National Stalking Awareness Month

To the editor:

January is National Stalking Awareness Month. There are times when we may feel as though someone may be watching us, but we ultimately conclude that is not the case and we are letting our imagination get the better of us. For some, this feeling is a reality as approximately 6 to 7.5 million people in the United States are stalked every year by an intimate partner, acquaintance, or stranger.

Stalking is a general term that describes a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. Stalkers use many different strategies to target their victims. These strategies can include any range of behaviors, but they most often include surveillance of the victim; sending unwanted gifts or cards; contacting the victim through letters, phone calls and/or text messages; spreading rumors about the victim; showing up at the same events or locations as the victim; and tracking the victim’s movements through electronic devices. These tactics and behaviors may not immediately appear to be harmful targeting of a victim. Stalkers can use this general behavior to their advantage because a victim may not be able to describe to someone looking at the behavior from the outside what is happening to them and why they feel afraid. Victims can start to feel isolated and alone in their fear.

Many victims may not admit they feel afraid, especially if they have described the behavior to others and their fears were brushed aside or ignored. While stalking victims may not show their fear, a victim who alters how they live their lives demonstrates their fear and the impact the behavior is having on them. Behavior changes can include altered routes to work or school, changed phone numbers, changed/cancelled social media, changed employment, and/or changed addresses.

As victims modify their lives due to stalking behavior, the stalker may also change how they stalk their victims. If a victim changes a phone number, the stalker may show up at the victim’s place of employment or find other avenues to pursue the victim. Stalkers may also escalate their behaviors to include property damage, harm the victim’s pets, or physically harm the victim themselves if angered by actions of the victim or others surrounding the victim.

While anyone can be a victim of stalking, women are stalked more often than men (1 in 6 women have reported being stalked compared to 1 in 17 men), and those individuals in the 18-24 year age range report the highest rates of stalking. If someone expresses concern about being pursued or stalked, please listen and provide support to the victim.

If you or someone you know is being stalked, there are steps you can take to protect yourself:

Keep a log of activity – phone calls, text messages, hang ups, unexpected or unexplained encounters in public or at work/school. These logs can help explain the experiences and feelings.

Apply for a Harassment Restraining Order to keep the person away from you. The application for the Order can be found at www.mncourts.gov/forms.

Develop a safety plan. For tips on developing a safety plan, visit www.stalkingawareness.org/what-to-do-if-you-are-being-stalked

Contact your local law enforcement agency and file a report, especially if you feel you are in immediate danger.

For more information on National Stalking Awareness Month, visit the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC), at www.stalkingawareness.org.

Michelle Zehnder Fischer

Nicollet County Attorney

Bonnie Petersen

Victim/Witness Coordinator