Since 2004, January has been observed as National Stalking Awareness Month. The purpose of the month is to increase the public’s understanding of the crime of stalking. Stalking is defined on the U.S. Department of Justice website as “a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”
Did you know that Columbus, Ohio has a Domestic Violence and Stalking Unit at the City Attorney Prosecutor’s Office? This Unit facilitates prosecution and provides education, support, counseling, crisis intervention and overall assistance to victims of domestic violence and stalking. It is comprised of four specially trained prosecutors that are assigned only domestic violence cases, including cases involving repeat assaults, egregious acts of violence and victims that are high risk.
Additionally, the Unit has several courtroom domestic violence advocates who work to provide a variety of services to domestic violence victims. Finally, to complete the team, there are currently two stalking advocates. The stalking advocates investigate menacing by stalking complaints, assist in evidence collection and support stalking victims, including assistance with obtaining civil protection orders.
To raise awareness during National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM), we partnered with a local stalking advocate to get answers to commonly asked questions. Take a look below to learn more about stalking, safety planning, common myths and evidence.
Q: What is the role of a stalking advocate, both inside and outside of the courtroom?
A: The anti-stalking advocate is most importantly able to provide support to a victim. Prior to any criminal charges, an anti-stalking advocate can advise of options, including protections orders and potential criminal charges. Advocates can also help the victim create a safety plan, review collected evidence and advise how to preserve future evidence. In the courtroom, advocates provide moral support during the hearing (civil or criminal), advise of the overall process and work with victims on resolutions.
Q: Is there a common method that stalkers use on their victims?
A: No, each stalker is different and has different motives and lengths they are willing to go. This is why advocates rely on the information that a victim provides because victims typically know and understand their offender best. At the same time, advocates recognize that many stalking methods are not against the law individually, so the totality of the situation must be considered. With new technology frequently available, cyber-related stalking has become more popular with fake Facebook accounts, texting apps and Tinder.
Q: What does lethality look like for stalking victims?
A: Lethality can be extremely serious for stalkers, especially if there was a previous intimate relationship or mental illness. Lethality means to do serious harm, or to kill. It should be understood that protection orders are a tool for law enforcement to arrest the individual, build a case against him/her and provide moments of peace for a victim. Protection orders are not a shield, and in certain situations, can aggravate an offender more. Some research estimates that 60% of stalkers violate an order within the first year (Ko, 2002). A great tool to consider stalking lethality is referred to as SHARP, a web-based assessment that stands for Stalking and Harassment Assessment and Risk Profile. (Logan, 2017).
Q: Can you tell us how often stalkers kill or attempt to kill their victims?
A: It is very hard to tell how often stalkers kill or attempt to kill their victims because many times, we are either not aware of the attempt or unaware that stalking took place prior to the homicide. Here are a few statistics about femicide (the killing of a woman in particular on the basis of her gender) and stalking:
- 76% of intimate partner femicide victims have been stalked by their intimate partner.
- 67% had been physically abused by their intimate partner.
- 89% of femicide victims who had been physically assaulted had also been stalked in the 12 months before their murder.
- 79% of femicide victims reported being stalked during the same period that they were abused.
54% of femicide victims reported stalking to police before they were killed by their stalkers. (Judith McFarlane et al., “Stalking and Intimate Partner Femicide,” Homicide Studies 3, no. 4 (1999).
Q: Can you talk about technology safety planning and what it looks like for victims?
A: The best way to avoid many aspects of stalking through technology may be to avoid social media altogether. However, that is not preferred or potentially even possible in today’s world. One way to alleviate the risk is to never use personal information in an account. For example, create a Facebook profile with a generic name and photo. Your friends and family will know who you are. Someone who knows your name cannot search for you as easily. Also, we recommend not “checking in” to places. Set up corresponding email accounts solely for social media purposes, so if someone begins to harass you through email, it is easy to walk away from the account.
Google Voice phone numbers are another way to begin contact with a potential new friend or partners so you are not giving your actual phone number. We have to be realistic that everything we put on the internet can be viewed by someone else, even if deleted later. It is also beneficial to Google yourself to see what information about you is easily accessed by a potential stalker.
Q: What about tracking devices?
A: When it comes to tracking devices, try to ensure you are the only person to have full access to your devices (computer, tablet, smart phone, etc.). Keep them password protected and ensure you are present if someone else is using your device. Consider that a trusted partner now may not be a trusted partner in the future. If a stalker is making statements that they are aware of your location, go to your cell phone provider to see if they can find any malware or unknown apps on the device. You can also take your vehicle to a mechanic to have them look over your car for a tracking device. Should any of these things be found, it should be documented in a police report as soon as possible.
Q: Should a stalking victim talk to their manager/supervisor about the situation?
A: Yes, if you’re comfortable, we highly recommend victims and survivors explain their situation to their employer. Many companies have had other employees go through something similar and may be able to use that similar protocol for your situation. Be sure to share a photo of the offender as well as any copies of protection orders. If there is any form of security at the employer, try to keep them fully informed. One of the most important things to consider is assistance while walking in and out of your workplace. With platforms like LinkedIn, it may be easy to find out where you work, and even the hours that you work. Having security walk you to and from your vehicle will be beneficial. And if possible, consider changing your hours/schedule.
Other than security, keeping your receptionist and/or other employees aware of the situation may be helpful. For example, in one situation, a code word was used that was not obvious. When the victim heard a coworker say the word, the victim had a safe place to go and police were called immediately. This could work for nearly every work setting. Examples of this code including paging someone who doesn’t work there, yelling out an order for a burger with jalapenos when you don’t have jalapenos, etc. We often suggest that a victim include everyone in safety planning that they’re comfortable including.
Don’t forget to view Part Two of “Ask An Advocate” on our blog for a continuation of questions and answers.
Please help spread the word to your loved ones by sharing this article on social media, using hashtags #NSAM, #NSAM2018 and #EndStalking. Everyone deserves to feel safe.
1. Carolyn N. Ko, Note, Civil Restraining Orders for Domestic Violence: The Unresolved Question of “Efficacy,” 11S. Cal, Interdisc. L.J. 361, 373 (2002).
2. Logan, T. (2017). SHARP: A New Tool for Stalking Assessment and Safety Planning. Domestic Violence Report, 22, 6, 89-91.
National Stalking Resource Center
24-hour Hotline: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673)
Read the continuation, Stalking: Ask An Advocate, Part Two.