This January marks the eighteenth National Stalking Awareness Month, an annual call to action to recognize and respond to the serious crime of stalking which affects nearly 7.5 million people every year.
Stalking can be defined as a pattern of malicious behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to experience substantial emotional distress or fear of being injured or killed. It impacts victims’ physical and mental health and research shows it can lead to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. While every case is different, people who stalk can be extremely dangerous. Stalkers may threaten, attack, sexually assault, and/or even kill their victims. It involves non-consensual communication with someone who does not want to be contacted. These behaviors can take place in-person, online or through a mixture of both methods. Although the majority of victims are stalked by someone they know, such as a current or former intimate partner, acquaintance, or family member, there are cases where it is by a stranger. While victims are typically female and most perpetrators are male, anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of stalking. Nearly 54% of female victims and 41% of male victims experienced stalking before the age of 25, and about 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men have experienced stalking in their lifetimes.
Fear is contextual and what’s scary to one person may not be scary to another. In stalking cases, most of the behaviors are only scary to the victim because of their relationship with the stalker. For example: A bouquet of roses isn’t scary by itself. But when a victim receives a bouquet from an abusive ex-boyfriend who she recently relocated to get away from (and she did not think he knew where her new home was), this flower delivery suddenly becomes terrifying and threatening. It is essential for responders to ask about and understand why certain behaviors are scary to the victim.
Stalking often involves an escalation of behaviors as perpetrators try to maintain power and control. These tactics can include but are not limited to:
Do not blame yourself, the stalking is not your fault. Trust your instincts. Victims often feel pressured by friends or family to downplay the stalker’s behavior, but stalking poses a real threat of harm. Your safety is of utmost importance. Call the police if you feel you are in any danger and explain why the stalker’s actions are causing you fear. While victims cannot stop or control the stalking behavior, they should feel empowered to take steps to keep themselves, their families, and their loved ones safe. Please listen, show your support, and never blame the victim. If you or someone you know is a victim of stalking, tell someone about the situation and take steps to ensure safety. Aware communities are better able to support victims and help combat this crime. Hi-Line’s Help for Abused Spouses in Conrad, MT can offer help, support, and resources to victims, in addition to training workshops to promote public education and awareness. For more information or if you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at 406-278-3342, or our 24/7 crisis line at 1-800-219-7336.