'They feel terrorized': Family Shelter brings awareness to realities of stalking

Sierra Rains
The Daily Ardmoreite
The Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma is bringing awareness to stalking during National Stalking Awareness Month.

Stalking can wear on victims' physical and mental health to the point where they can no longer live their lives normally. But the Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma wants victims to know they are not alone and there is help available. 

January 2021 marks the seventh annual Stalking Awareness Month, a national call to recognize and respond to the crime of stalking. Stalking is defined as a “pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear,” and is something advocates at the Family Shelter come across on a regular basis. 

DeeDee Hunter, Family Shelter victim advocate, said 191 individuals in the local area sought help due to stalking in the last three month period. “It increases every year just because of the knowledge and education,” Hunter said, adding that she has requested a total of 79 protective orders over the last quarter. 

On average, about one in six women and one in 17 men will experience stalking in their lifetimes, said Family Shelter Executive Director Kathy Manning. 

Stalking behaviors include unwanted contact, harassing family members or friends, leaving unwanted items and lurking or appearing at places without an invitation or legitimate purpose. Manning said they have also seen a lot of stalking occurring on social media platforms and through technology. 

“We do have a lot of victims that come in with tracking devices, unbeknownst to them, on their vehicles, person, their phones and things like that,” Manning said. “We also have to do a sweep of the phone to make sure no locations or apps have been installed.”

Stalkers can include anyone, but most of the time they are not a stranger to the victim. Manning said statistics show that 84% of victims knew their stalkers, whether they were intimate partners, acquaintances, family members or authority figures. Only 16% were strangers. 

“We see a lot in intimate partners,” Manning said. “Usually when that increases is after a separation or a break up, something along those lines.” 

Intimate partners are also often some of the most dangerous stalkers, Manning said. Statistics show that stalking increases the risk of intimate partner homicide by three times. “It’s deadly,” Manning said. “Stalking is a major red flag that a domestic violence relationship may become deadly.”

Stalking will often increase whenever the victim begins dating someone new, when there is a change in a child custody agreement, or when they seek a protective order or contact with law enforcement.

A majority of victims live in fear of their stalkers for many years, Manning said. Most stalking cases last about two years and victims tend to move at least seven times while being stalked. “They feel terrorized,” Manning said. “That is a word that is commonly used whenever asked about that or if they’re sharing something. Terrorized is definitely a word that comes up a lot.” 

Hunter said victims often face many long-lasting mental and physical affects, sometimes leading to depression or even post traumatic stress disorder. It can also interfere with a victim’s everyday life, impacting their job performance and causing them to lose sleep. 

“They feel like they are losing their minds from having to look over their shoulder when they’re driving, to all of their lights being on at their house because they’re afraid,” Hunter said. “It takes their peace of mind away.”

Stalking may not always seem as scary to individuals outside of the situation, but it's important for individuals to know it goes beyond just 'Facebook stalking,' Manning said. 

“Stalking is dangerous, it’s illegal and it’s a big deal," Manning said. “And truthfully, there may be some things that aren’t looked at as deadly if you’re just taking a look at a former boyfriend, but there are people it impacts every single day to a point where they can no longer live their life accordingly.”

Some victims may find it difficult to try to explain what’s happening to them, but the Family Shelter wants them to know that it’s worth seeking assistance for. 

The Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma provides free services to victims of stalking, domestic violence and sexual assault, and advocates will work with victims to ensure they are safe and getting the services they need. 

“It’s going to start out with safety planning, that’s first and foremost,” Hunter said. Victims of stalking have individualized experiences and the assistance they need thereafter will vary case by case, Manning said. The first step to seeking help, however, is reaching out. 

If you or anyone you know experiences stalking, domestic violence or sexual assault, help is available through the Family Shelter’s crisis line. The crisis line is available 24-hours, seven days a week at (580) 226-6424. 

“It’s just important for people to know what it is and to know that if they are being stalked that they can reach out, that there is help available and they don’t have to go through it alone or feel as if they’re going crazy, because they’re not,” Manning said.