January is National Stalking Awareness Month.
“I can see you.”
This is the lyrics Grace Alexander remembers the most – because it was cold. The following words complemented the pink flower top she wore bowling with her family.
This message from her ex-husband was just one of many, along with phone calls filled with threats of violence against herself, Grace, and her family. After Grace blocked his number, she received calls from unknown numbers and often spotted his truck nearby, despite believing she had left him in another state.
After the bowling alley, Grace filed for a restraining order, thinking a judge would see the case clearly. She was hopeful in court when she saw a woman on the bench, but the judge believed her ex-husband’s claim that he had written to another woman by the same name despite his description of Grace’s clothes.
Then Grace knew she had to go further.
Stalking by numbers
According to the CDC, nearly one in six or 19.1 million American women is a victim of stalking at some point in their life, and the majority of perpetrators (61.5%) are current or former intimate partners.
Most victims who are pursued by a partner experience other types of violence with the same hand. “There’s a tremendous correlation. If you are being followed by an intimate partner, you have likely been previously assaulted or sexually assaulted by that partner,” said Jennifer Landhuis, director of the Stalking Prevention, Awareness and Resource Center (SPARC) Federal government funded project that provides education and resources on stalking.
Grace’s husband was physically and sexually abusive and raped her while she was eight months pregnant. When she finally saved enough money to divorce him, she legally moved away with her three children, but he followed him.
Grace’s experience with the judge not issuing an injunction was not unique. Despite the prevalence of stalking, its lack of recognition from the criminal justice system and others is an ongoing problem.
Maureen Curtis, vice president of criminal justice and court programs at Safe Horizon, the largest nonprofit victim services agency in the United States, stated that stalking behavior can be considered harmless because it doesn’t necessarily cause physical harm, but is necessary to be taken more seriously. “”[Stalking] is one of the indicators of future lethal violence. So when stalking occurs in a relationship, we have to … deal with it seriously in order for the person to provide meaningful services to them, “Curtis said.
Although the typical age of stalking victims is between 18 and 24 years old, 44.5% of victims are over 25 years old, 10.5% between 35 and 44 years old and 7.6% over 45 years old. Grace was 40 years old when she started stalking.
Age seems to be irrelevant to the perpetrators’ tactics. The most common are unwanted messages and phone calls, followed by threats of physical harm and showing up at a victim’s location. Regardless of the age of the victim, the psychological effects can be the same.
“There is definitely very chronic trauma as a result of stalking. It is not just like acute trauma, which means that it is not just a stressful experience, and when the stalking stops, victims just go on with their normal it changes the chemistry in your brain to have such a scary experience, “said Liza Mordkovich, psychotherapist and founder of the Brooklyn Center for Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. The permanent effects can be PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.
“In general, we’re programmed to remember the bad things that happened to us because it’s like a survival mechanism. When you touch a hot oven as a kid … you will remember for the rest of your life An oven, so if you have an experience like this that is really about safety, you’ll never forget it, “she explained.
Grace only felt safe when she moved overseas. Failing to obtain the restraining order, she bought a shotgun – she felt compelled to break her belief in firearms to protect herself and those she loved – and hastened her plans to move to another country pull. Since her ex was put on the no-fly list after his involvement in a green card scam, Grace knew he could never reach her if she had settled in a foreign country.
But Mordkovich said that even when the threat no longer exists, many victims face mental health problems that can manifest in other areas of their lives. Early evidence-based treatments such as cognitive processing therapy and dialectical behavior therapy are helpful and sometimes necessary. Support groups can also be very effective.
Stalking during the pandemic
Since March we have been told that we and others will stay home when we stay home. Unfortunately, this is not always the case for victims of stalking.
Research into the effects of COVID-19 on stalking explains that isolating quarantine may increase stalkers’ feelings of rejection and increase fixations, leading to increased stalking behavior. The victims’ inability to leave the home means that the perpetrators always know their whereabouts. According to a study by digital security company Avast, online spyware usage increased 51% between March and June 2020.
Curtis stated that her agency removed and distributed most of their programs to combat this. “We were very strategic, especially early on, to make sure the survivors knew that many of our programs were working remotely,” she said.
Safe Horizon’s live chat option was expanded to include more advocates, and the agency worked virtually with government partners and other organizations to help the victims.
Ways To Get Help When You Are Being Followed
Fortunately, there are many resources available to victims of stalking. “There is a network of domestic violence and sexual programs across the country,” Landhuis explained.
Victims can call hotlines such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline or the National Sexual Assault Hotline, both of which also offer live chat. Experienced attorneys provide support, exchange information, and refer callers to appropriate programs nearby.
And if one of your friends is a target for stalking or some other form of intimate partner violence, the best you can do is be around. Social support can have a major positive impact on permanent mental health problems. Check in and ask your friend what he needs.
“Don’t necessarily give advice … just listen. Ask someone how they’re feeling and just create this safe space,” Mordkovich said.
The Stalking Prevention, Awareness & Resource Center
National hotline for domestic violence
National hotline for sexual assault