Welcome to our Thursday segment.
Last Tuesday, we began discussion on a very serious and highly overlooked issue many people, especially women, face today. Stalking. We are committed in doing our small part in helping to raise awareness on this subject.
Since January is Stalking Awareness Month, we have asked the director of the Stalking, Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC), Jennifer Landhuis, to join us today to help shed a brighter light on this terrifying experience. She is a wealth of information and has provided valuable resources for victims as well as for those close to someone who is being stalked.
Please read what she has to share and be sure to pass this along to anyone who may be going through it. Doing something, no matter how small, can make the difference in the life of another. Or maybe even save one.
CHYNNA: Hi Jennifer, and Welcome. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. Can you please introduce yourself and the Center?
JENNIFER: My name is Jennifer Landhuis and I am the Director of the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center, an AEquitas initiative. SPARC ensures first responders and other allied professionals have the knowledge to identify and respond to the crime of stalking.
I have been an educator and advocate for victims of stalking and other gender-based violence for the last two decades, working in local community-based programs, a state Coalition and as a consultant for numerous national training providers.
CHYNNA: That’s fantastic and we so need more committed people out there, such as you, helping to raise awareness on this very serious subject. Can you share with our readers the primary focus of the Center and its Mission?
JENNIFER: SPARC is a comprehensive national resource center funded by the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) and assists multi-disciplinary professionals with information, resources, and policy and protocol development as well as training on a local, regional, statewide and national level.
We do not provide direct services to victims of stalking but rather provide resources and information to those individuals and organizations who are working with stalking victims.
CHYNNA: It’s wonderful, and I’m sure a true comfort for many, to know that such a place is there to turn to. As you know, there are different forms of stalking, all of which are invasive and intrusive on some level. You have some valuable insight on your website, but can you please outline what exactly stalking is and how it’s different from, say, one person being overly fascinated with or interested in someone else?
JENNIFER: We define stalking as a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. We define the pattern of behavior as two or more incidents that can include a variety of tactics, including unwanted contacts via phone calls, texts, or social media, unwanted gifts, showing up/approaching an individual or their family or friends, monitoring, surveillance, property damage and threats.
An important part of our definition includes the element of fear. Stalking and harassment are similar and can overlap but the element of fear is what separates stalking from harassment. Harassment is typically irritating and bothersome but often does not reach the level of fear. It’s also important to note, however, that some people who experience stalking express emotions such as anger, frustration, helplessness or despair which are often masking the emotion of fear. And sometimes a stalker’s behavior may not seem scary to an outside person because it only has meaning to the victim.
CHYNNA: Those are very important points to note, especially understanding the aspect of fear. Let’s focus on the victims specifically. What are some important things for these people to be aware of and what can they do on their side to protect themselves?
1. Trust your instincts. Victims of stalking often feel pressured by friends or family to downplay the stalker’s behavior, but stalking poses a real threat of harm. Your safety is paramount.
2. Call the police if you feel you are in any immediate danger. Explain why the stalker’s actions are causing you fear.
3. Keep a record or log of each contact with the stalker. You can use this log as an example. Be sure to also document any police reports.
4. Stalkers often use technology to contact their victims. Save all emails, text messages, photos, and postings on social networking sites as evidence of the stalking behavior. You may also want to consider how to use your technology and your devices in a safer manner. For more information, please visit the National Network to End Domestic Violence Safety Net Project’s Tech Safety Site.
5. Get connected with a local victim service provider who can assist you in exploring your options as well as discuss safety planning.
If you do not know how to reach your local service provider, or for additional assistance, you can contact the following hotlines:
· Victim Connect: 1-855-4VICTIM (1-855-484-2846)
· The National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
CHYNNA: Thank you so much for sharing those vital steps as well as for the resources. I’m sure they will prove most useful to a reader out there who doesn’t know where to turn. If you were speaking one-on-one with someone who suspects they are being stalked, but still not 100% sure what they’re experiencing is actually at the stalking level, what key questions would you ask or what further information would you offer them in guiding them in the right direction? How can we help them stop things before they become violent or others close to the victim are also victimized?
JENNIFER: We often ask victims what has changed since these incidents began happening? And they will describe changes in their emotions/behaviors. They may say things like “My eating or sleeping patterns have changed”, “I have constant headaches or stomachaches”, “I don’t go out much anymore”, “I’m always looking over my shoulder worrying about if the stalker will show up somewhere”, “I don’t use social media”. All of these are examples of behavioral changes that they have done as a result of the stalking. This can go a long way in helping understand the impact the stalking has had on their life.
We always recommend that victims begin documenting the incidents that have been occurring. Even though many of the incidents themselves might not be criminal, when they are part of the larger course of conduct that is occurring, that course of conduct equals stalking. The log mentioned earlier can help them keep track of things in an easier manner. It’s also important for victims to know that there is nothing they do that causes the stalking behavior.
CHYNNA: Fantastic advice. Oftentimes just being able to open up and talk about the situation with people who truly understand is enough to elicit the courage to take the initial stepping stones in taking back control. January is Stalking Prevention Month. Can you please tell us how this came to be and what, if anything, others can do to help raise awareness?
JENNIFER: I think this question is answered best through this write-up. It’s an interview with Debbie Riddle, one of NSAM’s founders whose sister lost her life as a result of stalking.
CHYNNA: Thank you for sharing that. The write up certainly gives a real-life picture of what stalking is really like. Are there any upcoming events through the Center that you’d like others to know about and, hopefully, participate in?
JENNIFER: We have several upcoming webinars schedule and people are invited to look at our website for posted upcoming events
CHYNNA: I’ve checked that information out and I hope that our readers take the time to do the same. I know that you are very busy right now, so I’ll end our chat with a question I like to ask all of our guests. Do you have any final words or pearls of wisdom for our readers to take away with them today?
JENNIFER: We know that stalking is so prevalent, with an estimated 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men experiencing stalking in their lifetime. We must continue to build the awareness and response efforts across the country and we encourage everyone who is reading this to begin having conversations about stalking with your loved ones, especially the young people in your life. We have resources on our website but would also encourage you to reach out to your local victim services programs to find out how you can support them with your time and talents.