting producers.
"People said to me, 'Why don't you make your profiles private?'" she says. "I'm hired for my social presence and reach. I can't, I don't have the luxury of making my profiles private."
There are a lot of people who fall into this category of micro-fame: DJs, club promoters, musicians, artists and writers. Their work is public, as are their profiles, but they don't have access to the resources and security that the truly rich and famous do. "We're not Kardashians," Claire says. "We're not in gated communities with security teams." Yet, she adds, "We still get the attention of people who create these false attachment to us through our social media."
For people in these lines of work, social media isn't merely time to chat with friends or strangers for fun. It's business. You work hard to build a following online, and that following is what helps run successful parties or book better gigs. It's what helps you garner press, which can take you to the next level of your career. Yet there is very little that people in such positions can do to stop online abuse. Whether you're the victim of a doxxing campaign, where one's personal information is made public online, or, in Claire's case, a single person using online channels to threaten harm, the advice is often to go offline. But walking away from the internet isn't so easy when Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are integral to your ability to pay the rent.
So Claire used her social networks to help raise awareness. After she posted about the situation, she was invited to take her story to television. In late 2015, Jezebel ran with the story. Then she appeared on a segment of Crime Watch Daily.
Claire has a lot of ideas on how stalking laws can be improved. The ability to serve a restraining order by email is one of her priorities. Last April, Claire was able to obtain a two-week temporary order that was served to Massler while he was detained for other reasons in San Francisco. But by the time she was able to get a three-year restraining order, Massler had gone off the radar again, and the order was never served. Although he has posted on his blog and Twitter as recently as June, his current whereabouts are unknown.
Lenora Claire visits the L.A. City Attorney's office.
Courtesy Lenora Claire
Aside from email restraining orders, Claire also proposes a stalker registry and something she calls a "crime tracker," which is inspired by her own frustrations with the justice system. The crime tracker would allow people to keep tabs on the status of their case, which in our current legal system can be a frustratingly opaque process. Claire, who says she already has a friend willing to build it, has presented the idea to L.A.'s city and district attorneys' offices.
In addition to the laws, Claire is trying to change how people think about this crime. After the Crime Watch Daily piece aired, she received tweets from people who blamed her for the stalking, criticizing her appearance and style of dress in the process. She was disturbed to realize that some of the people making those comments were women. "It was like this really insane, internalized misogyny that's really upsetting to me and that was very hard to deal with," she says.
Like rape, stalking is often a crime that's shrouded in the culture of victim blaming and shaming. Claire is trying to lift that veil and let other victims know that they didn't ask for it.
"I went public with what is actually a really painful and stressful thing for me because I wanted to take away the shame element of it," she says. Since Claire has opened up about her experience, she has connected with other women in similar situations. "That's been nice, to have people feel like they aren't alone."
Eventually, Claire was able to meet Congressman Adam Schiff, who has been talking to her and other victims in his district to see how they can be better served by antistalking laws. Schiff says that there may be a general lack of awareness among the public about stalking crimes. "They think this is a Hollywood problem," he says by phone, "but the reality is that the vast majority of people who are stalked have nothing to do with celebrity."
"My case is unusual," says Claire, adding that for other victims, the stalker isn't a stranger but someone they know, like an ex. While she isn't a celebrity in the traditional sense, she has enough visibility to help make a positive change. "I have access to things," she says. "I fully get that. That's why I feel like it's my responsibility to use these connection to make these things move rapidly, because it's just insane."
Liz Ohanesian writes about DJ culture, electronic music and other subjects for L.A. Weekly. Her work also has appeared in Playboy, Noisey, Village Voice and a number of other publications. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.
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