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.
Victims, law enforcement and campus personnel must be able to recognize the pattern and course of conduct that would indicate the behavior is actually stalking.
Clear Policies, Training Can Help
One way a campus can help victims, administrators and public safety officials identify stalking is to have a clear and well-publicized policy that defines stalking and explains that it is not acceptable. Campuses must also encourage the reporting of incidents.
“Victims will come forward and report if they feel that they can do so safely, that they will be believed and that there will be a good and effective response,” Garcia says. “Campuses need to evaluate whether they are able to provide that. Do they have systems in place for victims to report? Is it clear where victims can report?”
Training of campus staff so they appropriately respond to a report is also critical. University, school and hospital personnel should take stalking seriously, and the response by staff must be consistent by all campus staff and public safety department officers.
“The first person the victim reports to, that person’s response can dramatically shape the trajectory the victim goes on,” Garcia claims. “If [the person receiving the report] is knowledgeable, sympathetic, responsive, appropriate and helpful, then the victim is more likely to continue engaging in the criminal justice system or school judicial system or whatever system is in place.”
Lip Service Can Backfire
Garcia believes the biggest mistake any campus can make with regard to stalking is not taking it seriously.
“We’ve found that most campuses that have a stalking policy tack the word ‘stalking’ onto an existing sexual assault or dating violence or anti-harassment policy but then never address stalking or any of its realities.”
For campuses that don’t have policies on stalking, the National Center for Victims of Crime Model Campus Stalking Policy can be downloaded for free.
Stalkers Often Use Technology
“National research from 2009 shows that a quarter of stalking victims report that some sort of technology was used, but I think those numbers are huge underestimates,” says Michelle Garcia, director for the National Center for Victims of Crime’s Stalking Resource Center. “When you look at the national study, it couldn’t ask about every form of technology. It didn’t ask about text messaging, which is a very common technology used to stalk.
“Also, for victims to say that technology was used against them they had to be aware of it. So many of these technologies can be used against victims without their knowledge. I can put a GPS tracker on someone’s car and see everywhere they go, and they will have no idea.”
Spyware can also be installed on a computer or phone.
It is for these reasons that Garcia urges campuses to increase awareness as to how offenders are misusing technology and educate their communities how to engage with that technology more safely. That means encouraging students, faculty, staff and patients to:
- Protect their phones and computers against spyware
- Use passwords
- Keep their cell phones with them at all times
- Notice if something strange is happening on their phone (the battery is draining too quickly)
- Not provide detailed information on social networking sites
- Follow guidelines on privacy and database management
- Additionally, campuses can work with their IT departments to provide documentation of cyber stalking behavior.
Learn More About Stalking at the Conference on Crimes Against Women
Campus public safety professionals are encouraged to attend the 7th Annual Conference on Crimes Against Women, which will take place in Dallas, March 26-28. The event will bring together all those who may respond to crimes of female victimization and arm them with the most effective, relevant and up-to-date training available to battle this worldwide epidemic.
Topics covered will be particularly pertinent to university, school and hospital law enforcement and security personnel. The subjects will include stalking, domestic violence, sexual assault, interrogation techniques, how sexual predators find their victims, “sextortion,” how investigators and prosecutors can recover mobile device data, testifying in domestic violence cases and how technology is used by stalkers.
For more information www.conferencecaw.org.
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