The National Network to End Domestic Violence is recognizing January as National Stalking Awareness Month. This year, the theme is “Stalking: Know It. Name It. Stop It.”. The goal of NNEDV is to start a dialogue about the reality of stalking and how individuals can take action.
Stalking is often misunderstood. While it is often thought of as a person being followed by a stranger down dark alleyways, it is often much more complex than that. Stalking is often a result of domestic violence and can involve physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse. Examples of stalking can include contacting a person against their will, sending excessive emails, texts or letters, watching their workplace, home or other places they routinely visit, vandalizing their property, abusing their pets or burglarizing their home.
FVPC is all too familiar with stalking and the fear it brings to victims. Domestic violence is about control. When a victim chooses to end a relationship or physically distance him or herself from the abuser, they take control away from the abuser. Abusers use stalking as a way to continue to harass their victims after the relationship is over, which is part of the reason why stalking has become a major risk factor for domestic violence cases ending in homicide. According to the NNEDV, almost forty percent of stalking victims are stalked by an intimate partner, friend, roommate or neighbor and seventy-five percent of victims know their stalker. In 2010, the Orange County Crisis Unit served 30 clients who reported being stalked.In Chapel Hill, sixteen of the stalking cases showed a clear connection between domestic violence and stalking, while thirty-seven other cases showed a brief relationship that escalated into stalking behavior with sexual violence or threats. Also in 2010, forty-seven 50(c) orders were heard in the Orange County District Court, up from twenty-three in 2009. While it may seem counter-intuitive, this increase in the number of reports is a positive step because it demonstrates an increase in public awareness about stalking.
These cases emphasize why it is important that we understand the seriousness of stalking and know what we can do to protect ourselves. If you are being harassed via any form of written or verbal communication, tell the stalker once that you do not want any contact with them and report the incident to the police and FVPC or your local domestic violence agency. After that instance, do not answer calls, text messages or emails, because engaging with the harasser can encourage them to continue or escalate their harassment. Keeping a detailed log of all incidents will make it easier to show the police the unwanted communication should you wish to press criminal charges in the future. If you know someone who is being stalked or harassed, do not make light of their experience. It is important to recognize that what may seem harmless to an outsider is very frightening for victims. Be an advocate, listen without judgment and help the victim find resources and support, including FVPC. We are available twenty-four hours a day on our Crisis Hotline at (919) 929-7122. We are ready and willing to help victims as well as their families and friends.