By Susie Kroll
Doesn’t it seem like everywhere we turn there are stories about stalking? Numerous celebrities are or have been stalked by some crazy person. So, it must only happen to famous people, right? Let us not forget that the media’s portrayal of these stalkers is less than accurate for the rest of society. What I mean is we’ve seen the mug shots on TV or in magazines. Or we have heard the reports of sample communications between the stalker and victim. Usually they are full of misspellings, crazy ideas, and the pictures of the stalkers usually consist of wild hair, orange jail jumpsuits, and strange eyes.
If I were a teen being exposed to this, I would assume a few things. One, that stalking happens to people other than little ol’ me. Two, the victim has to be rich, famous, or in the media’s spotlight for one reason or another. Three, the victim has to be one of the “beautiful people” that everyone wants to know or be like. Four, stalkers are strangers to the victim. Finally, all stalkers have to be missing a few screws, nuts, crazy, maybe a little off balance, in other words mentally ill.
What do I have to say to that? Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. According to the Stalking Resource Center, annually 3.4 million people are victims of stalking. Even though all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and most US territories have laws against stalking, only 37% of male stalking victims and 41% of female stalking victims report these events to law enforcement. In addition, the Stalking Resource Center reports that 75% of all victims know their stalkers. Of that percentage, 30% are former or current intimate partners or spouses. Finally, the Stalking Resource Center states that while some cases of stalking involve a stalker that is mentally ill, there is no evidence that all stalkers are mentally ill.
The Webster’s New World Law definition of stalking is: A form of harassment generally comprised of repeated persistent following with no legitimate reason and with the intention of harming, or so as to arouse anxiety or fear of harm in the person being followed. Stalking may also take the form of harassing telephone calls, computer communications, letter-writing, etc. See also cyber-stalking and harassment.
Stalking can have serious repercussions for the victim including changing jobs, residence, phone numbers, daily routines, and even their identities, in order to protect themselves. In this day and age, stalking has a new method of mayhem, technology. Caller ID, cell phones, GPS, website histories, emails, public record searches, and social networking are just a few of the new ways someone can keep tabs on you.
For Teens, stalking takes on a whole new dimension. While an adult being stalked can feel like a prisoner, they have certain freedoms teens aren’t usually afforded. An adult’s stalker may not work at the same place they do nor do they hang out at the same place as the victim for 8 straight hours or more on a daily basis. Since 75% of all victims know their stalkers it is safe to say that most teens also know their stalkers. Where do teens spend most of their time 5 days a week? School. Where do they know most of the people in their lives from? School. The next likely conclusion, their stalkers also go to school with them. Now, can a teen leave school at any time, change schools easily, or exert the type of control over their environment that an adult can? Not likely.
There in is the new dimension of stalking for teens. Stalking for teens is more easily concealed from adults not just because teens are less likely to report but also because their stalkers blend easier, as they have to be at school also. Combine this with the fact that the victim and stalker also may be in certain classes together and you have an intense pressure situation. Then, in comes the technology. Stalkers have texting, caller ID, GPS, and social networking, in addition to the rumor mill to keep tabs on their victim. Friends can inadvertently pass along information to the stalker by just taking what they did over the weekend with the victim. Or the stalker can see what is going on by viewing Facebook or MySpace pages. This is especially easy if the victim does not know how to best secure their pages from prying eyes. Even more scary, is even if someone’s page is totally secure and only viewable by their friends there is still a danger of access.
Consider this scenario: Jill and Dan were dating for 6 months before she broke up with him. Dan is upset about the break-up and he just won’t leave Jill alone. He shows up at her soccer practice, has 3 classes and lunch with her, and also rides the same bus home. Dan repeatedly texts and calls Jill. Jill and Dan have friends in common, friends like Ann and Jake. Even though Jill un-friended and blocked Dan after the break-up she didn’t un-friend Ann or Jake. Jake and Dan are hanging out at Jake’s place after school and Jake is not aware of Dan’s stalking. So, Dan takes advantage of this by asking Jake about his Facebook account. With some clever conversation, Dan is able to see Jill’s page again by viewing it through Jake’s account. Now he knows what Jill is saying to people, where she is going, and possibly if she is interested in or seeing someone new.
So what is a teen to do? Teens need to be made aware of the dangers of stalking via technological advancements and social networking sites. They also need to feel like they can talk to a trusted adult without fear of having their issues minimized because they are, after all, “only teens”. Stalking is a serious topic that has serious consequences. Stalkers don’t often give up if ignored. In fact, the direct opposite occurs. Over time, the stalker’s behavior can escalate and become even more threatening. It may feel nice, at first to have someone pay so much attention to you but it is never okay to stalk. Seemingly innocent infatuation can be legally considered stalking and quickly become dangerous.
As parents, trusted adults, advocates, and caregivers, we can become educated about stalking. We can learn the ins and outs of it and what the legality is in the state we reside in. We can teach our teens about the differences between innocent infatuation and a dangerous situation. We can listen when a teen talks to us about what is happening and take it seriously. We can educate ourselves and our teens about technology and how to safeguard ourselves. If the idea of technology is scary, have your teen teach you. It is a great way to open up a dialog and make sure they know how to keep safe.
Together we can end stalking by teaching our teens and we may even save their lives.
All of these statistics and additional information can be found at the National Center for Victims of Crime’s website, www.ncvc.org. For more information about Susie Kroll and Teen Dating Violence visit www.susiekroll.com