"Creepy letter from Bullock's stalker released"
—USA Today, April 10, 2015
"Mary Lucia stalking case not a first for local media"
—Star Tribune, April 12, 2015
These were just two stories of stalking that I was following over the weekend. Just two stories of stalking that actually made headlines. According to the Stalking Resource Center (SRC), an agency of The National Center for Victims of Crime, 7.5 million Americans experience stalking each year. Fifteen percent of females and 6 percent of males will experience this unwanted criminal behavior in their lifetime, with 18-24 year olds experiencing the highest rates.
Many victims of stalking remain silent and experience true fear but feel helpless to do anything about it. The more we understand the tactics of stalkers and the impact on victims, and the laws of our state, the more power we will have to interrupt this criminal act and prevent the harm that occurs.
All 50 states have their own legal definitions and statutes related to stalking. A common working definition of stalking is: "A pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear." "Pattern of behavior" looks collectively at the actions of the stalker. Individually the actions or behaviors may not be criminal, but added together, along with the unwanted nature of the acts, they cause fear in the person being stalked. Hanging up on someone or sending someone flowers may not seem criminal or scary to most of us. If you have moved, changed your phone number and have requested to remain unlisted in all directories, but you receive 52 hang ups and a bouquet of your favorite flowers on your doorstep, someone has gone through quite a bit of trouble to locate you and to send a message saying "I can find you."
Step One: Acknowledge the true crime and fear of stalking. Refrain from minimizing the behavior by not making jokes about stalking, creeping or having a secret admirer.
Step Two: Do not reinforce the myth that stalkers are misunderstood. That it is romantic. That stalking equals love and attention. That persistence pays off when trying to have a relationship with someone who does not feel the same. These are common plots in romantic comedies yet very damaging in real life.
Step Three: Pay attention to behaviors. Something that may not seem like a big deal to you may be a very big deal to another person. The stalker most often knows the victim and may have intimate or personal details that are used to induce fear.
Step Four: Document all behaviors when there is contact in person, via phone or via social media. Document each item that may be sent, photographs taken or times you were watched or followed. Document all cases of threats; trespassing; vandalism; or physical harm to you, someone you know or pets. You can see how behaviors begin to escalate and become criminal in nature.
Step Five: Report the behaviors to law enforcement and let people know who can support you: friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. Stalkers use technology to abuse and harass. We must use technology to document and keep us connected to safety.