By ROB W. ANDERSON
For a healthy relationship to exist, clear boundaries must be established and respected.
When trust is lost, controlling behaviors can be the result, and may lead to domestic violence – even death. January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and this year’s theme is “Stalking: Know it. Name it. Stop it.”
According to statistics compiled by the National Center for Victims of Crime, every year, 6.6 million people living in the U.S. experience a stalking situation. One in six women and one in 19 men have been the victim of stalking at some time in their lifetime, where they feared for their safety or that of someone close to them.
Stalking is considered a crime in all 50 states, as well as in the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.
The seriousness and impact of stalking remains underestimated, due in part to the difficulty of recognizing, investigating and prosecuting those who have become stalkers.
Help-in-Crisis Sexual Assault Services Coordinator Sandra Dearborn said a “silent witness event” is held every October to recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and many of the men, women and children who were victims of domestic violence often experienced stalking before the situation escalated to fatal results. Red silhouettes of the victims are used to represent these people.
“Many of them were stalking victims first. Stalking can be dangerous because it can, and often does, lead to death,” she said. “And many times it’s murder, then suicide. Then if the children are there, he’s going to kill the children, too. Men are not the only stalkers, but they are probably [account for] 90 percent. It’s really a dangerous thing.”
By legal definition, stalking varies from one jurisdiction to another, but a good working definition of stalking is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.
Stalking can take many forms, like assaults, threats, vandalism, burglary, animal abuse, unwanted cards, calls, gifts or visits, according to www.StalkingAwarenessMonth.org.
One in four people who experience stalking report the unwanted behavior being linked to use of technology, such as text messaging, social networking websites, global positioning system devices or hidden cameras. There is no standard psychological profile for stalkers, and many follow their victims from one jurisdiction to another, which makes it a challenge for law officials to investigate and prosecute the stalker.
Dearborn said the length of time stalking can occur is alarming, and noted some past history of stalking on college campuses.
“The average length of time a college student is stalked is two years and three months. Now that was several years ago, but if that’s an average for a college student – and they’re only in college four years – that’s half of their college experience,” she said. “What does that do to a person’s psyche?”
The Northeastern State University Police Department takes stalking cases seriously, and the main goal when dealing with a reported stalking situation is to give the victim peace of mind that everything possible is being done to protect he or she from harm, said Detective Sgt. Jim Flores.
“Stalking is a serious, potentially life-threatening crime. Even in its less severe forms, it permanently changes the lives of the people who are victimized by this crime, as well as affecting their friends, families and co-workers,” he said. “When someone reports [she is] a victim of a stalking crime, we immediately take action by documenting the incident.”
According to Flores, regardless of whether a crime has been committed, the NSU Police department requires officers to document each and every act.
“It is vitally important to document these incidents, because in order to be able to arrest or obtain a protective order against the suspect, the stalking law requires that the acts of the suspect must be ‘willful, malicious,’ and more importantly, the suspect must ‘repeatedly follow or harass’ in a manner that would cause a person to feel ‘frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested,’” said Flores.
Recognizing what action or behavior that creates fear is important when documenting the situation.
“If somebody is calling me, say, 15 times in two minutes, that’s going to make me afraid,” said Dearborn.
“If somebody’s going to drive by my house and cruise by and look and stare, maybe sit across the street, and they do that multiple times, that’s going to make me afraid. And this can be between a girlfriend and boyfriend in middle school, high school, college, and it always ends up going into an intimate partner relationships for a husband and wife. Maybe they started with some bad habits back in middle school or junior high - all the way through [school] – and it escalates.”
As Help-in-Crisis can be contacted for support and guidance by calling (918) 456-HELP (4357), Flores said members of the campus police will help the student victim establish connections with support services.
“If an officer has enough probable cause to make an arrest, we encourage him or her to do so. On top of that, officers are required by law to assist the victim with obtaining an order of protection,” he said. “The NSU HawkReach Program will also be contacted by the officer.”
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