January is national stalking awareness month. The fifth annual event, the campaign is meant to shed light on a crime that affects roughly 6.6 million victims each year. The theme – Stalking: Know It. Name It. Stop It. challenges people to fight the dangerous crime by learning more about it. Although stalking occurs across the country, many victims and criminal justice professionals underestimate the implications of the crime. In one out of five cases, stalkers use weapons to harm or threaten victims. I don’t often hear about dogs being stalked. But before I met my wife, I must admit I had a few ladies chasing my tail.
While legal definitions of stalking vary, a good working definition is: “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” Stalking is serious, often violent, and can escalate over time.
Stalking is one of the significant risk factors associated with abusive relationships, often leading to homicide. What’s more, victims suffer anxiety, social dysfunction and severe depression at much higher rates than the general population. And many lose time from work or have to relocate to escape their tormentors.
Difficult to recognize, investigate and prosecute, stalking is a series of events instead of an isolated, violent episode. Stalking may take many forms, such as assaults, threats, vandalism, burglary, animal abuse, as well as unwanted attention in the form of cards, gifts, or visits. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, one in four victims reports that the stalker uses technology (such as computers, global positioning systems, or hidden cameras) to track their victim’s daily activities. Unfortunately, stalkers do not fit a standard psychological profile, and many follow their victims from one jurisdiction to another, making it difficult for investigators to monitor and authorities to prosecute.
Learn to Recognize Stalking Behavior
- Follows the victim, showing up (uninvited).
- Sends unwanted gifts, letters, cards, or emails.
- Damages property such as homes, personal possessions and cars.
- Monitors phone calls and/or computer use.
- Uses technology, like hidden cameras or global positioning systems (GPS), to track their victim.
- Drives by or hangs out at their victim’s home, doghouse, school and/or work.
- Threatens to hurt their victim as well as his or her family, friends or pets.
- Uses public records or online search services to snoop on their victim.
- Posts information or spreads rumors about their victim on the Internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth. Don’t underestimate the damage that can be done by posting inappropriate things online.
- If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
- Trust your instincts. Don’t downplay the danger. If you feel you are unsafe, you probably are.
- Take threats seriously. Danger generally is higher when the stalker talks about suicide or murder, or when a victim tries to leave or end the relationship.
- Contact a crisis hotline, victim services agency, or a domestic violence or rape crisis program. They can help you devise a safety plan, give you information about local laws, weigh options such as seeking a protection order, and refer you to other services.
- Develop a safety plan, including changing your routine, arranging a place to stay, and having a friend or relative travel with you.
- Decide in advance what to do if the stalker shows up at your home, work, school, or somewhere else.
- Don’t communicate with the stalker or respond to attempts to contact you.
- Keep evidence of the stalking. When the stalker follows you or contacts you, write down the time, date, and place. Keep emails, text messages, phone messages, letters, or notes. Photograph anything the stalker damages and document injuries the stalker causes. Ask witnesses to write down their account of abusive events.
- Contact the police. Every state has stalking laws. The stalker may also have broken other laws by doing things like assaulting you or stealing or destroying your property.
- Consider getting a court order that tells the stalker to stay away from you.
- Tell family, friends, roommates, and co-workers about the stalking and seek their support.
- Inform security staff at your job or school. Ask them to help watch out for your safety.
- Consider hanging out with a canine. Most of us make great watch dogs.
If someone you know is being stalked
- Show support.
- Don’t blame the victim for the crime.
- Remember that every situation is different, and allow the person being stalked to make choices about how to handle it.
- Find someone you can talk to about the situation.
- Take steps to ensure your own safety. Did I mention dogs make great companions?
For more resources about stalking, check out the Stalking Resource Center. When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to all of the training needs of your building(s). Choosing our service cuts property management training-related costs by 90% and saves you over 50% compared to conventional training! More importantly, IT SAVES LIVES.