LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 31, 2020) — Content warning: This article discusses stalking. This article was written by TK Logan, professor in the University of Kentucky Department of Behavioral Science and Taryn Henning, director of UK's Violence Intervention and Prevention Center.
In January 2003 a young woman named Peggy was in hiding in a different state when her ex-boyfriend who had been stalking her tracked her down and murdered her. Her sister, Debbie Riddle, hopes others can be helped by bringing awareness to what stalking is and the devastating impact stalking has on victims, their friends and families and on communities. Sixteen years ago was the first National Stalking Awareness Month (in January) due to Debbie’s activism.
Stalking is defined as a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that causes fear or concern for safety for self or close others. Many stalking victims experience being followed, approached, monitored, threatened and endure repeated unwanted contacts — including through various forms of technology.
Nationally, about 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men have been stalked in the United States. However, Kentucky consistently has the highest or second to highest rates of stalking among women with estimates showing 1 in 4 Kentucky women will be stalked. The majority of stalking victims report they were first stalked before the age of 25 and women age 18-24, or college age women, are at the highest risk of being stalked.
Stalking is associated with violence but also with significant life interference. Victims and survivors often suffer anxiety, social dysfunction and severe depression as a result of their victimization, and many lose time from work, classwork, and/or have to move. Stalking is a terrifying and psychologically harmful crime in its own right as well as a predictor of potentially lethal violence: in 85% of cases where an intimate partner (i.e., boyfriend or husband) attempted to murder his female partner, stalking occurred the year prior to the attack.
Today, with the proliferation of online ease of interactions, stalkers have another tool to monitor, harass, intimidate and threaten their victims. For example, stalkers might send multiple texts, call and leave voicemails numerous times, use social media to track victims or harass friends for information about the victim and sometimes track the victim’s movements through their phone.
Yet, despite the prevalence and impacts, many victims and criminal justice professionals underestimate its danger and urgency. Stalking is a crime in all 50 states, the U.S. Territories and the District of Columbia — but can be difficult to recognize and prosecute in a system designed to respond to singular incidents rather than the series of acts that constitutes stalking. While police and victim-serving professionals are critical, the reality is that the vast majority of victims tell friends or family about the stalking first.
TK Logan, professor in the Department of Behavioral Science, has been studying stalking for over 20 years and is a nationally and internationally recognized expert on stalking. “One of the most difficult things in working with those targeted by a stalker is how to meaningfully help them,” she said.
Logan and her colleagues have developed an assessment for stalking victims called the Stalking and Harassment Assessment and Risk Profile (SHARP), which is online at www.CoercieveControl.org or www.StalkingRisk.com. It takes 10-15 minutes to complete. When finished, victims can receive two narrative reports, one that describes the big picture of what is happening and the other report provides education about stalking risks, safety suggestions, and other resources. Logan and her colleagues have also partnered with a Kentucky documentary filmmaker, Walter Brock, and the UK Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History to develop short mini-documentaries about stalking that can be used to educate victims, their friends and family, professionals and anyone else interested in learning about stalking. The websites listed above also have other information and resources about stalking.
The UK Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) Center has a range of resources on campus for anyone who may be stalked, who is worried about someone you think might be stalked, or who is interested in learning more about the issue. VIP Center services and trainings are confidential and free to students, faculty and staff of the UK community. More information can be found at their website https://www.uky.edu/vipcenter/.
Silence empowers the stalker and disempowers the victim. If you, or someone you know, is being harassed, threatened or stalked reach out for help.
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