UK pop star Cheryl Cole recently hired security due to a barrage of nasty messages from a stalker. A Sanford, Florida man was arrested for stalking and making unwanted sexual remarks to women. In the state of Washington, a woman was critically injured when her ex-boyfriend violated a protection order and drove his car into hers. In a five-minute internet search, I found an abundance of stalking examples impacting every kind of individual – from the next-door neighbor to the A-list celebrity. Stalking has no boundaries.
As you may be aware, January is National Stalking Awareness Month, an annual call to remind us to recognize and respond to the serious crime of stalking. Stalking is a pattern of unwanted behavior directed at a specific person to induce fear. Victims can be followed, receive unwanted phone calls, texts and emails, caught off-guard by their stalker showing up at their place of work or play, receive unwelcomed packages, and have false and vicious rumors spread about them. The list could go on. Stalking happens in-person and in cyberspace (1 in 4 victims report being stalked using technology). All of it is unnerving at best, terrifying at worst.
The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC) reports an estimated 6 to 7.5 million people are stalked each year in the United States. Being a stalking victim is not exclusive to women; nearly 1 in 17 men have experienced stalking victimization in their lifetime. And yet, with these sobering statistics, stalking behavior often goes unreported.
For example, a recent victim that I am aware of almost didn’t report harassing phone calls because she thought she would be perceived as “overreacting”. This would have been a mistake, victims of stalking behavior should never be reticent to report their concerns. Inaction can be dangerous. Allowing threat assessment professionals to assess whether somebody poses a threat often proves invaluable. The safety plan that a security expert puts in place for the victim can save lives. For example, in the case of the man from Sanford, Florida, after the victim reported his stalking behavior, report alerts went out on social media and additional information from the victim led to his arrest. She was not “overreacting.”
Most people are stalked by someone they know—an acquaintance or former partner. Stalking behavior and odd or troubling communication from former intimate partners is especially concerning and needs to be taken seriously. SPARC reports, in 85% of cases where an intimate partner was murdered, stalking preceded the attack.
We all play a role in identifying, intervening, and supporting stalking victims. While law enforcement and security professionals are critical, many victims tell friends, colleagues or family about what they are experiencing. During this month of stalking awareness, a concerted outreach to educate these friends, colleagues and family on how to proceed when told about stalking would prove helpful. Something as simple as documenting and reporting stalking behavior and maintaining a log detailing the behavior can be critical to threat assessment professionals and law enforcement in addressing the concerns. At AT-RISK International, we recommend following these initial steps:
- If you think you are in imminent danger, call 911
- Don’t minimize the experience or impact of being stalked, listen to your instincts and report your concerns
- Keep a log and save emails, text messages, posts and other forms of communications
- Connect with the victim hotline at +1 855-4-VICTIM for more information