The last time you heard about stalking, it probably involved a celebrity and someone hiding in their bushes. While that isn't an entirely wrong definition of stalking, the reality is that it happens to everyday people, from high school students to senior citizens and it happens right here in our community.
Stalking, in its simplest terms, is repeated following, tracking or harassment with the intent to intimidate, threaten or injure the victim. And, yes, this can include peeping through windows and hiding in bushes, but stalking also includes repeated phone calls and text messages (the most common form of stalking), sending unwanted gifts and flowers, monitoring phone and computer use, tracking vehicles and personal location, contacting friends for information and showing up wherever the victim goes.
These actions definitely are unsettling - but they are not individually illegal. When they combine to create a pattern to instill fear, stalking becomes a crime and victims are eligible for Protection From Abuse orders. At the YWCA Northcentral PA, we recently have seen an increase in the number of individuals reporting stalking. Laws against stalking are gender neutral, but victims are overwhelming female.
According to statistics, one in six women (and one in 19 men) experiences stalking in their lifetime. They fear for their own life or believe someone close to them could be harmed or killed. One in five female stalking victims is between the ages of 11 and 17 - a startling statistic in a world where teenage domestic violence is also on the rise.
Often, it is the uncertainty victims feel that makes them the most fearful. One victim reported never knowing where her stalker would show up or what he was capable of doing. One-seventh of all victims are so fearful of their stalker, they move from their home to flee the intimidation.
Stalking often accompanies domestic violence as well. More than 90 percent of women who were killed by their abuser were stalked by him during the year prior to the murder.
If you feel you are being stalked, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself. First, do your best to safely avoid all contact with the stalker and let your friends, family and coworkers know what is going on. Be sure to report the information to the police and follow their advice on the situation. Keep a running list of all stalking incidents and keep all letters, packages, emails and any other physical evidence.
Wise Options can help you create a safety plan if you are being stalked and can connect you to legal guidance and be a source of support during this scary time. If you would like to speak to someone at Wise Options about what you can do to protect yourself, please call 800-326-8483 today.