The issue is .... stalking
Michelle* is a single mom. She decides to invest in her social life and join an online dating app. On the app she meets John*. John seems nice enough, but Michelle decides to not meet John in person because he does not seem like he is her type.
Typical story. Until it isn’t.
Michelle starts receiving flowers at her home. One day, she sees John walking up to her door trying to ask her out. Michelle had never given her address to John, nor did she express any interest in taking their interactions any further after the initial introduction on the app. Things continue to escalate and Michelle feels like her privacy and life have been violated from unwanted advances, causing Michelle to fear for her safety.
This is a form of stalking.
WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING
According to the Stalking Prevention and Awareness Center (SPARC), an estimated 13.5 million people are stalked in a one-year period in the United States. People ages 18-24 experience the highest rate of stalking victimization (among adults). 1 in 7 stalking victims move as a result of their victimization.
Stalking can range from making unwanted phone calls, to approaching the victim or showing up in places when the victim does not want them to, following and watching the victim, sending unwanted texts, photos, emails, messages through social media and sending unwanted gifts and tracking someone through technology.
Stalkers can be former partners, acquaintances, family members or at times total strangers.
Whoever it is, stalking impacts the physical and mental health of victims. Research shows stalking can lead to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
76% of women murdered by an intimate partner were stalked first, while 85% of women who survived murder attempts were stalked. 89% of femicide victims who had been physically assaulted before their murder were also stalked in the last year prior to their murder.
THE PROBLEM WITH UNDERREPORTING
SPARC is cautioning people that stalking is a major issue due to drastic underreporting. This can be in response to the fear of retaliation, concern of not being taken seriously or concerns that reporting will affect the victim’s day to day life.
Like anything else, people need to go with their gut. If it feels wrong, victims need to honor that feeling. People deserve the ability to create healthy boundaries.
If a victim is fearing for their safety, it is always encouraged to report to law enforcement.
SAFETY PLANNING + STRATEGIES
There are proactive measures a person can take during a stalking situation. First, victims need to tell their loved ones of their stalking issue so they are aware and can take action if necessary. Do not attempt to placate the stalker
s, even negative ones as attention, which only fuels their infatuation Victims should update their social media passwords often. Doing an internet search of their name can help identify if information is readily accessible to the public.
Give a picture of the stalker to loved ones as well as any work security. Installing a camera system can also help document any issues at the home. Experts recommend for victims to take an itemized log of stalking examples. SPARC has created an incident and behavior template for victims to use. Learn more about safety strategies here.
California Penal Code § 646.9 defines stalking as any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or willfully and maliciously harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family is guilty of the crime of stalking, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment, or by imprisonment in the state prison.
Felony stalking can result into up to five years in prison. In addition, the sentencing court may order a person convicted of a felony under this section to register as a sex offender. Learn more
A person can also file a restraining order with their local California court. Each situation may warrant a different kind of order, but the court’s self-help desk can help a victim navigate what kind of order in necessary.
COUNTY RESOURCES + THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
As always, filing a police report on the issue is what will trigger the district attorney’s office to look into the situation. The office’s victim services unit can always be contacted if there are any questions on the process. Stand Up Placer has a 24-hour helpline to ask any questions. Ultimately, filing a police report at any part of the process will help create a legal documentation when seeking restraining orders and filing criminal cases.
The Placer County District Attorney’s Office Victim Services Unit has a grant-funded program dedicated to supporting victims of stalking. This unit allows victims to receive resource and information support regardless of criminal case status.
STALKING IN POP CULTURE
The Netflix show YOU has elevated, dramatized and dangerously romanticized stalking. While there are dangers to desensitizing stalking, the show YOU can also be used to highlight the signs and how the characters escalate behavior. The show depicts the main character, Joe Goldberg, stalking his victims on social media, impersonating a victim online, mining friends for information, gaslighting the victims, using public records to locate the victim and more. SPARC has created a resource guide for the show that you can access here.
SPARC has an awareness campaign titled “Know it, Name it, Stop it” emphasizing the importance of recognizing the signs of stalking and taking the steps to eradicate it. The campaign seeks to define the risks and ensure that community members do not minimize stalking. SPARC provides communities with the tools to address stalking from webinars, agency checklists, a Stalking Risk Assessment, brochure templates, trainings and more.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While stalking can be a complicated, nuanced topic – the awareness surrounding it doesn’t have to be. Learning and understanding stalking is in the same breath of drawing healthy boundaries for yourself and your loved ones. There are legal avenues to deter stalking as well as personal safety actions that can be taken.
Society needs to step up and recognize that stalking is in no way innocent at any point. Even the actor who plays Joe Goldberg in YOU has emphasized that the popular series is “a psychological horror thriller – not a romance.”
The issue is stalking and we need to continue to educate our communities on the dangers.