Stalking awareness month: what you should know

Now more than ever, discussion of gender-based violence is prominent in our society. It’s safe to say most people want safety and respect for themselves and their loved ones, but everyday, more violence and assault survivors come forward to remind us that we are not all safe. Their words show that we still must work to reduce ongoing violations against the basic human right to a fair and free environment.

Amidst these violations is stalking. Defined generally by the Stalking Prevention, Awareness and Resource Center (SPARC), a program of The National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC), stalking is “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” To bring awareness to the 7.5 million people stalked per year in the US, SPARC established January National Stalking Awareness month in 2004. Because stalking is so difficult to identify and trace, the organization felt an imperative part of combating stalking was bringing the issue to national attention.

Indeed, there is still much to learn about this invasive, scary practice: according to SPARC, only one-third of states classify stalking as a felony upon first occurrence, but some don’t even after the second offence. While stalking in itself is terrifying, it often co-occurs with despicable acts like physical abuse or sexual assault. Victims are often so affected by stalking that they may relocate to avoid it or miss work. Not to mention, SPARC asserts that anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction and severe depression rates are comparatively higher in stalking victims. This assertion is further supported by Karl Backman, the psychiatrist medical director of Henderson Student Counseling services: he said, “[stalking] can cause a lot of anxiety for someone who is being stalked or for someone who has been accused of stalking… It can cause depression as well, or fearfulness.”

Backman’s mention of those accused of stalking is quite relevant. Less severe incidences of stalking — like excessive contact and unwelcome romantic gestures — could come from a person who does not understand normal boundaries or respectful social interaction. Perpetrators seeking objective professional advice could help reduce occurrence at the root of the issue.

Afterall, as with any crime, a huge component of incidence is the people responsible, the perpetrators. According to a 2006 study on North American stalkers conducted by Kris Mohandie, Ph.D.; J. Reid Meloy, Ph.D.; A.B.P.P; Mila Green McGowan, Ph.D.; and Jenn Williams, R.A. Dipl., two-thirds of stalkers pursue their victims once per week, using multiple methods. Stalkers may be a stranger, or they make be an intimate partner; the latter of which the study says may approach their targets. Sometimes, stalkers even make threats using weapons or violence.

So, stalking is doubtlessly dangerous, but seldom discussed or taken seriously. While some media has at least acknowledged the issue —  most recently the Netflix show “You” — others like “The Graduate” have used unhealthy obsession purely as a romantic plot device without acknowledging that the real life impact of similar behavior is by no means romantic. Moreover, even media acknowledgment of the issue from an entertainment perspective is not a comprehensive means of education and may still frame the issue in a different kind of romantic, if not darker and more dramatic, light.

With that being said, many people might not notice stalking warning signs, especially when society and media has contributed to its normalization. According to One Love, an organization founded to promote healthy relationships, there are a few warning signs to watch out for in regards to stalking: constant contact, knowing personal details without you telling them, excessive monitoring of location or state and more than occasional surprise appearances.

Backman adds that, while stalking is difficult to identify, anyone who feels threatened should make a Title IX report or tell someone they can trust. Meanwhile, those worried they are being stalked should “do anything [they] can to make [themselves] feel safe, whether that means having friends walk [them] to class or accompany [them] whenever they need.” Additionally, he mentions that Henderson is a resource students may use to help with any emotional aspect of stalking as well as “the anxiety, the depression, the fearfulness [and] possible nightmares they may be experiencing.”

It might be easy for one to think any of these warning signs are innocuous, but people often hide their ill intentions just below the surface. Being aware of what could be is still important, especially when SPARC says 85 percent of stalking victims know their stalker. Further, college-aged students are stalked at higher rates than other age groups. All things considered, stalking is a more severe issue than more people might think, and knowing more about it is crucial to making our world a safer, more welcoming place.

If you’d like to know more about stalking, check out The Current’s January 2018 archive for “That Time I … had a stalker” by Christiana Mclaughlin. And remember, if you are dealing with a stalker, you don’t have to do so alone. Talk to NSU’s Title IX coordinator Laura Bennett or make a Title IX report online.

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