7.5 million Americans are victims of stalking every year — here are some ways to address the issue
Stalker. The word itself evokes an image of someone hiding in the bushes and peering into your life unbeknownst to you. In reality, that’s far from the most common forms of stalking experienced by over 7.5 million Americans today.
In many cases, people are very aware of a stalker’s behaviors but they may feel they have little recourse.
“Fundamentally, stalking is a pattern of behaviors directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear,” said Laura Halfmann, a social worker with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. “That includes repeated and unwanted attention; harassment or contact by phone, mail, email; a perpetrator going to a victim’s school, home or work; property damage; tracking by technology or posting about the person online.”
Halfmann and Holly Yoakum, a managing attorney at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, are part of the St. Louis Family Violence Council Annual Conference on Stalking, which takes place Oct. 20 and 21. The conference addresses how to treat and work with victims of stalking and education about new stalking techniques.
Yoakam said that she has seen an increase in stalking cases in her work with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. She said people are becoming more aware of how serious stalking is and reporting it.
Here are some things we learned about stalking:
Stalking is frequently perpetrated by someone who knows you intimately.
“We do know that 61 percent of female victims and 44 percent of male victims are being stalked by a current or former intimate partner,” said Halfmann. “This isn’t the picture in the media we often see of a person lurking or stranger you don’t know, but a person you had a relationship with.”
This often correlates with people who have been in an abusive relationship, where one partner is asserting power and control over another partner. Often, if a partner tries to leave or make a break from that behavior, the other partner will continue with unwanted vigilance.
Victims fear the loss of control the most.
Many victims describe a loss of control and feeling like they can’t get away from their stalker.
“There’s that fear of being tracked and not knowing if someone has put a tracking device on your car or phone,” Halfmann said.
This feeling escalates when stalking continues into the workplace, from the inside or the outside.
“You can’t just stop going to work,” Yoakam said. “When you control other safety realm of your life, you’ve still got to go to work every day. That may be the one location where your stalker knows to find you.”
Stalking is a crime.
Yoakam said that if you suspect you are being stalked, you can report the incidents as a crime and pursue criminal charges against the person. That may take a significant amount of time. Another option is to pursue an order of protection (in layman’s terms: a restraining order). This can keep a person from coming to your home, workplace, school, a certain distance from you or communicating at all.
Using technology to stalk people is increasingly more common.
If you know your stalker has had access to your phone or computer:
1. Check to see if anything has been installed on the device that could track your behavior.
2. Change your passwords.
3. Make sure GPS is turned off on your phone and consider how public you make your “check-ins” on social media sites.
4. Make your social media accounts private.
If you need to pursue legal action against your stalker, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri pursues civil cases (this includes orders of protection), but also has social workers on staff to connect clients with other resources such as counseling.
What: St. Louis Family Violence Council Annual Conference on Stalking
When: Oct. 20 – 21 from 8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Where: St. Louis Community College, Corporate College, 3221 McKelvey Road, Bridgeton, 63044
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