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January 2020: National Stalking Awareness Month

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT

Meet The Team >

Stalking is a serious crime that can cause severe emotional damage to the person being stalked.

Stalking can also be a precursor to sexual and non-sexual violence, rape, and murder.

Did that sentence get your attention?

Good.

That’s why we wrote it: stalking needs your attention. It needs all our attention. It needs national attention.

Here are two figures from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey to give you an idea about the prevalence of stalking in the United States, and why the topic matters:

  1. Over 25 million people have experienced stalking in their lifetime.
  2. Around 7.5 million people experience stalking each year.

Did you know those numbers were so large?

To learn more, read our articles National Stalking Awareness Month: Know the Facts About Stalking and Stalking Awareness Month: Stalking Among Teens. They explore those numbers and discuss the difference between teen crushing and criminal stalking. It’s critical for parents and teens to understand the distinction, because there’s overlap between those two phenomena.

For now, keep reading this article: we have important information to share.

Stalking and Murder? Is it Really That Bad?

Yes.

We need to explain why we use those words above: sexual violence, rape, and murder.

So much of the internet is overrun with alarmist, click-bait headlines that rely on shock value to get attention, we need to tell you that where stalking is concerned, there is no need for hyperbole. We use those red-flag words because data suggests that those three things are connected to stalking. In fact, The National Center for Victims of Crime makes the connection impossible to ignore:

  • 54% of femicide* victims reported stalking to the police before being killed
  • 76% of intimate partner femicide victims were stalked by their partner before being killed
  • 67% of femicide victims reported being physically abused by their partner before being killed

*Femicide: the murder of a woman

True, those figures are about women only. One thing most people don’t know is that men experience stalking as well. Statistics show that while it happens less often with men – about 6% of men experience stalking during their lives, as compared to about 16% of women – it does happen. We present this femicide data not to exclude men from the discussion, but to emphasize the idea that stalking is considered a serious crime for good reasons. It can hurt people emotionally, physically, and socially. In some cases, it’s the first of series of steps that have the worst possible consequence: death.

That’s why we’re writing this article.

That’s also why National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM) exists: to raise awareness about the problem of stalking in the U.S.

National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM) 2020

Before we give you a history of NSAW, we’ll give you a working definition of stalking. This definition from Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC) simplifies the legalese found in most statutes, but it’s entirely accurate.

Stalking is:

“A pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”

Here’s a legal definition from the National Institute of Justice.

Criminal stalking is defined as:

“A course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated (two or more occasions) visual or physical proximity, nonconsensual communication, or verbal, written, or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear.”

Stalking includes any form of nonconsensual communication. Police consider all the following behaviors – when repeated and unwanted ­– as stalking:

  • Phone calls
  • Texts
  • Social media messages, posts, or comments
  • Unsolicited gifts
  • Unwelcome appearances in any location
  • Unwanted approaches to family and friends
  • Surveillance or monitoring with or of:
    • Phone
    • Email
    • Texts
    • Camera
    • GPS
    • Internet/Social Media activity
  • Verbal and physical threats
  • Damage to property

Now you can see the overlap between teen crushing and stalking. A teenager with a huge crush might make unwanted phone calls and texts, give unwanted gifts, and make unwelcome appearances. It might all be totally innocent, from their point of view.

And there’s the rub.

Where stalking is concerned, the point of view that matters is that of the person being stalked, not the person doing the stalking. The person on the receiving end of the unwanted attention gets to decide what causes fear – not the person causing the fear.

Teenagers – all people, really – need to understand this. If unwanted attention from someone scares them, they should document the incident(s) and tell an adult.

Full stop.

NOTE: IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS IN IMMINENT DANGER CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY

A History of NSAM: Know It, Name It, Stop It

2020 marks the 16th annual observation of National Stalking Awareness Month. Initiated in 2004 by the National Center for Victims of Crime, the big-picture goal of the month remains the same this year as the year NSAM began: to raise awareness about stalking and help develop an organized, cohesive, multi-disciplinary response to the crime of stalking.

Between 2004 and 2016, The National Center for Victims of Crime organized NSAM, acting as a resource for activities and events across the country. In 2012 – and for each subsequent year during his term – President Obama declared January National Stalking Awareness Month. His 2016 address summarizes the goals for NSAM:

“As we embark on a new year, let us resolve to make it one in which every person can safely and confidently make of their lives what they will. By holding stalkers accountable and providing victims and survivors with the support and assistance they need, we can ensure ours is a Nation dedicated to promoting safety, common decency, and respect.”

That’s a New Year’s Resolution befitting the entire nation. In addition to the full weight of the Presidential bully pulpit, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began participating in NSAM in 2019 with full voice. They created a stalking resource page and messaging campaign that’s still in effect today:

Stalking: Know It. Name It. Stop It.

This year, SPARC continues the momentum generated by the CDC’s involvement, and redoubled their efforts to raise awareness. For NSAM 2020, SPARC encourages awareness advocates to:

  • Learn about the prevalence and dangers of stalking
  • Teach family, friends, and other members of the community the facts and figures about stalking
  • Share knowledge and information about stalking on social media
  • Reflect on their response to stalking
  • Recognize community members who are making a difference

Individuals and organizations interested in stalking advocacy can visit the SPARC website and navigate to their extensive victim resources, training modules, and social media packages.

Resources for Victims of Stalking

Stalking victims need our support.

If you’re the victim of stalking, here’s what we want you to know:

  1. The law is on your side.
  2. Dedicated, experienced advocates will help you in any way they can, as soon as they can, in the safest way possible.
  3. If you’re in imminent danger, feel threatened, or fear for your safety in any way, call the police right away. Do not wait for the behavior to escalate, because statistics show there’s a real chance stalking behavior can and does escalate to physical violence or worse.

If you’re not in immediate danger, here’s a list of resources you can use immediately:

  • Victim Connect: 1 (855) 484-2846
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1 (800) 799-7233 En Espanol: 1 (800) 787-3224
  • The National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1 (800) 656-4673

One last thing.

If you’re not sure you’re being stalked, or know you’re being stalked but don’t know what to do about it, you can use an online resource called the Stalking Harassment and Risk Profile (SHARP) Assessment. It’s a powerful and effective tool. You complete a questionnaire and automatically receive a report – in the language of lawyers and law enforcement – you can use if you decide to contact authorities. This assessment gives you an objective, third-party assessment of your situation. It’s worth your time – it takes less than twenty minutes to complete – and empowers you to take important steps toward ending the stalking behavior before it escalates to something more dangerous.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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