(Today’s guest post is from Elizabeth Dillon and is about the prevalence of stalking and its effects on women – something we should all be aware of to protect ourselves and other women we know.)
With the release of Kate Brennan’s new memoirs entitled, “In His Sights” the issue of stalking has once again been brought to the forefront of news media. The book is the first of its kind; in it the author describes her personal accounts of stalking incidents, from phone calls, to unwanted visits, to strangers threatening to ravage her world on behalf of an ex-boyfriend. Names have been changed as the author hopes to remain anonymous and avoid further harassment from her formerly charming ex “Paul”, a man with deep seeded relationship issues and enough money to create elaborate, exasperating, and sometimes downright scary, hassles for Brennan. In the post-James Frey age, where the authenticity of memoirs is often in question, Brennan’s work appears to be legitimate, with her editor and the New York Times checking her facts. Before penning an account of her near decade of experiences Brennan questioned whether or not a novel would do more harm than good. However, she eventually decided that a publication would spread some awareness about the issue of stalking as well as act as a medium for her own personal catharsis.
While traditional notions of stalking conjure up images of crazed celebrity fans or dumped girlfriends who won’t stop calling, in reality stalking is a very serious issue that affects a great deal of people. According to a 2006 survey from the U.S. Department of Justice, 8.1% of women and 2.2% of men reported being stalked at some point in their lives. While the profile of a stalker can include nearly any characteristic, most are men of above-average intelligence stalking women. Most women know their stalker, who is often an ex-boyfriend. While the legal definition of stalking varies from state to state, it can generally be said that stalking consists of unwanted contact (including but not limited to visits, emails, phone calls and letters) between an individual and a victim in which the stalker communicates, directly or indirectly some threat that causes a victim to feel fear.
While Kate Brennan experienced her ordeal as an adult, college age women, now more than ever, are being forced to grapple with the issue of stalking. A 2000 national College Women Sexual Victimization Survey found that 13% of college women had been stalked since the beginning of their school year and that 42.4% of the perpetrators were ex-boyfriends. Often these young women are unaware of their rights, afraid to report the abuse, and are subjected to long periods of harassment without support. In some cases stalking crosses from the realm of emotional mistreatment to situations where victims fall prey to physical or sexual abuse. New technology has also made stalking easier, as sites like Myspace and Facebook provide catalogs of personal information and a simple medium for communication between strangers.
I dealt with my own stalking experience at the end of my sophomore year of college. Contacted initially through Facebook, I was followed, emailed, and messaged repeatedly after I made it explicitly clear that I was uninterested in a friendship or further correspondence in any form. While no violent or physical threats were made against me, the person contacting me did use several strategies to “hook” me in and make me feel guilty enough to respond. In messages, he shared that he was lonely and looking for friends, and repeatedly insisted that he did not have illicit intentions that he simply wanted someone to talk to. I felt guilty initially, however after months of uncomfortable letters I began to realize that I was being manipulated. As a complete stranger, this person had no right to expect advice or friendship from me. It took phone calls to my campus stalking unit, and repeated meetings with the University judiciary, to finally find myself sitting across the table from my stalker enumerating his habits at a disciplinary hearing. The entire ordeal was an uncomfortable hassle that left me emotionally drained and less trusting of people in general. My parents were worried for months, and I am still left with guilt, wondering what my denials did to this poor person’s already questionable mental health.
Whatever the severity of a stalking case, it can be said that this issue is serious, and one that can have harmful effects on both the stalker and victim. Individuals who have been stalked may suffer a range of psychological effects and might seek help by receiving cognitive behavioral therapy from a psychotherapist or medication to relieve their anxiety. If you are being stalked do not be afraid to take control of the situation by contacting the authorities. The journey may not be an easy one but it could result in a healthier lifestyle for all involved. For information about stalking and stalking resources visit the Stalking Resource Center.
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