January is Stalking Awareness Month and it’s good timing for us to be addressing this serious issue. As you may have seen in recent reports, rates of stalking have increased significantly on our campus and in the community.
Stalking is an important crime to understand. There are many misconceptions about what stalking is, how serious stalking can be, and who the ‘typical’ victim-survivors or perpetrators are.
Stalking is a pattern of behavior toward another individual that would cause a reasonable person significant emotional distress. It often includes unwanted contact - in person, over social media or email, through the mail, or via phone calls or texts. It can include following, spying on or recording the victim-survivor; sending them gifts; showing up at their home, workplace or school; spreading rumors; or contacting their friends and family. Stalking is a crime in every state in the U.S. and is a U of U policy violation.
A lot of the time, the behavior can seem innocent or minor from the outside, but stalking is incredibly traumatic and stressful for the survivor. Here are a few examples of victim-survivors’ experiences.
“It felt like the death of a thousand paper-cuts. All of these little things that added up to me being really scared and on the alert. I couldn’t even focus for one second in class because I was so preoccupied.”
“I feel so crazy! It’s like, he’s sending me these cute little gifts and making nice comments on all my IG posts, but I know what’s behind it and I know what he’s trying to do.”
“I was so shocked when I discovered [the perpetrator] had been going into my social media accounts and looking at my private chats. I am pretty sure they have a bunch of private photos and I’m so scared they are going to send them out or post them or something.”
Often times, when we see stalking portrayed in the media, it’s a stranger hiding in the bushes or a creeper who becomes infatuated with a classmate. But the reality is that it’s more often an intimate or ex-intimate partner who perpetrates stalking, and it’s part of a larger context involving of abuse, violence and power and control dynamics. On average, intimate partner stalkers (current and former) are the most dangerous stalkers compared to acquaintance and stranger stalkers. Intimate partner stalkers are more likely to threaten and physically assault the victim-survivor and their friends and family. Stalking often intersects with physical and sexual violence, and nearly 1 in 3 women stalked by an intimate partner were also sexually assaulted by that partner. (https://www.stalkingawareness.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Stalking-IPV-Fact-Sheet.pdf)
So what do we do?
Increase our awareness about the issue. Keep learning about stalking and share accurate information with your peers, friends and loved ones.
Ramp up prevention efforts. Challenge misconceptions about stalking and cultural acceptance of stalking behavior. Engage in healthy relationships with respect, good communication and clear boundaries.
Take it seriously, respond with compassion and connect with professional support. If you suspect you are being stalked, trust your gut, don’t blame yourself and get help. Believe and support friends or loved ones who share they are being stalked. Know about and connect to resources like CSW Victim-Survivor Advocacy – free, confidential support for students, faculty and staff of the U and online resources such as the Stalking Awareness, Prevention and Resource Center (SPARC).
Ellie Goldberg is CSW's Assistant Director of Advocacy and Victim-Survivor Advocate.