How Common is Stalking?
Stalking: A course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.
January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and unfortunately, this awareness month often gets lost in the hustle and bustle of the New Year. Stalking can also feel less “scary” or dangerous, as those who have never experienced it may not understand how frightening it can be. Victims, however, know the fear and trauma that surrounds this crime, and the hellish aftermath it leaves. It can be debilitating, with 46% of individuals fearing what will happen next to them. They experience extreme anxiety because they do not know what could happen to them at any given point in their day. Twenty-nine percent of victims fear the stalking will never stop, and live with this fear every single waking moment of their lives. The impact of stalking on someone is wide ranging. How a stalking case is handled within the justice system is one of the factors that can effect how someone may be able to handle the trauma they have endured. Stalking is a crime in all fifty states and those that pursue criminal action often find it difficult to prove what is happening to them, or be believed and/or taken seriously. This can be discouraging, and once again make the victim feel powerless in getting the harassment to end.
While there is a misconception that many people acquire stalkers in their life from a distance, they are often people the victim knows. Sixty-one percent of female victims and 44% of male stalking victims are stalked by a former or current intimate partner. Those seeking to harass their victims pursue them often, with 2/3 of victims being contacted at least once per week and many are pursued daily. Stalkers use more than one method to follow victims, and often utilize the internet and technology to incite fear. As many as 1 in 4 women ages 18-24 have been stalked online.
These statistics are staggering, but what is most alarming is that 89% of homicide victims who had been physically assaulted had ALSO been stalked in the twelve months before their murder. Fifty-four percent of women had reported stalking to the police before they were killed by their stalker.
Victims struggle with the fear of the unknown, the uncertainty of their safety, and general uneasiness. However, the impact can run even deeper with multiple effects on physical and mental well-being as well as ones’ social life, work/school and finances:
Effects on Mental Health
- Denial, confusion, self-doubt, questioning if what is happening is unreasonable, wondering if they are over-reacting
- Guilt, embarrassment, self-blame
- Apprehension, fear, terror of being alone or that they, others or pets will be harmed.
- Feeling isolated and helpless to stop the harassment
- Depression (all symptoms related to depression)
- Anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia (frightened to leave the house, never feeling safe)
- Difficulty concentrating, attending and remembering things
- Inability to sleep – nightmares, ruminating
- Irritability, anger, homicidal thoughts
- Emotional numbing
- Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress disorder e.g. hyper vigilance (always on the lookout), flashbacks of frightening incidents, easily startled
- Insecurity and inability to trust others, problems with intimacy
- Personality changes due to becoming more suspicious, introverted or aggressive
- Self-medication alcohol/ drugs or using prescribed medications
- Suicide thoughts and/or suicide attempts
Effects on Physical Health
- Fatigue from difficulty sleeping, being constantly on guard, symptoms of depression
- Effects of chronic stress including headaches, hypertension
- Gastrointestinal problems –
- Fluctuations in weight due to not eating or comfort eating
- Development or exacerbation of pre-existing conditions e.g. asthma, gastric ulcers and psoriasis.
- Shortness of breath
- Impact on health of increased use of alcohol, cigarettes or drugs
- Sexual dysfunction
- Physical injury due to not concentrating or being under the influence of substances
- Heart palpitations and sweating
Effects on Work and School
- Deteriorating school/work performance
- Increased sick leave
- Leaving job or being sacked
- Changing career
- Dropping out of school – poorer education and career opportunities
Effects on Social Life
- Insecurity and inability to trust others impacting on current and future relationships and friendships,
- Problems with physical and emotional intimacy.
- Avoidance of usual activities e.g., going to the gym, going out.
- Isolation through trying to protect others , feeling misunderstood or psychological symptoms.
- Others withdrawing from the victim because they don’t believe the victim, they are unable to cope with the victim’s mental state or as a direct consequence of third-party victimization.
- Victim moving to a new area, changing their phone number, name or even their appearance.
Effects on Finances
- Loss of wages due to sick leave, leaving job or changing career.
- Costs incurred through legal fees.
- Expense of increasing home and personal security.
- Cost involved in repairing property damage.
- Seeking psychological counseling and medical treatment.
- Cost involved in breaking leases on rented properties.
- Expense of relocation.
Victims’ lives may be damaged in permanent ways and lead to huge lifestyle changes. They may have to leave the only place they have ever lived, sell their home, change their appearance, quit their job or even drop out of school due to stalking. Victims can feel many hesitations to seeking help, including:
What may prevent a victim from seeking help?
- Not understanding that what is happening to them is stalking and/or illegal.
- Trying to pretend that it is not happening.
- Believing that they should be able to deal with the situation, thinking that the stalker will see reason, or not wanting to get the stalker into trouble.
- Fear that others will think they are over-reacting or that they will be blamed for somehow having encouraged the stalker in the first place. The latter is particularly pertinent for those who have had a previous intimate relationship with the stalker, even if it was only brief or just a flirtation.
- Fears about how the stalker will respond either to them or those that they love or care for.
- Direct threats from the stalker
- Feeling isolated in their plight, believing that there is nothing that can be done to help them, or not knowing who to go to.
- Previous requests for help being ignored
- Fear of losing their job or the situation becoming more difficult when the stalking originates in the workplace.
- Financial limitations in regard to seeking legal advice or taking time off to seek help.
- Limited options in respect to changing their situation e.g. relocation to safer housing
- Language barriers.
If someone in your life is experiencing stalking, do not diminish what is happening to them. Stalking is traumatic and an isolating experience. The victim never feels safe, and is constantly in a state of high alert. Never knowing if the harassment will end, nor being able to get it to stop is a very helpless feeling and can leave many victims feeling like there is no hope. There is hope, and there IS help. Safe Haven works with victims of stalking and can provide them advocacy and support as they navigate the legal system or if they are trying to heal from the experience they have endured. We encourage anyone who is going through this to call our crisis line at (419) 289-8085 and speak with one of our advocates. We can provide resources, information and support to those going through this trauma.