By Susanna Penfield

In the 2017 National College Health Assessment Survey, that was the percentage of Colorado College students who said they had been stalked in the past 12 months. That’s one in every 20 individuals you might see throughout the day. It is someone you might share class with, pass in the hallway, or brush your teeth next to in the dorm bathroom. It might have been you.

And if you are a woman, this likelihood nearly triples. National surveys show that one in six women and one in 17 men in the U.S. will experience stalking in their lifetime. 

Stalking is a crime in all 50 states, U.S. territories, tribal lands, and the District of Columbia. Commonly defined as a pattern of behavior which, when directed at a specific individual, would cause a reasonable person to feel fear the act itself manifests in various ways. Common stalking behaviors range from the criminal, e.g. property damage, to the seemingly innocuous, e.g. sending gifts. Some of the most recognizable behaviors include, but are not limited to, excessive calling or texting, following, tracking, and spreading rumors. In many cases, victims know their perpetrators and offenders are often capable of reaching their target through various mediums. 

Though stalking may share characteristics with other behavioral patterns, such as harassment, one emotion remains integral to its classification — fear. While less habitual iterations of the actions described above may irritate the targeted individual, absence of fear distinguishes harassment from those behaviors meant to instill deep and potentially paralyzing anxiety. In such situations, context is critical. 

What might be perceived as a simple cup of coffee left in the cup-holder of a car may in fact be an indication that an individual’s abusive ex-partner is back in town. As responders, it is crucial to recognize that stalking behaviors often have specific meanings only understood between offender and victim. It becomes critical to ask victims what it was about the event, object, or interaction that scared them. 

In an age of constant communication, geo-tagging, and family and friend tracking, it becomes all too easy for stalking to slip under the radar. It’s not illegal to text someone, follow their social media, or even keep constant tabs on their location. However, when these actions become routinized despite being unwanted or unknown, there lies a breach in both trust and federal law. What might appear to be an innocent string of text messages may be the initial stage of a high-risk situation that threatens to devolve into violence or at worst murder — outcomes that are unfortunately not rare in many stalking cases. 

January is National Stalking Awareness Month. The first step in eradication is recognition. Know the signs, name them, and remain attuned to their presence in your personal relationships as well as those around you. 

For more information, visit the Wellness Resource Center in the Worner Center or visit the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC) at http://www.StalkingAwareness.org. 

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