Recognizing stalking, and stopping it

Stalking: Know It; Name It; Stop It. That’s the mantra being used this month during National Stalking Awareness Month as domestic violence shelter directors and others try to heighten understanding of this growing problem across the nation, all in an effort to ebb the rise in incidents and keep people safe.

While stalking is a very real problem, it’s a word that’s not in everyone’s vocabulary, an issue that many think happens somewhere else to somebody else. But did you know:

• that 7.5 million people are stalked in one year in the United States

• 15 percent of women and 6 percent of men have experienced some type of stalking incident at some point in their lifetime, fearful, or at least believing, that they or someone they love would be harmed or killed;

• The majority of stalking victims are usually stalked by someone they know — 61 percent of female victims and 44 percent of male victims of stalking are stalked by a current or former intimate partner, and 25 percent of female victims and 32 percent of male victims are stalked by an acquaintance;

• About half of all victims of stalking indicated that they were stalked before the age of 25, with about 14 percent of female victims and 16 percent of male victims experiencing a stalking incident between the ages of 11 and 17;

• 46 percent of stalking victims experience at least one unwanted contact per week; and

• 11 percent of stalking victims have been stalked for 5 years or more.

The statistics are staggering; the crime one many of us rarely, if ever, think about, yet it is real, it happens daily and it is possible it is happening to someone you know and care about right now.

That’s why it’s so important to educate yourself about the crime and, just as importantly, to make your children aware, not to frighten but to encourage them to report possible stalking incidents as soon as they think one is occurring.

Stalking comes in many forms — from people following your comings and goings to someone persisting calling you. And, of course, there is cyberstalking which often takes on a life of its own but remains just as much a crime.

While many see stalking as nothing more than an annoyance or a sophomoric behavior, it can, and often does, lead to more violent crimes. Data shows that many victims of murder, rape and or some type of domestic violence were first stalking victims.

“Stalking is all part of the dynamic,” noted Elwood McPhail, community educator for Sampson’s domestic violence shelter, U Care, in a story The Independent published on stalking Tuesday. In his role, McPhail often talks to local victims of domestic violence and he reports that stalking is a real problem locally and one of the factors in many abuse cases.

For many of us, the statistics outlined and the warnings that accompany them seem foreign, something we don’t believe will ever be our problem. We sincerely hope that is the case, but if presenting the facts and offering the warning helps one or 10 people recognize the signs of stalking, then our words have been well worth the space.

Pay attention to your surroundings, be mindful of the email and social media messages you or your children receive and report any suspicions to law enforcement officers as soon as you notice them.

Stalking is very real and can be very dangerous. Knowing there is a problem and recognizing it as stalking will go a long way to helping law enforcement officers but a stop to it.