January is National Stalking Awareness Month, a time to focus on a crime that affects millions of victims every year, reports Cheryl O'Neil, executive director of Caring House, a domestic violence shelter in Iron Mountain.
A U.S. Department of Justice report states that 6.6 million individuals were stalked during a one-year period, one in six women, and one in 19 men have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime in which they felt very fearful or believed they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
The majority of staling victims are stalked by someone they know.
Sixty-six percent of female victims and 41 percent of male victims of stalking are stalked by a current or former intimate partner.
More than half of female victims and more than one third of male victims of stalking indicated that they were stalked before the age of 25.
Forty-six percent of stalking victims experience at least one unwanted contact per week, 11 percent report having been stalked for five years or more.
Only in the past 15 years has the legal system begun to recognize and address the crime of stalking, O'Neil said.
California passed the nation's first anti-stalking state law in 1990.
Over the next decade, anti-stalking laws were passed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, yet many victims and criminal justice professionals underestimate its seriousness and impact, she said.
In one out of five cases, stalkers use weapons to harm or threaten victims and stalking is one significant risk factor for women in abusive relationships.
Research indicates a clear link between stalking and intimate partner violence, O'Neil said.
National studies show that former husbands, boyfriends or cohabitating partners perpetrate a majority - 62 percent - of the stalking incidents against females, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Of women stalked by current or partners, 81 percent were physical assaulted and 31 percent were sexually assaulted by that same partner, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
New forms of technology and increased access to technology provide stalkers with new tools to terrorize current or former intimate partners.
The tactics of perpetrators are the same - abusing power to gain and maintain control of the victim, O'Neil said.
Every day, more advanced technological tools make stalking easier and more effective.
The increasingly affordable and available variety of phone, surveillance, and computer technologies provide a wide array of dangerous tools for abusers to use to a harass, intimidate and stalk their current and former intimate partners.
Stalkers are using many forms of technology - old and new - including telephone technologies, cell phones, global position systems, hidden cameras, computer monitoring devices and online databases.
Anyone can be a victim of stalking.
If you are a victim of stalking, experts suggest:
- Traveling with friends.
- Trying not to walk alone.
- Varying the times and routes you take to school, work or frequently visited places.
- If it is safe to do so, notifying your family and friends, and explaining the situation to your employer so that they may protect you at work.
"A Citizen's Guide to Michigan Anti-Stalking Laws," published by the state of Michigan, offers suggestions of what to do if a person is being stalked.
Remember, every situation is different, so there are no set guidelines. Use your own judgment as to what actions to take.
- Report to your local law enforcement agency that you are being stalked, whether or not you plan to file formal charges.
- Build your case against the stalker by providing the police with any or all of the following:
- Name and address of the stalker, if possible.
- Documentation (personal journal or diary) of the stalker's activities.
- Taped recording(s) of threatening or harassing telephone calls.
- Videotape of stalker's actions.
- Basic identifying information (i.e. license plate number, make of car, personal appearance).
- List of contacts with the stalker (i.e. general time frame, place, what was said, letters received).
According to the anti-stalking laws, a person can be charged with stalking for willfully and repeatedly contacting another individual, without permission, causing that person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.
"Trust your instincts," O'Neil advises. "If you suspect the possibility that your phone, computer, e-mail, driving or other activities are being monitored, seek help."
Victims of stalking have found that disconnecting a telephone line, or e-mail account in an attempt to thwart a stalker results in the abuser escalating to a new method of control or access, she warns.
"Abusers-stalkers can act in incredibly persistent and creative ways to maintain power and control," O'Neil said.
Help and safety planning be provided through Caring House by calling 774-1112 or 1-800-392-7839.