Every year, National Stalking Awareness Month is observed in January and serves as a reminder to learn how to recognize and respond to the serious crime of stalking. According to the US Department of Justice, stalking is defined as a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause that person to feel fear for their safety or that of another, or to experience substantial emotional distress. “Part of building healthier relationships with others is learning how to accept the word ‘no.’ People have the right to set boundaries and choose who to date or spend time with,” said Wellness Empowerment Center, VOICE health educator, Susannah Fulling-Smith.
Some movies have romanticized stalking behaviors, such as “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Twilight,” and romantic comedies, like “You’ve Got Mail.” Often these movie genres feature manipulation and depict that wearing down the defenses of an unsuspecting victim demonstrates that “love” knows no boundaries.
The romantic storyline of slowly wearing someone down over time through repeated and unwanted interactions is one that is oftentimes held up and admired as unrequited love. According to Fulling-Smith, “When this storyline is romanticized and is shown to be effective, it perpetuates the notion that if a person is persistent enough and puts in the time to woo someone, regardless of repeated rejection, they are still entitled to be with the person.”
According to the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC), at least one in six women and one in 17 men have experienced at some point during their lifetime stalking victimization severe enough that they feared they or someone close to them would be harmed. Wellness Empowerment Center, VOICE Advocate Jennifer Gagen categorized stalking as often falling into two categories at Georgia Tech: stalking that occurs after a breakup and stalking that involves repeated, unwanted attempts to get someone to be in a relationship or friendship. “A student may think they can handle the situation on their own by reasoning with the person. We encourage students to ask for help before the stalking impacts their safety,” said Gagen.
Stalking often occurs as a larger pattern of intimate partner violence and can be an indicator of potential escalation and danger. Many abusers use stalking behaviors to intimidate and control their partners or to try to convince them to return to the relationship. Stalking in real life can manifest in more subtle ways than what is portrayed by Hollywood so it’s important to understand behaviors and red flags. Gagen and Fulling-Smith compiled the following tips to consider:
- Trust your instincts. Survivors of stalking sometimes feel pressured by friends to downplay the stalker’s behavior, but stalking can be dangerous, and it has a serious impact on the survivor’s day-to-day life. Remember that your safety is of the utmost importance. Friends and family members are often the first people whom a victim will confide in, and their responses heavily influence whether or not the victim seeks further help.
- Call the police if you feel you may be in immediate danger. Describe the specific behaviors you are experiencing and explain why the stalker’s actions are causing you to fear or feel emotional distress. Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD) is available 24 hours per day to help respond to your safety concerns. They can contact the person engaging in stalking behavior to take the necessary precautionary steps and required intervention needed. You don’t have to go to GTPD alone – you can bring a friend or have a VOICE Advocate join you.
- Get connected with a VOICE Advocate. The Wellness Empowerment Center VOICE Advocates can assist you in exploring your reporting options, as well as safety planning and connecting you to additional resources. VOICE Advocates are confidential and available 24 hours per day. They can be reached at (404)385-3351 or (404) 385-4464. After business hours, you can reach an advocate by calling 404-894-9000.
- Keep a record or log of each contact or incident. Be sure to document all attempts to communicate, follow, spy on, or monitor you, including any police reports or restraining orders filed. Stalkers can escalate their behaviors quickly or sometimes stay quiet for a while, making you think they stopped. A written record like this will help you remember details and track patterns, even if you choose not to report. Here is a sample stalking log from SPARC.
- Remember that technology can be a weapon or a tool. Stalkers often use technology to contact their victims. It’s important to save all emails, text messages, photos, and postings on social networking sites as evidence of stalking behavior. You may also want to consider ways to use your technology and your devices in a manner that limits others’ access to your personal information. For more information, please visit the National Network to End Domestic Violence Safety Net Project’s Tech Safety Site. Especially at Tech, perpetrators find creative ways to monitor and contact the people they are stalking. Spoofing, spyware, and making fake accounts are just a few. You can get creative, too, to track and document what’s going on.
Stalking is a terrifying and psychologically harmful crime, as well as a predictor of potentially lethal violence. The Wellness Empowerment Center, a department in the division of Student Engagement & Well-Being, provides upstream, innovative, and relevant programs, services, and initiatives to help students thrive. For more information regarding stalking and other forms of sexual violence please visit https://wellnesscenter.gatech.edu/voice.