Stalking is a crime; learn more to fight it

By Deanna Thompson, Guest Columnist

Imagine that lurking feeling that someone is watching you. Imagine constantly looking over your shoulder to see if you’re being followed.

Imagine a strange yet familiar car driving by your house, sometimes 10 times a day. Imagine gifts on your doorstep. Imagine being told “you should be happy that someone sent you flowers.” Imagine 30 text messages within five minutes. Imagine one of those texts saying “I can see you.”

Imagine checking your locks multiple times before you can go to sleep at night. Imagine not being able to leave your home for fear of being followed. Imagine the lifelong effects of anxiety and depression. Imagine being in fear for your safety for the rest of your life. Imagine what it’s like to be a victim of stalking.

January is National Stalking Awareness Month, a time to focus on a crime that affects 3.4 million victims a year. Hands of Hope Resource Center challenges the community to fight this dangerous crime by learning more about it.

Stalking is a crime in all 50 states, yet many underestimate its seriousness and impact. In one of five cases, stalkers use weapons to harm or threaten victims, and stalking is one of the significant risk factors for femicide (homicide of women) in abusive relationships. Victims suffer anxiety, social dysfunction and severe depression at much higher rates than the general population, and many lose time from work or have to move as a result of their victimization.

Stalking is difficult to recognize, investigate and prosecute. Unlike other crimes, stalking is not a single, easily identifiable crime but a series of acts, a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause that person fear.

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.

Stalkers fit no standard psychological profile, and many stalkers follow their victims from one jurisdiction to another, making it difficult for authorities to investigate and prosecute their crimes.

Communities that understand stalking can support victims and combat the crime. If more people learn to recognize stalking, we have a better chance to protect victims and prevent tragedies.

For more information, contact Hands of Hope Resource Center at (320) 632-1657.

Deanna Thompson is the general crime coordinator with the Hands of Resource Center in Little Falls.