As we end Sexual Assault Awareness Month it is important to not only reflect on the progress we have made but to look at this as a time to see where we can progress and do better. One of the ways we have progressed is the Violence Against Women Act, passed in March 2021 this act’s purpose is defined by the National Network to End Domestic Violence as :
“The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) creates and supports comprehensive, cost-effective responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.”
This act is a strong move forward in efforts to not only protect people against these acts of violence but prevent further violence. However, I believe we have fallen short in our social justice efforts to understand different types of violence. That begins with the ‘and’ in the purpose statement for VAWA.
From our socialized understanding to law enforcement, and beyond stalking is something that is vastly misunderstood. I believe the general population looks at stalking as someone who is following you everywhere and breaking into your house as what solely defines stalking, and while it can include those things there is a better way to understand what behaviors constitute stalking. It is important to spread access to this information around stalking so we can identify it and protect ourselves, our friends, and our community from this type of violence.
SPARC, the Stalking Prevention Awareness Resource Center is an organization funded by the department of justice that does work in training law enforcement on handling cases of stalking as well as providing resources for families and victims to understand stalking and what they can do to protect themselves. Their work has been crucial in helping ensure the general public has access to both educational resources and victim resources. They have helped me a better understanding of what behaviors are considered by defining stalking on their page:
“A pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for the person’s safety or the safety of others; or suffer substantial emotional distress.”SPARC ( https://www.stalkingawareness.org/definition-faqs/ )
These patterns of behaviors can be anything from showing up unwanted but also can be unwanted contact of any kind like text, phone calls, social media contact, unwanted gifts, unwanted contact with family/friends, and more that is included in behaviors that are considered stalking. I think a common misconception in reading behaviors that constitute stalking is seeing behaviors like unwanted gifts and thinking how could that cause someone fear. In feminism, we are encouraged to look beyond ourselves and see how context plays a role in other people’s life the same is true for stalking. Fear is a subjective feeling SPARC uses the example of receiving flowers “A bouquet of roses is not scary on its own. But when a victim receives a bouquet from an abusive ex-boyfriend who she recently relocated to get away from – and she did not think he knew where her new home was – this flower delivery becomes terrifying and threatening.” (SPARC). This is crucial information for people responding to these reports as well as the family and friends of the victim. Victims of stalking should feel supported and seen when addressing their situation because they’re feeling a threat to their own personal safety- which makes understanding someone’s context and validating all that more important. Stalking being our ‘and’ means that media coverage, police training, and victims advocacy training on how to handle it often fall short.
However, the lack of understanding does not mean there is a lack of cases of stalking. One in six women and one and seventeen men are victims of stalking. These statistics should be jarring and should make you assess the people around you and their different circumstances. Maybe you are aware of someone who has been stalked or maybe you are not however that does not diminish the prevalence in cases of stalking. Anyone can be a victim of stalking, perpetrators are often intimate partners, friends, or even family members. We as a society need to acknowledge the threat stalking poses to someone’s safety.
misinformation: “I wish I got that attention.”
We are not unfamiliar with stalking as it is displayed in mainstream media however, the way it is displayed and the conversations around it are often problematic which has led to misinformation about stalking. In TV and movies, we have a romanticized viewpoint of stalking in shows like ‘You’ being the most direct displays of stalking behavior. Romantic comedies often display ‘persistent’ male roles that romanticize unwanted contact like twilight, where Edward is constantly surveying Bellas’s every move. For Hollywood purposes, it is supposed to be seen as his protection of her but the reality of this is it is more of a threat. If a friend or family member told you that someone was watching them despite asking for space you would not tell them that is romantic. A lot of common issues though are that people are responding to this by saying things like “I wish I got that type of attention” or minimizing someones feeling by saying “Just ignore them they will go away”. Victims often understand the behaviors of their perpetrators and responding in this way does nothing to help a victim cope or seek proper help in their situation. Having large consumed media that normalizes this behavior makes it more difficult for all of us to understand these behaviors as it happens to us or to someone we know. A more real-life example would be the behaviors displayed by Kanye West on social media toward his ex-wife Kim Kardashian. If you are not familiar he has made several attempts to contact her sending her flowers, sharing their texts, making threats to her new boyfriend, and even buying a house across from her. The conversation around this has been ‘that’s just Kanye’ and the circulation of memes poking fun at his behavior. I have felt significant sympathy with Kim Kardashian, although she is a celebrity no one deserves to have their safety at threat and to hear the media instigate these very real scary behaviors displayed by Kanye has to make it worse. If Kim wanted to there are legal actions she could take against Kanye. That is where people don’t understand that he is committing very real crimes before all of our eyes.
These behaviors happen in different ways and as mentioned it is important to consider the context for victims. A lot of different resources would recommend documenting the incidents whether it be taking screenshots, pictures of damage, call logs, etc. Each victim will have their own idea of what is best for them. Some people will want to take legal actions against stalkers some will want to talk to them to stop it, and some want to stop contact from blocking on social media. It is recommended that you reach out to victim advocates that can help you understand what the best course of action could be for you. Although there is no specific hotline offered by SPARC they offer resources incident logs and domestic violence hotlines. Just because there may not have been physical violence that has occurred domestic violence hotlines can help provide you with the resources that you may need.
There are options for victims of stalking. While legislation around stalking varies between states there are options available to protect victims. Our universal understanding of stalking is limited but there are resources available. In your own community, it is important to advocate for proper training for law enforcement and mental health. SPARC offers training and information that you can provide your community with. As a college student, I would like to see this information accessible and talked about more on my campus. Organizations like SPARC have created so many different resources like infographics for college students and talking points for educators for talking about stalking. With all the available information out there it is a shame that our communities are not taking the time to ensure they provide these services. We need to do better for victims in making a safer space for them. You can also donate to these organizations that are putting in the work to create safer communities so they have the resources to continue their work. So I ask as a reader, to see what your community provides for victims and ask that they do better. Every person is entitled to their safety.
Listed below are some important resources provided by SPARC: