Groups aim to prevent stalking
February 11, 2019
This past January marked the 15th National Stalking Awareness Month. To start off the month, an Illinois law recognizing unwanted contact via social media as a form of stalking took effect on Jan. 1.
“Adding that specific language to the criminal code about social media not only makes the law stronger, but also helps raise the awareness, too,” said Patrick Wade, communications director for University of Illinois Police Department.
According to the Stalking Prevention, Awareness and Resource Center, or SPARC, people aged 18 to 24 have the highest rate of stalking victimization, placing the average college student right in this range.
As technology progresses, laws must keep up with them. “That’s keeping up with the ways that people communicate now,” said Detective Rachael F. Ahart of the special victims’ unit of UIPD.
However, instead of being seen as a serious crime, stalking has often been romanticized and made comical in popular culture. The new Netflix show “You”, for example, follows the story of a man stalking a woman in whom he finds interest.
“They’re making it glamorous. On Facebook you’ll see people laughing and saying, ‘I’m Facebook stalking you,’” said Lisa Little, legal advocate from Courage Connection.
Because of the way stalking can be portrayed in society, often, people are unaware that what they may be experiencing is a crime.
“There’s probably a lot of stalking on colleges campuses everywhere that we don’t necessarily know it’s happening since it’s not being reported because I think the victims of stalking don’t realize they’re being stalked,” Wade said. “They don’t know this experience they’re having falls into the realm of stalking.”
Most people request the offending party be notified by law enforcement to stop his or her behavior, Ahart said.
“It seems very infrequent that something would continue after that where we have to be involved again,” Ahart said.
Stalking can impact a person both psychologically, physically and mentally.
“I think the person’s sense of safety or lack thereof is one of the most common concerns or things we hear,” Ahart said.
According to SPARC, 46 percent of stalking victims fear not knowing what will happen next, and 29 percent of stalking victims fear the stalking will never stop.
“One thing is people appear to be paranoid because they think someone is after them, and they are. And so they start getting anxious and nervous and they’re scared to go places. They start questioning whether what they’re seeing is actually happening, especially if they’re being followed,” Little said.
Little said Courage Connection provides free and confidential services.
“If someone wants to talk to us, we can talk on the phone and answer questions and they don’t have to ever come in and be a client,” Little said.
Little said a few options are available when someone comes in. Since stalking can be hard to prove, an order of protection can be used.
“An order of protection is kind of a civil matter, but there’s criminal consequences if the abuser or stalker breaks the order,” she said.
If someone sees a friend experiencing a form of stalking, there are also steps they can take to help, Ahart said.
“If they have made that request for that individual to stop and the individual just sort of dismisses their request, that would be a time to bring it forward to law enforcement’s attention because clearly in that situation, the person is not respecting their wishes, so that’s not likely a situation that they can sort of handle on their own,” Ahart said.
People can also be a support person for their friends by assisting them with locating counseling and mental health services, locking their social media to make it safer and just walking through a tough situation with them to make it easier, Ahart said.
“We want people to understand that if someone is contacting them repeatedly and it’s causing emotional stress or psychological trauma, or they’re in fear of their safety, that’s something that needs to be reported so we can help,” Wade said.