In today’s world, stalking has become a subject that many joke about. This often happens when there is a problem that we as a society don’t really understand. Mix that in with the puzzling messages the media sends, and one can see how the crime of stalking is often misunderstood.
Under Wisconsin state law, stalking is committed when one intentionally engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that causes emotional distress, fear of bodily injury or death. Examples of stalking behaviors include unwanted phone calls, text messages, threats, sending gifts and even physical abuse or murder.
Unfortunately, stalking is still not widely recognized as a dangerous crime. Although there are many different factors, the media often contributes to this concern by trivializing stalking.
The media tends to portray stalking as romantic or comedic rather than traumatizing and potentially lethal. Advertisements, songs, movies and television shows teach that if you stalk someone long enough it proves your love, and eventually they will fall in love with you too.
Additionally, the media send out so many messages that stalking is a way to express love, that we don’t often see the harmful behavior to begin with.
Take for example the popular book series, soon to be turned into a movie franchise, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” “Fifty Shades of Grey” features the relationship between Christian Grey and Anastasia “Ana” Steele. Christian’s actions throughout the first book in the series exemplify intimate partner stalking.
As previously stated, some examples of stalking are repeated and unwanted phone calls or text messages. In “Fifty Shades of Grey,”
Christian tracks Ana down and gives her gifts such as a laptop and cellphone. Throughout the novel, Ana struggles with her feelings and even though she ultimately accepts Christian’s behavior, this does not make his behavior acceptable.
According to the Stalking Resource Center, 3.4 million people over the age of 18 are stalked in the United States each year, with people age 18-24 experiencing stalking at the highest rates. While there is little data specific to Madison, it can be inferred that not only is stalking happening on this campus, but that it is a big problem that demands our attention.
Additionally, because of how stalking is portrayed in the media, people often write stalking off as a crime perpetrated by a creepy stranger, one that peers into women’s windows in the middle of the night. While this form of stalking does happen and should be addressed, it is by no means the norm, especially on a college campus. Perpetuation of this stereotype makes it difficult for people to truly understand the issue and how to help a victim when one comes forth.
The media’s lighthearted portrayal of stalking also implies that the crime is not as dangerous or prevalent as it is and thus stalking has become normalized and accepted behavior on college campuses.
When the media creates images or situations that make light of stalking, we as a society become desensitized to the horror that stalking victims live with every day.
There are ways pop culture can depict stalking so the message is not disrespectful and creates a conversation about the dangers of stalking. Stalking and other forms of violence can and should be discussed in pop culture, but it should be in a manner that is both healthy and productive.
Even though most of us aren’t executives in the entertainment industry, there are still ways to help. PAVE challenges you to counteract these negative messages and speak out on behalf of survivors in our communities, especially starting right here on campus.
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 email@example.com.