January is National Stalking Awareness Month. Stalking impacts 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men in the United States and often co-occurs with physical and sexual violence. In an age of rapidly developing and transforming technology, stalking has become more personal, more invasive, and more difficult for survivors to escape, making it critical to be informed and understand how to keep oneself safe.
Sarah glances at her phone as it vibrates. Again. And again. There are tens of messages on the screen. “You’re not at the store” “I knew you were lying to me.” “You’re dead.” He knows. ‘How does he know?’ And now he’s calling. ‘Do I have to answer? Can I ignore him? Will I be safe if I do?’ She won’t be safe. She knows he will hurt her. She answers the phone.
Who is the typical stalker? Is it a neighbor who becomes obsessed with the woman next door? Is it a flirtatious coworker who cannot take no for an answer? Is it the stranger we warn our children about? The reality may surprise you - over half of stalking offenders are current or former intimate partners.
Sam climbs up the front steps, shutting the door quietly behind him. She is home, waiting. Before he has a chance to speak, she begins, calmly, but with a harshness hidden behind her words. “I heard what you said to your therapist. You think I’m crazy? That I make you feel small?” He freezes, unable to speak as she continues on. “ It’s always my fault, isn’t it? I am not the reason that you are a worthless slob. Take some responsibility for once.” Sam tells himself to leave his phone in the car next week, to not forget that somehow, she hears everything, no matter where he is.
Discourse around cyber safety is often concerned with privacy. Survivors are often told to change or block phone numbers, to reset passwords and account information, or to turn off location services. However, cyberstalking and digital abuse, especially in the context of intimate partner violence, is primarily motivated by power. Cyberstalking, including repeatedly calling or texting, tracking location via GPS, or monitoring use of social media, has become a more accessible and effective means for abusers to trap, control, and torment survivors. Privacy seems an impossibility: survivors of cyberstalking fear leaving their abuser or making any changes to protect their privacy for fear of escalating violence or enduring bodily harm. In fact, over eighty percent of women who have experienced intimate partner stalking also reported experiencing physical abuse.
Marie sees the messages from her mom. “Where are you? Are you okay?” She is at the court. She looks at the domestic violence petition in front of her, blank. A response appears on the screen “Yes. I’m at home.” “Good, I was worried. Talk to you later,” her mom replies. Marie stares at the phone she did not touch… the message she did not type. He did. He answers her calls, too – somehow. She stands up, and leaves the courthouse, alone.
Trained advocates at Turning Points Network are ready to work with you to create a safety plan that helps protect against the modern methods stalkers use to control survivors. If you or someone you know is experiencing stalking, or you would like more information, please call our 24-hour crisis & support line at 800-639-3130. For additional resources, please visit www.stalkingawareness.org
OUR TURN is a public service series by Turning Points Network (TPN) serving all of Sullivan County with offices in Claremont and Newport. We provide wraparound supports for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, stalking and human trafficking and we present violence-prevention education programs in our schools. For more than 40 years, TPN has helped people of all ages move from the darkness of abuse toward the light of respect, healing and hope. For information contact 1.800.639.3130 or www.turninqpointsnetwork.org or find us on Facebook.