January marks the 15th Annual National Stalking Awareness Month, where efforts are made across the country to highlight the seriousness and dangers of stalking, as well as what individuals and communities can do to stay safe.
While YWCA Clark County doesn’t have a program solely devoted to stalking crimes, it is a behavior that can be both a precursor to sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as exist concurrently with these forms of abuse. According to the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC) 81% of women who were stalked by a current or former spouse or cohabitating partner were also physically assaulted by that partner. Additionally, 31% of women stalked by an intimate partner were also sexually assaulted by that partner. Advocates in both our SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program and Sexual Assault Program have done work in helping participants who were victims of stalking and worked to keep them safe.
Vicki Hipp, DSHS Advocacy Specialist for YWCA Clark County has aided participants who were being stalked by their abuser. “The first thing any advocate will do is listen and encourage documentation and evidence organization,” said Hipp. “Keeping a detailed record of unwanted calls, visits and behavior can be helpful when trying to obtain a Protection Order (PO). I have helped clients organize their presentation to police by suggesting a timeline of events to help the process.”
Laurie Schacht, Director of our Sexual Assault Program agrees. “It’s important to document things like date and time, when messages are left, here what happened when, here’s when they showed up, things like that.”
Obtaining a PO can result in stronger punishment for the offender if the behavior continues. “Stalking is a misdemeanor and often the consequence of a protection order stops stalking behavior, which is the goal,” said Hipp. “However, if the stalking continues after the PO is in place it raises the offense to a felony charge, which puts some teeth in the consequence.”
Taking it seriously
Schacht said it’s important to encourage people not to minimize what’s happening if they feel uncomfortable with someone else’s behavior, and it’s equally important for other people whether it be friends, family, or law enforcement not to minimize what’s happening.
“As a culture we need to improve our response,” said Schacht. “Often stalking isn’t taken seriously until it escalates to something violent.”
In addition to not being taken seriously, stalking behaviors can sometimes be portrayed as romantic, particularly in the media. “We need to have a discussion as to why people think this is a flattering way to get someone’s reaction, and find ways to help them understand that you’re not being flattering, as well as encourage others to not to be flattered by this type of attention.”
Ultimately education is what will lead to prevention. Schacht said that often times behaviors like going out in groups, being more conscientious and private about what you do and do not include on social media, and even going to the police are considered prevention, when really they are risk reduction.
“What I wish is that as a society we realize that we can never arrest our way out of these kind of problems,” said Schacht. “We need to be really clear that risk reduction is not prevention. Prevention is when someone doesn’t do something in the first place, and to achieve that we need to examine just how are we talking about these issues with each other, and and what we teach our kids. We teach body safety, but what is safety and accountability in our internet actions?”
To that end YWCA Clark County offers several prevention groups aimed at teaching youth healthy relationship behaviors.
Tanika Siscoe, Domestic Violence Prevention Specialist for YWCA Clark County, facilitates “Where We Grow” a program geared for youth ages 11-14 that helps participants build knowledge and skills that support healthy relationships. One thing Siscoe notes is that stalking type behaviors (specifically cyberstalking) are sometimes minimized or joked about with the youth she works with.
“From my experience working with youth the term is often used as joke like ‘I stalk them on Facebook’ or ‘I’m following you’ in reference to a following someone on social media. These jokes are problematic because some people are being stalked or heavily monitored via social media and technology.”
Siscoe said a point of emphasis of her groups is to talk about behaviors that may be seen as “normal” in relationships, but are actually ways of monitoring partners, friends, or family in unhealthy ways. “An example of this is checking your partner’s social media to see where they are or who they’re with, and then calling or texting them multiple times saying things like “I know you’re on your phone because you posted 10 minutes ago so why won’t you answer my calls/text messages, etc..” said Siscoe.
In her groups, Siscoe aims to have conversations with youth about how these problematic behaviors can occur in relationships and the impact of these behaviors. Just as importantly though, she also makes sure to discuss healthy relationship behaviors.
“We have conversations about healthy behaviors so they have the tools to carry out a healthy relationship, instead of just being left with what not to do.”
Jessie Spinney, Sexual Assault Prevention Specialist for YWCA Clark County and facilitator for “Where We Thrive”, a prevention program for 15-18-year-olds, agrees.
“When it comes to talking about stalking with the youth in my high school prevention classes, we spend a lot of time talking about de-normalizing problematic behaviors while also emphasizing boundaries and empowerment to set those boundaries,” said Spinney.
“I think it’s definitely helpful to shed light in my classes that stalking is a mechanism of power, control and isolation, specifically with the aid of social media and technology, but I think it’s also really empowering to talk with youth about ways we can amplify behaviors that are not toxic or harmful and are instead rooted in respect and consent.”
Adds Schacht, “We need to talk to kids about how to receive a no, and have them understand it’s just as powerful to be able to give one respectfully as it is to hear one and not equate that with rejection.”