Stalking: Officials promote public awareness
January is National Stalking Awareness Month.
Local officials are working to make the public more aware of a crime that affects 3.4 million victims each year.
As part of the effort to help make the community more aware of stalking, a press conference was held Wednesday morning, Jan. 10 at the Union County Courthouse in Jonesboro.
Officials also highlighted the importance of timely reporting for victims of stalking.
Presentations were shared at the press conference by Union County State’s Attorney Tyler R. Edmonds, Union County Sheriff Scott Harvel and Cathy McClanahan, who is the executive director of The Women’s Center in Carbondale.
The sheriff noted during the press conference that “our mission is quite simple: to promote awareness and educate not only the victims, but also the citizens of this community so that everyone has a better understanding about stalking.”
Stalking is a Felony
Edmonds reminded those at the event that stalking is a felony in Illinois and a crime in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The state’s attorney said that many victims and criminal justice professionals underestimate the seriousness and impact of stalking.
He explained that stalking is defined as a course of conduct directed at a person that would cause a reasonable individual to feel fear.
In one of five cases, stalkers use weapons to harm or threaten victims. Stalking is one of the significant risk factors for homicide in abusive relationships.
Victims of stalking suffer anxiety, social dysfunction and severe depression at much higher rates that the general population. Many lose time from work or have to move as a result of their victimization.
Stalkers Seek to Frighten, Control
“Stalking is a serious crime that often goes unreported or unrecognized,” Edmonds stated.
“Stalkers seek to frighten and control victims through intimidation and harassment. These behaviors often escalate and that makes timing critical. Timely reporting and timely prosecution can save lives.”
Unlike other crimes, officials noted, stalking is not a single, easily identifiable crime.
Instead, stalking is a series of acts, a course of conduct directed at a specific person that cause fear in the victim.
Stalking may take many forms, such as assaults, threats, vandalism, burglary or animal abuse, as well as unwanted cards, calls, gifts or visits.
One in four victims reports that the stalker uses technology, such as computers, global positioning system devices or hidden cameras, to track the victim’s daily activities.
“Victims should trust their instincts and report stalking behaviors to law enforcement,” Sheriff Harvel said.
“Communication with police is critical – victims should tell police when these are not isolated incidents.”
Keep a Record
The sheriff also strongly urged victims “to keep a log of the stalker’s behavior and save texts, emails and social media posts to share with police.”
“Just as important,” the sheriff stated, “it is the duty of law enforcement to ask the appropriate questions to identify these patters and collect the vital information to establish a ‘course of conduct’ in an effort to effectively prosecute (the stalker) and protect the victims of such crimes.
“It is my recommendation that all forms of unwanted behavior directed to any victim should be reported to law enforcement.
“Certainly, when the unwanted behavior rises to a level of imminent danger to life or safety, the victim should immediately report the incident to 911.”
“As prosecutors, police and victim advocates, we urge the public to recognize this crime and take steps to support victims,” said Cathy McClanahan of The Women’s Center.
“If you or someone you know is the victim of stalking, please seek help,” McClanahan said. “The Women’s Center and other agencies are available 24 hours a day to provide a safe place for victims and to stand with victims through the court process.”
The Women’s Center Inc. was created in 1972 to provide a safe, secure environment for Southern Illinois women and their children, the organization’s website noted.
The website also noted that The Women’s Center’s services are confidential, free of charge and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to women, men, adolescents and children in Franklin, Jackson, Johnson, Perry, Saline, Williamson, Union, and Gallatin counties.
McClanahan shared “four golden rules for stalking victims”:
Have no contact with the stalker (with emphasis on “no”). Tell others. Increase personal protection. Collect evidence/document.
Difficult to Recognize
Officials who spoke at the press conference explained that stalking is difficult to recognize, investigate and prosecute.
Stalkers fit no standard psychological profile. Many stalkers follow their victims from one jurisdiction to another, making it difficult for authorities to investigate and prosecute their crimes.
Communities that understand and recognize stalking can support victims and combat the crime, officials noted.
Edmonds, Harvel and McClanahan joined to encourage victims to take action if they are being stalked. Those actions include:
•Trust your instincts. Don’t let others pressure you to downplay the stalker’s behavior.
•Call the police. Report stalking to police. When it isn’t an isolated incident, give police the full story, explaining the pattern of behavior. If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 911.
•Keep a log. Keep a written log or record of the stalking behaviors, including the date, time and location.
•Save emails, texts and social media posts. Save any written communication from the stalker to provide to police.
•Call for help. Help is available 24 hours a day from many resources, including:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE.
The Women’s Center Inc., 1-800-334-2094, thewomensctr.org.
Stalking Resource Center, victimsofcrime.org/src.