January 19, 2009

Unprecedented US survey tracks scope of stalking

When I saw this article, I knew that I had to share it and put it up.  Unfortunately, we know too many women that are being stalked right now, fearing for their lives and that of their children.  Not from strangers, not from love sick sicko's, but ex-boyfriends and ex-husbands that they once loved and lived with, and for many, had children with.

When talking to a victim of stalking, the first thing that you hear is their fear.  They are terrified of their stalker, they don't know what the stalker will do next, and not sure what they are capable of.  The fact that stalkers mainly come and go, leaving just enough evidence behind to let the victim know that they were there, makes it hard for victims to get the help that they need.  Other times, they will do it blatantly in day light, but because the victim has no proof that the stalker was on their property or down the road watching, they still don't get the help that they need.  Many courts have told the victims that until they are hurt, or they have proof, nothing can be done.

The second thing you hear from a victim is anger.  Anger at the courts and the system that is supposed to be set up to protect them.  Anger that call after call is ignored, that time after time they are told that nothing can be done, meanwhile the stalkers get more bold because they are continuing to get away with their actions.  As we've been told many times, a piece of paper does NOT protect you, doesn't stop a bullet.

The next segment I know was later on in the article, but wanted to bring this up first.

"While individually these acts may not be criminal, collectively and repetitively these behaviors may cause a victim to fear for his or her safety or the safety of a family member," the report said.

Why am I highlighting this statement?  Because of the simple fact that too many victims don't understand that the first time they call the police on a violation the stalker doesn't get put away in jail.  You may as well say that he can continually pass go, collect the $200, and have quite a few "Get Out of Jail Free" cards in his back pocket.  Not only must there be repetitive acts, but also repetitive acts that are documented as well.  This is many times hard for victims to acquire, but something that victims need to do.

By the tens of thousands, victims of stalking lose their jobs, flee their homes and fear for their safety, according to a new federal survey providing the most comprehensive data ever on a crime affecting an estimated 3.4 million Americans a year.

About 11 percent of the victims said they had been stalked for five or more years, and one in seven said the stalking compelled them to move out of their home, according to the report by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.  It covered a 12-month period in 2005-06.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics defined stalking as a course of conduct, directed at a specific person on at least two separate occasions, that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.  The most commonly reported types of stalking were unwanted phone calls (66 percent), unsolicited letters or e-mail (31 percent), or having rumors spread about the victim (36 percent).

More than one-third of the victims reported being followed or spied upon; some said they were tracked by electronic monitoring, listening devices or video cameras.  About 21 percent said they had been attacked by their stalker - with the forms of assault ranging from a slap to rape.

Nearly 75 percent of victims knew their stalker in some capacity - most commonly a former spouse or ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, sometimes a relative or co-worker.

People who were divorced or separated were more vulnerable to stalking than other marital categories, and those aged 18-24 were more likely to be stalked than older people.

There's a lot of good information in this article, and I wanted to show as much as I can that victims of DV need to  know.  Too many victims, after they leave, experience stalking from their abuser.  To read that most commonly it's an former spouse or ex-boyfriend/girlfriend is not surprising in the least. 

Victims reported suffering a range of emotions because of the stalking.  Their most common fears included not knowing what would happen next (46 percent) and fearing the stalking would continue indefinitely (29 percent).  Nine percent of the victims said their worst fear was death.

I know that for victims/survivors of DV, they DO fear their stalkers for a good reason.  Many of them have been told that "If I can't have you, no-one will", or that "I know where you live, you wont get away", or the like.  Their abuser does not let their victim go without a fight, and play mind games so well that they don't even have to be physically near to put fear in their victim, many victims seeing things that they swear their stalker/abuser has done when he hasn't been around.  That fear stays with them and affects their every day life and health.  It affects their work performance, their parenting, everything.  It isn't just the fear when the abuser/stalker is near, that is a sharp white fear, but a continuing fear that creeps into every fabric of their life.  Many victims develop high anxiety due to the stalking/abuse, which continues to plague them even after the stalking ends.

"When you consider the impact that stalking has on a victim's life, five weeks is forever - five years is incredible," she said.  "They often have to give up their current life, leave their jobs, their homes, establish a whole new identity."

I got stuck on this one.  Five years is not incredible for a victim/survivor of DV if you think of the fact that many that leave their abusive situation with children have no option but for their abuser to know where they live.  When there is visitation, when the abuser still has parental rights, it gives the abuser/stalker more information then the victim would want them to have, but by court order, must give.  Then it's hard to show that the abuser is stalking, because sometimes the most innocent words, phrases, or actions the abuser uses to continue to put fear in their victims lives.  Things that the courts wouldn't understand, and many times miss.  Many have to deal with this for 5-10 years, until their children reach of age, and sometimes even after that.  Many wish they could just disappear, change their names, assume a whole new identity, but can't because of mutual children being involved.

Leary credited law enforcement authorities with taking stalking seriously, but she said more needs to be done to strengthen anti-stalking laws and expand the resources to combat it.

Too many victims have called law enforcement to no avail, too many haven't been given the tools necessary to help catch their stalker.  Too many have been treated as if the calls or a nuisance, and that they are at fault.  Yes, many law enforcement authorities do treat stalking seriously, yet there are still many that re-victimize the victim when they treat their stalking incidences as if it's something that they don't believe in and would rather not do.  Some victims are actually treated with contempt when calling in a stalking incidence, which of course makes it so that the victim calls less on the incidences, and puts her life in more danger.

"One step recommended by Dyer was modification of state laws so stalking victims could more easily obtain protective orders against their stalkers.

The federal government and all 50 states have enacted laws making stalking a crime, but the laws and definitions of stalking vary widely.

This is something that I know victims of stalking have been asking for for years, to make it not only easier to obtain the protection order, but also the enforcement of the protection order one given.  Too many times they aren't enforced properly, which gives the abuser/stalker the feeling of added control and power.  This can be very dangerous in an abuser/stalker, and more needs to be done for the victims.

There is no easy answer in stopping the stalking, but there are many things that not only the government and law enforcement can do, but also the victims of stalking as well.  Empowerment is through the knowledge that they need to increase their chances of staying alive and well, and the knowledge that they will be protected.  I hope that after this is released, that more is done for victims of stalking, because they truly do need the protection and peace of mind that better laws and enforcement of those laws can give.

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