CHICAGO — Comedian Rebecca O'Neal has spent months fearing for her life.
O'Neal, of Logan Square, has endured two years of being stalked by an ex-boyfriend who threatened to kill and assault her, chased her and broke a window at her home. At times, O'Neal was so afraid of her stalker she canceled paying shows and struggled with money.
But this week, O'Neal was granted an extended order of protection — commonly known as a restraining order — against the man. Looking for safety, O'Neal launched a GoFundMe campaign to help her raise money for a move to a new city.
The campaign has raised more than $9,000 in just two days.
"I've been going through this [legal process] for 10 months, and it's been going wrong — so wrong, so wrong — every step of the way," O'Neal said. The restraining order and GoFundMe campaign changed all that, though, O'Neal said. "I've honestly just been crying on and off for the past few days. I can't believe it. The last few days literally just changed my life."
i've been happy crying on and off all day. y'all really went and funded me. today literally changed my life.— Rebecca O'Neal (@becca_oneal) September 14, 2017
The stalking began in January 2016, when O'Neal broke up with a man because he'd been behaving erratically, she said. She moved out of his apartment to another home in Logan Square, but the man broke her front window.
O'Neal's landlord was unhappy about the police presence and property damage, she said, and she eventually moved out. She moved to a third home after several months.
The man never stopped harassing O'Neal: He repeatedly threatened to murder her, she said, and she has a previous order of protection against him and has filed multiple police reports about his behavior.
The man would call O'Neal late at night from blocked numbers, describing what she'd worn to comedy events that evening and listing upcoming shows where she was scheduled to perform.
The man stalked O'Neal online, creating fake dating accounts to contact her, she said. He made fake Facebook profiles to match the dating accounts and trick O'Neal, she said, and he posted her contact information on "alt-right" sites so others would harass her.
The man also went to O'Neal's shows, even chasing her outside of one at the Beat Kitchen, she said. That night, Bill Bullock, O'Neal's longtime friend and fellow comedian, was inside the restaurant when O'Neal, sweating, dashed back inside.
O'Neal told Bullock she'd seen the man following her in a car; he'd made a U-turn and drove after O'Neal when he spotted her, Bullock said. Bullock found the man parked in his car a block away and told him he wasn't welcome, hoping it would show the man O'Neal had friends who would protect and care for her.
Another night — when O'Neal came home to find her front window broken — Bullock had to search her home to ensure no one was inside and O'Neal was safe.
O'Neal's was a "bundle of nerves" and obviously troubled during this time, Bullock said.
"She was barely making it through," Bullock said. "She was really, really terrified for her life ... ."
after 10 months in court & nearly 2 yrs being stalked, harassed, and threatened w rape & murder, I have an extended order of protection!!!— Rebecca O'Neal (@becca_oneal) September 13, 2017
Throughout the months of harassment, O'Neal received help from Chicago's comedy community. When she lost money because she was afraid of leaving her home at night for performances, comics offered her cash for food. When she needed to go to court for an order of protection, comics testified about the harassment she'd endured. Others gave O'Neal their house keys, telling her to come over whenever she needed.
Bullock would hang out with O'Neal when she was frightened, let her sleep on his couch, traveled with her and testified about the harassment to help O'Neal get a restraining order.
"The Chicago comedy scene has been incredible about this, just and being really, really [supportive] ... to just make this bearable," O'Neal said.
O'Neal has been in court since December, she said, but the process dragged on longer than normal because the man harassing her evaded being served an order of protection for five months, she said. While waiting for legal help, the harassment "escalated," O'Neal said.
The day O'Neal was granted her extended order of protection, Bullock was in the courtroom. He said his friend and her mother "burst into tears," and he felt "relief" that the system had finally worked for his friend.
O'Neal said the moment she was given that restraining order it felt like every problem she had went away all at once.
"It's hard to keep hope when a situation is going as badly as that one did," O'Neal said. "It was just like in one moment everything that I've been stressed about vanished. ... That's exactly how I felt: relief, joy, disbelief. I felt like I was in a dream because I never thought this would be over."
But the harassment took a financial toll on O'Neal: Over the summer of 2016, O'Neal said she'd cancel a show about once a week because of her anxiety over leaving her home due to the stalking. She also canceled all of her scheduled performances for the week and a half before her trial date for the restraining order.
O'Neal said she added up the payments she lost due to the cancellations and learned she'd had to give up thousands in pay.
"All comedy shows, for the most part, take place at night. It remains extremely difficult to justify leaving my house every night alone, coming back every night alone, to tell jokes," said O'Neal, who performs nearly every night. "This is what I love, and this is my passion, and this is my career, so I stuck with it. It was just very difficult."
The money raised from the GoFundMe will cover O'Neal's costs for living while she prepares to move and while she sets up her life and career in a new city. O'Neal had always thought she'd move to grow her comedy career, she said, but the the stalking and order of protection "sped that process up dramatically."
The move means O'Neal will have to leave her family and her home city, as well as her role on WCIU's "Chicago's One Night Stand Up," her hosting gig during open mic at Cole's Bar and her show at the Laugh Factory. She's arranged for female comics to replace her at her regular shows.
I GOT MY TWO YEAR ORDER OF PROTECTION!!! 🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾— Rebecca O'Neal (@becca_oneal) September 13, 2017
And O'Neal hopes the move can provide her with safety. About 76 percent of women who are slain by an intimate partner were stalked by that partner, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime. One study found one-third of women who are slain by an intimate partner are killed within a month of receiving a restraining order.
O'Neal also hopes to help other victims of stalking. About 7.5 million people are stalked every year in the United States, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime.
The process for getting her order of protection was "extremely opaque," O'Neal said, even when she had help from a pro bono lawyer. She hopes to help other victims — especially ones who don't have the visibility and resources O'Neal had — learn about what they can do and how they can get help from advocates if they can't afford an attorney.
"It was still the most difficult experience of my life," she said. "I'm just hoping maybe people will see this and know that it's possible to get legal protection and event contact me for help for the process.
"I just want to illuminate this process for people because it's a b----," O'Neal said, laughing. "Yeah. That's my hope."
Donate to O'Neal's GoFundMe campaign here: