Stalking on Campus: A Silent Epidemic
The first steps to combating this crime include taking it seriously, having an appropriate policy, and training campus personnel and public safety officers on how to effectively respond.
Twenty-four people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States, and a significant portion of these individuals attend, are employed by or are patients of universities, K-12 districts and hospitals.
It is for this reason that Campus Safety magazine has developed a series of articles that aims to provide greater awareness and information on these troublesome, yet underreported crimes. The first installment, which follows, is on stalking. Upcoming issues of Campus Safety will cover relationship/intimate partner violence (traditionally called domestic violence) and sexual assault.
Readers should keep in mind that these crimes often intersect. A teen or young adult romantic relationship or a marriage/domestic partnership with a history of violence could escalate to one that includes stalking, sexual assault or both. Sexual assault, particularly among intimate partners or acquaintances, may have elements of stalking in it.
Stalkers Use Many Methods
Probably the least discussed or understood of these topics is stalking, and the definition of it varies from state to state and campus to campus. The most common ways offenders stalk is by unwanted phone calls, voicemails, text messages, spying, sending unwanted gifts, letters and E-mails and showing up uninvited to the victim’s location or waiting for him or her at a particular location.
Eighteen- to 24-year-olds have the highest rate of stalking victimization, says Michelle Garcia, director for the National Center for Victims of Crime’s Stalking Resource Center. “The rates of stalking on college campuses are higher than in the general population; similar to the rates of sexual assault.”
Indeed, of the six million stalking victims in the United States each year, more than half of the female survivors and more than one-third of the male survivors say the were stalked before the age of 25.
The motivations as to why stalkers stalk vary. In a relationship with a history of domestic violence, the offender might use stalking to regain or maintain the relationship and control of the victim. With sexual assault cases, stalking might take place before and/or after the incident. It also happens with unrequited affection or romantic rejection.
“The stalker thinks if they try hard enough, the other person will come back to them despite the person telling them they don’t want anything to do with them,” claims Garcia.
A student might even stalk a teacher or faculty member because of a bad grade or a crush.
Is the Behavior Immaturity or Stalking?
Unfortunately, the level of emotional maturity in adolescents and young adults can make the issue quite murky.
“There is this notion of developmentally appropriate pursuit behavior,” says Garcia. “There is some research that has looked at behaviors that are really typical of adolescents, such as having crushes on teachers, idolizing an actor or musician or someone in the public eye and having that person’s poster on their wall.
“It’s common [adolescent behavior] to happen to be at [the target of their affection’s] locker when they get out of class or going by a person’s house to see if they are home or calling them repeatedly and hanging up or asking their friends for information about them or looking at their Facebook page repeatedly. All of this is typical adolescent developmentally appropriate affection-seeking behavior, and rarely does the target experience fear in response to these behaviors.”
Evaluate Situations In Context
It can also look like stalking if not put in the proper context. It is important to view the behavior from the victim’s perspective. Behaviors that seem benign to an outsider might be terrifying to a victim.
“One thing to look at is has the victim or target attempted to set a boundary that this person continues to ignore?” Garcia explains. “Has the person been told by the target, a friend, police officer, HR, RA, etc. that the stalking behavior is not OK?”
Generally, a verbal and/or written warning can be issued to the offender. Another option is an order of protection. That said, Garcia warns, “With stalkers, we know there is a really high recidivism rate. Over 60% will reengage in the stalking behavior after an intervention and after they have been arrested or served with an order of protection.”
Identifying stalking, however, can be challenging, particularly for victims who often minimize the problem.
“If you think about any of those behaviors that are typical of stalking cases — the phone calls, showing up to places, the texts, the E-mails — many of those behaviors in and of themselves are not criminal behaviors,” says Garcia.