“Alex and Sam, both sophomores at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, previously dated for about a year. Despite their break-up, a couple of weeks ago Sam started closely following Alex’s whereabouts on Facebook and began showing up at places Alex went.
At first, Alex felt like it was a weird coincidence. However, when Sam repeatedly began showing up at places, such as Alex’s work and favorite coffee shop, Alex began to feel uneasy. Sam’s behavior started to seem less and less coincidental.”
This situation might be seen as trivial, but the type of behavior Sam is exhibiting constitutes stalking. Under Wisconsin state law, stalking is committed when one person intentionally engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that causes emotional distress, fear of bodily injury or death.
Other examples of stalking behaviors include unwanted phone calls, text messages, threats, sending gifts and even physical abuse or murder.
Each year, 3.4 million people are stalked in the United States (U.S. Department of Justice, 2009). Despite what is commonly portrayed in the media, 3 of 4 stalking victims are stalked by someone they know (Baum, et al “Stalking Victimization in the United States, access through “Stalking Fact Sheet,” Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Dept. of Justice, June 2009).
Stalking can have serious emotional consequences for victims. Forty six percent of stalking victims fear not knowing what will happen next (Eric Blauuw et al., “The Toll of Stalking,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 17, no. 1 (2002): 50-63.). Victims may feel debilitating anxiety and emotional turmoil stalking can cause, especially in the lives of students who are trying to balance so much. Imagine trying to balance school, work, a social life and even more while feeling the constant fear of your perpetrator.
Unfortunately, most victims do not report the stalking to law enforcement, especially on college campuses. In a year-long study of 223 colleges done in 2000, over 83 percent of stalking incidents were not reported to police or campus law enforcement (U.S. Department of Justice, 2000). This statistic may cause people to question why so many stalking victims choose not to report. It may also provoke harmful attitudes such as: “That’s not really stalking. If that person was really being stalked, wouldn’t they report?” or “If stalking causes such psychological harm, why doesn’t the survivor report?” Failure to understand reasons for not reporting may contribute to the denial and minimization of victims’ experiences of stalking.
There are several barriers that may prevent victims from reporting the stalking to law enforcement. Victims may feel as though stalking is not a serious crime, or fear that law enforcement would not take them seriously. Victims may think they lack sufficient evidence or fear retaliation by the stalker. They may also feel remorse for the stalker if he or she is an acquaintance, a former intimate partner or someone with whom the survivor is currently involved.
There are also increased barriers to reporting in the cases of same-sex stalking. For example, the perpetrator may threaten to “out” the victim if they are not out publicly.
Throughout the month of February, Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE), a student organization on campus, will be recognizing Stalking Awareness Month (StAM). Although StAM technically takes place in January, PAVE will be hosting events recognizing it in February due to the timing of winter break.
The National Center for Victims of Crime launched National Stalking Awareness Month in January 2004 in hopes of increasing the public’s understanding of the crime of stalking. StAM is a nationally recognized time of both observance and action. PAVE is taking a stand for the University of Wisconsin-Madison by creating awareness about stalking. PAVE also encourages the entire campus to get involved by learning more about stalking and creating an environment in which it is not tolerated.
For more information on stalking and how you can get involved with StAM, visit the National Stalking Awareness Month website at stalkingawarenessmonth.org. Visit PAVE at office 3147 in the Student Activity Center.
If you believe you are being stalked, you can contact the UW Police Department at 608-264-COPS or the Domestic Abuse Intervention Service’s crisis line at 608-251-4445.
PAVE is a student organization dedicated to preventing sexual assault, dating/domestic violence and stalking on the UW-Madison campus through education and activism. For more information or to find out how to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org.