Victim advocates bring awareness to prevalence of stalking, difficulties to taking preventative action
Stalking isn’t always easy to spot from an outside perspective. The acts that often constitute stalking can sometimes appear harmless. But for those who are experiencing it, stalking becomes a very frightening and sometimes deadly reality.
At the Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma, victim advocates work with victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking to ensure their safety and help provide them with the tools necessary to recover.
“When we look at lethality factors, stalking is one of the factors that we look at that would increase the likelihood that an abuser would kill. Even stalking without domestic violence, eventually, watching you is not enough,” said victim advocate Stacey Rose.
Family Shelter Director Kathy Manning said around 76% of female homicide victims are reportedly stalked prior to their death. “That’s a big number,” she said.
The advocates at the shelter are well aware of the prevalence of stalking in the local community. Manning said one advocate at the shelter recently reported that she has worked with 43 stalking victims within the last quarter alone.
While stalking can occur without prior domestic violence, the two are commonly linked and in the majority of cases, the stalker has some tie or romantic connection to their victim, Manning said, adding that data shows that four out of five stalking victims are stalked by someone they know.
“Those are very important statistics,” Manning said. “It’s almost like with the celebrities. When someone is stalking a celebrity, they feel that they are talking to that celebrity or that celebrity is talking to them in their songs or their movies.”
Once an individual starts to feel a loss of control in a relationship, these things will often come into effect, Manning said. “They want to know where their intimate partner is and they’re wanting to track their every movement because they don’t want to lose that control. They don’t want to lose that person.”
Manning said Family Shelter advocates have seen cases where perpetrators have placed trackers in victims’ vehicles. Not just on the outside, but on the inside hidden within the steering wheel, radio cavity or even the dashboard.
“All of those places where you don’t think somebody could possibly put something because it’s all back to normal and yet you’re wondering why this person consistently shows up to places that they should have no idea about,” Manning said. “And that’s scary. It’s a very scary situation.”
With advancements in technology, there has also been a growing trend of cyberstalking. Social media offers several ways for individuals to track their friends’ locations and some will even create fake profiles on social media sites to stalk victims, Manning said.
Victims of stalking experience a wide range of emotional and life-altering effects, including embarrassment, isolation, anger, hypervigilance, depression, feeling suicidal, guilt, PTSD, anger, self-blame, minimization, nightmares, shame and self medication with alcohol or drugs.
“There’s definitely a lot of impact,” Manning said. “We don’t want people to downplay the stalker’s behavior and that sometimes happens. It poses a real threat of harm and safety is paramount.”
Proving that you’re being stalked is not always easy. While stalking is considered a crime in all 50 states and there are laws in place to help prosecute individuals suspected of stalking, Manning said victims often don’t think about collecting evidence when the harassment, conduct or contact is occurring.
“To prove stalking, prosecutors are required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person has willfully and repeatedly followed or harassed another person in a manner that would make a reasonable person feel frightened, harassed, or intimidated,” said District Attorney Craig Ladd.
Under Oklahoma State Statute, the first offense is considered a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for no more than one year or a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
The second offense, or when someone who is found guilty of stalking an individual with a restraining order, protective order, or an injunction prohibiting the behavior previously described, is considered a felony and is punishable by imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections for no more than five years or a fine of up to $2,500, or both.
However, it can take multiple trips to the police department and multiple reports before any legal action is taken, Rose said. Stalking cases are strongest when there are at least three instances of one person following or harassing another person, Ladd said.
“Stalking laws and a lot of protective orders are not, it’s not really a preventative measure law. Something has to happen. You have to have proof and victims don’t always have proof,” said victim advocate Dee Dee Hunter.
“Typically, watching you, they can prosecute for that but a lot of times they prefer more. If they’re not approaching you, then it’s hard to prove that they’re actually stalking you,” Rose said.
Three instances frequently relied on as evidence in court include the perpetrator making numerous unwanted phone calls, sending numerous unwanted texts, or driving by their victim’s place of employment or residence frequently.
While technology has created new ways for stalkers to harass their victims, it has also helped victims build a stronger case, Ladd said. “Any pictures or video of the perpetrator appearing to continue to engage in unwanted contact are very helpful to building a stronger case.”
Any person who feels that he or she is a victim of stalking should save all emails, text messages, photos or posts on social media as evidence of the stalking behavior, Manning said.
Sending a very clear message to the perpetrator to cease contact is also very important for those looking to pursue charges against a person for stalking.
Ladd said he would suggest a text message or message through social media, stating “Please do not call, text, or try to contact me again because contact from you has caused me to feel harassed and frightened. If you do try to contact me again, then I will immediately contact law enforcement and make a report against you for stalking”.
If the stalking is only occurring in person, witnesses who can attest to the stalking behavior can also help build a stronger case, Ladd said.
For those who feel like they are in immediate danger or need help figuring out what constitutes as evidence, the Family Shelter is available for assistance.
“That’s why we’re here, to be able to assist them along the way because they don’t have to do it alone,” Manning said. “We help with all of that and we’re wanting everyone to know that we’re here and available 24-hours a day, seven-days a week and we’ll assist any way that we can.”
If you or someone you know experiences domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, The Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma offers services, including free counseling and crisis services. The 24 hour Crisis Hotline number is (580) 226-6424.