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Commentary | Jan. 13, 2011

Stalking isn't classy

By Julie Couture JBLE Family Advocacy Outreach Manager

January 2011 marks the eighth consecutive observation of that National Stalking Awareness Month. Most people do not think that they could be stalked, but more than 1 million people each year report being victims of this crime.

In the beginning of a relationship, it is normal to want to spend your waking hours talking, texting and spending time with your new special someone. However, it isn't so normal when he or she treats you in a not so special way by constantly texting you, leaving multiple voicemails or electronically tracking your location so they can know your whereabouts at all times.

In the past, stalking was pretty obvious - stalkers would physically follow their prey and check on them to make sure they were where they said they were going to be. Phones were also used to verify a person's whereabouts. In extreme situations, stalkers would employ the use of their friends. After all, restraining orders and jail cells don't deter someone's need to know where their partner is at all times. It may actually heighten it. Enter the best friend, who doesn't see the problem with sitting outside someone's house, or with giving an update to the jailbird about what is happening on the home front.

Today stalking, just like everything, has gone high tech. Many people are constantly connected via their blackberries or fancy phones. In addition to physically stalking, people now have a choice, and can either go on the move, or do it from the comfort of their own home or office. People use text messages, voicemail, Instant Messaging, and e-mail to keep tabs. If there isn't a response, the volume of messages can be enough to shut down the system.

Stalking is a form of emotional abuse, as it is a way to have control over someone without physically hurting them. With the increase in communication devices being used in stalking, other forms of emotional abuse also increase. The first text message might seem kind or nonchalant in nature, asking where you are or what you're up to. Let's suppose you are suddenly called to a meeting, or aren't feeling well and go home to sleep, and you don't have a chance to answer. Maybe, you don't want to answer it because the ear infection you have prevents you from hearing anything. The first text is followed up with ten more messages - odds are good that the tenth message won't be so endearing and concerning.

It's more likely that the person who was naively checking on you becomes obsessed and now must know where you are, and more importantly, why you are not responding. In their minds, the reasons you are not responding rarely consist of things such as sickness, meetings or the need for quiet time. Instead, there can be accusations, name calling and threats. This can not only be frustrating to the recipient of the text or instant messages, but frightening. After all, this is a person you care about - and someone you thought cared about you.

Extreme cases involve the use of GPS devices, spyware and other surveillance devices. Even though the person is not physically following you, all stalking methods are illegal. If you feel that you are being stalked, keep records of text messages, e-mails and voicemails, even if it is painful to look or listen to them. Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell if someone is stalking you, as other people contact you throughout the day.

Check your "stalker knowledge" with the questions below by answering true or false:
  • Three out of four women murdered by their intimate partner were stalked by them.
  • 13 percent of stalkers are women.
  • Nearly one in four stalking victims is male.
  • Stalkers may increase their stalking behavior if you ignore them.
Sadly, the answer to all of them is true. Go with your gut. If you feel that someone is constantly keeping tabs on you, conveniently showing up at locations you're at (even though you never told him or her of your plans), or harassing you, contact the police.

Editor's note: If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship or you would like more information on what to do, call the Joint Base Langley-Eustis Family Advocacy Program at 878-0122 (Army) or 764-2427 (Air Force).