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Stalking - When Attention Goes To Far

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Allegations of stalking are common on college campuses, according to psychologists and police. A study published in 2000 (the latest information available) found that 13% of college women had been stalked. Stalking is generally defined as a repeated pattern of behavior or conduct that causes a reasonable person to feel fear. Unwanted contact can include:

  • following or surveillance
  • inappropriate approaches and confrontations
  • appearing at a place of work or residence
  • unwanted phone calls, letters, text messages, or e-mail
  • threats to victim’s family and friends
  • unwanted or threatening gifts
  • damage to property
  • physical assault
  • sexual assault

Stalking affects people of all identities and can occur within any community. Stalking is especially conducive to a college campus because of the environment. People’s movements, habits, and whereabouts can be easily studied. Most students go to classes, work, and eat meals at the same time for weeks on end. It is easy to determine where they will be. The buildings on most college campuses can be entered by anyone and you may not see your stalker due to the number of people around.

The most common forms of stalking of college women are unwanted contact by telephone (77.7%); having an offender waiting outside or inside buildings (47.9%); being watched from afar (44%); being followed (42%); receiving letters (30.7%); and receiving e-mail (24.7%). These are not usually the actions of a stranger. Four out of five victims know their stalker. Of known offenders, 42.5% were boyfriends or former boyfriends, 24.5% were classmates, 10.3% were acquaintances, 5.6% were friends, and 5.6% were co-workers.

There are two types of stalking – a love obsession and a simple obsession. Simple obsessions are the most common. A love obsession involves a fixation on another person who they have no relationship with. Celebrity obsession falls under this category. There is some type of previous relationship with the victim during simple obsession.

Stalking also occurs in three cycles: the initial pursuit, violence, and a “honeymoon” phase in which the stalker temporarily reverts to less violent behavior. Psychologically, stalkers move to a progressively dangerous state. It begins with “I can prove my love,” to “I can make you love me” to possibly the most dangerous – “If I can’t have you, no one else will.” A stalker’s self-esteem is tied to the victim. They can be motivated by a perceived slight or injustice.

A 2002 study found that the physical and mental health effects of being stalked were not gender-related. Both male and female victims experienced impaired health, depression, injury, and were more likely to engage in substance abuse than their non- stalked peers.

How colleges respond to stalking depends on several things, including state laws and campus policies. Most college campuses and universities consider stalking to be a serious issue and usually move on it quickly. Unfortunately, universities are not required by law to include stalking incidents in their official crime statistics.

There are laws that protect victims. Stalking is a crime under the laws of all 50 states, Washington D.C., and the Federal Government. Fifteen states classify stalking as a felony upon the first offense. 34 states classify stalking as a felony upon the second offense or when there are aggravating factors. Aggravating factors may include: use of a deadly weapon, violation of a court order or condition of probation/parole, a victim under the age of 16, and the same victim as prior occasions.

It usually comes down to the victim to decide what action to take. Some of the available options include judicial action through the school. What this entails would depend on the school. A civil lawsuit can be filed to receive monetary compensation due to a stalker’s behavior and effects on the victim’s life. Criminal prosecution can also be brought against the stalker.

In order to protect yourself from a stalker, you can do the following:

  • Vary your routes when going to class, work, etc.
  • Google your name to find out what personal information can easily be retrieved about you online
  • Limit the amount of information you put on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace

If you are being stalked, make sure to do the following:

  • Document EVERYTHING! Save text messages, emails, phone messages, etc.
  • Express your concern. Tell the stalker to stop one time and have no further contact. The person must know their behavior was unwanted if the case goes to court.
  • Inform your friends and family. Give them a description of your stalker.
  • Inform the police.

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