Love shouldn’t hurt – ever

Understanding stalking
Each year an estimated 7.5 million women and men are affected by stalking. Stalking is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear, fear for their safety, or experience emotional distress. Stalking can have devastating and long-lasting physical, emotional, and psychological effects on victims. Stalking is a dangerous crime yet perpetrators are seldom charged or prosecuted because the acts that make up stalking may be legal or appear harmless. Victim’s specific fears or phobias are often used against them and threats are communicated in ways that seem harmless to outsiders. For example, the perpetrator may send messages or gifts that seem innocent or even romantic, without context the victim’s terror may see irrational.

Stalkers invest time, energy and money into monitoring and pursuing their victims. Stalkers may call or text repeatedly; monitor phone or computer use; send unwanted gifts, letters, or cards; spread rumors, hire private investigators, and even dig through the victim’s garbage looking for information. Stalkers will often contact the victim’s friends, family, or coworkers to get information, they may drive by or show up at the victim’s home or workplaces. More dangerous behavior can include committing identity theft, financial fraud, vandalizing property, violating protection orders, and threatening to hurt or kill the victim, their family, friends, or pet(s). Perpetrators will often use technologies, often legal, to track victims (Tech Safety Tips www.techsafety.org).

Studies show that danger increases for the victim when there is actual pursuit, the perpetrator possesses or has an interest in weapons, has a criminal history, or is prone to emotional outbursts and rage. The most dangerous time for a victim of intimate partner stalking is when they have left the relationship, the perpetrator has been arrested, or served with a Protection from Abuse order.
Stalkers may threaten to assault or try to get someone else to assault the victim. Before an assault, the stalker may follow the victim, repeatedly contact them, learn their habits and daily routines, and gather personal information to identify vulnerabilities. After an assault, stalkers may try to contact the victim to threaten or manipulate them into not reporting. If drugs or alcohol were involved, they try to determine what the victim remembers and frame the incident as consensual.

Reporting stalking behaviors helps law enforcement and prosecutors investigate and prosecute the crime. Stalking behavior is often persistent and unpredictable and can cause repeated trauma. It affects the physical and emotional health of the victim, their family, and friends. Stalking can have an impact on a victim’s financial stability and job. Victims often have a higher prevalence of anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression. They can also experience physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches and pains, weakness or numbness, chest pains, and changes in weight.

Stalking can have long-lasting physical, emotional, and psychological effects on victims. Crisis Services of North Alabama can help. Advocates provide free, confidential support to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Victim advocates can help victims create a safety plan, navigate the criminal justice system, know and understand their rights as crime victims, and obtain other services and support they may need. Please contact us locally at 256.574.5826, on our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000, or on our website csna.org.

-Rebecca Hieronymi

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