To the Editor,
More than one in six women and one in 17 men will experience stalking in their lifetime. I am writing to you now because January is National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM) — a time to come together as a community to recognize and fight this dangerous crime. Stalking is a known risk factor for subsequent escalation to violence and even murder.
Stalking behavior is intended to intimidate and frighten the victim and is often perpetrated by a previous intimate partner or someone known to the victim, although not always. Make no mistake, this behavior constitutes a criminal act against the victim, often one that seems harmless, which is why it is important to focus on the context of the perpetrator’s actions.
Stalkers often engage in specific behaviors designed to incite fear in victims, criminalizing what would be otherwise normal behavior. Consider this scenario: A woman comes home to find a lit candle in her living room. She calls the police and hysterically explains that she did not leave it that way when she left the house. “He’s followed me here,” she reports. She moved to a new city to escape her ex-boyfriend who was stalking her. She thought he did not know where she relocated. She is now terrified.
Other stalking behaviors include unwanted calls and texts, starting rumors about the victim, following the victim both in-person and on social media, showing up where the victim is and giving unwanted gifts.
A collective community response is required to end stalking. Since victims are most likely to tell a friend or loved one, it is important that everyone can identify this criminality. They can then assist the victim to seek help and safety. Information is readily available online, including at https://www.stalkingawareness.org/.
I also wish to point out that Freedom House is a strong resource for victims of stalking. We provide potent legal advocacy for stalking victims and counseling, as well as educational presentations on stalking for schools, church groups, social clubs and the workplace.
I urge the community to join together to fight and end stalking.
Kayla Major, sexual violence counselor for Freedom House