A living nightmare…
Amanda glanced at the clock on her night stand… 1:09 a.m. For weeks she hadn't really slept and tonight was dreading a second-period algebra test in the morning. But that wasn't the worst of it… staring at her phone, she debated whether to turn it back on. Ben, an upperclassman with whom she shared a Spanish class, had become obsessed with her. He started following her home from school several weeks ago, then began sending her what seemed to be continuous text messages. When she stopped responding to him, she learned Ben then set-up a fake Instagram account in her name and began posting all sorts of nasty things online, posing as her. Emotionally exhausted from his continual barrage to her iPhone, she turned it off hours ago.
1:14 a.m. Hoping to have heard from her best friend, she picked up her phone and powered it on. Just what she feared… seven more aggressive text messages from Ben, demanding to know what she was doing and why she wasn't responding to him.
What is “stalking”?
It's estimated that in a year's time, 6.6 million people are victims of stalking. Stalking occurs in various forms, but can best be described as a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. Repeated telephone calls, voice mails and text messages are the most common forms of stalking, but stalkers don't stop there. Other tactics they readily employ include:
- Physically following/tailing the victim or just ‘showing up' at a victim's location
- Sending unwanted gifts, letters, cards, e-mails or social media correspondence
- Damaging a victim's home, car or other property
- Monitoring phone calls or computer use
- Using technology, like hidden cameras or global positioning systems (GPS), to track a victim's whereabouts
- Driving by or hanging out at a victim's home, school or work
- Threatening to hurt a victim or her/his family, friends or pets
- Using public records or online search services, hiring investigators, going through garbage, or contacting friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers to learn more about a victim
- Posting information or spreading rumors about a victim on the Internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth
- A variety of other actions that control, track, or frighten a victim
Stalking poses a serious physical and psychological threat to victims. Nearly 75% of stalking victims experience other forms of violence, including sexual and/or physical assault. Nearly half of all stalking victims fear most “what will happen next”. Almost 30% fear the stalking will never stop. In fact, most stalkers pursue their victims for an average of 2 years. The prevalence of anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression is much higher among stalking victims than the general population, especially if the stalking involves being followed or the destruction of personal property.
Stalking is far too common. In fact, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or even killed. If a less-conservative definition of “fear” is used, meaning that a victim is only somewhat fearful, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 13 men reported being a victim of stalking.
The majority of female stalking victims (66%) are stalked by a current or former intimate partner. The same is true for 41% of males. Sadly, stalking is a huge issue for youth. 1 in 5 female victims and 1 in 14 male victims are stalked between the ages of 11 and 17.
Most often, a victim knows her/his stalker. Many stalkers pursue someone they have dated or with whom they've been intimately involved. The majority of stalking cases involve men/boys stalking women/girls. However, men can also be victims of stalking, pursued by both men and women, as well as women can stalk other women. Nearly 2/3 of stalkers pursue their victims at least one time a week, but many make daily contact using more than one method. In fact, nearly 80% of stalkers use multiple means to stalk their victims. In 20% of stalking cases, weapons are used to threaten or harm victims. If the stalker is a current or previous intimate partner, the frequency of the stalking contact increases and threatening behaviors escalate quickly.
Stalking and Femicide
The term “femicide” relates to the killing of women or girls. Unfortunately, the dangers of stalking are closely linked to femicide, which is one key reason stalking must be taken so seriously. In fact, stalking is a crime throughout the United States and its territories. Only 54% of femicide victims had reported stalking to police before they were killed by their stalkers. History related to femicide victims shows, prior to their murders, they were…
- Stalked by their intimate partner (76%)
- Physically abused by their intimate partner (67%)
- Stalked during the same period they were abused (79% of abused femicide victims)
- Physically assaulted and had also been stalked in the 12 months before their murder (89%)
- 4 Steps for Stalking Victim Safety
If you, your child or someone you know is a victim of stalking, there are 4 steps you can follow to help stop the stalking behavior and try to minimize potential danger. Please note, these steps are helpful in most, but not all, cases. If a stalker escalates the situation to a point where a victim's life is in danger, more drastic measures are necessary. Be sure to work with your local law enforcement and prosecutors to help ensure your safety and that of your family.
1) Find an ally. Talk with your children about alerting you to any behavior that makes them uncomfortable in any way. They need an ally and should not try to address any potentially dangerous behavior on their own. The same is true if you or someone else you know is being stalked… don't take this on by yourself.
2) Pay attention and “document, document, document”! Shrugging off potential stalking behavior can potentially be dangerous. Talk with your kids about the difference between acceptable and unacceptable social behavior. Reinforce with them that if someone makes them feel “creepy” or uncomfortable, they need to let you know right away. Keep copies of all correspondence, voice mail messages, texts and other social media communication. A diary of the stalking behavior will also prove beneficial to authorities that might be called to investigate and help protect the victim.
3) Call the police. Stalking is illegal! The longer stalking behavior is allowed to continue, the more obsessed a stalker may become. In most cases, a conversation with the police is enough to ward off a stalker.
4) Consider a restraining order. If stalking has escalated, a restraining order may prove helpful and actually cease the stalker's behavior. Please note, however, that some experts believe restraining orders (depending on the circumstances) can make bad situations even worse. Consult with your local law enforcement and a victim's advocate before securing a restraining order.
In closing, don't take stalking behavior lightly. Get help, document what's happening (… including how YOU or YOUR CHILD FEELS (i.e., fears, concerns, etc.)) and do all you can to stop the stalker and stay safe.
*NOTE: Stories used in this and other gingerkadlec.com blog postings are based on actual cases, but details and names have been altered to protect victim and family privacy and identity.
Raising awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse has become Ginger’s life mission. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger can be contacted via her website, “Ginger Kadlec: 4UrKids” at gingerkadlec.com or find her on Facebook at facebook.com/gingergkadlec.
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