BY JAMIE LOBER
The National Center for Victims of Crime launched National Stalking Awareness Month in 2004, and community members across the globe have acknowledged it ever since. The idea is to raise awareness and create multidisciplinary responses to crime so we have better outcomes. The stalker is essentially a criminal trying to exert control and power. When you familiarize yourself with the laws and follow your gut, you will be able to stay safer.
In North Carolina stalking includes harassment. “The biggest thing is that stalking is something that is unwanted or something that would be considered abnormal, like someone paying way too much attention to your whereabouts or comings and goings and you are either not okay with that, or do not know they are doing it up front,” said Kim Palmer, community outreach and engagement coordinator at Family Services, Inc. in Winston-Salem. The state law specified examples of stalking such as someone continuing to call you after you have asked them to stop, leaving obscene messages, driving by your home or workplace and intimidating you, or damaging or threatening to damage your property. Our state also has a law dedicated to cyberstalking, which refers to threatening, malicious behaviors online.
While stranger danger is a reality, it does not always apply to stalking. “Most of the time the stalker is someone they know or at least someone they have encountered in some setting,” said Palmer. This does not change the fact that the behavior is inappropriate and bad. “It can happen to anyone just like all sorts of family violence and abuse,” said Palmer. If you feel you may be stalked, the best thing you can do is speak up. “If you have more people trying to be aware, you have more of a chance of noticing odd behaviors,” said Palmer.
There are things you can do to minimize your risk such as using the buddy system and parking in well-lit areas near your destination. You may feel comfortable in a routine, but it is wise to switch things up from time to time. “Change up your behavior because stalking individuals are simply picking up on regular behaviors to know where you are,” said Palmer. This can be as basic as changing a time you typically leave your house or driving a different route to go somewhere. If you or someone you know has been victimized, do not assign blame. “Sometimes you can put the best plan in action and things still occur, but if you are proactive about your safety, it definitely minimizes the chances of those types of encounters,” said Palmer.
Stalkers should be reported. “If someone feels they are not safe, they need to reach out, file a report and take advantage of the community resources because stalking is against the law,” said Palmer. The appropriate course of action may be situation-dependent. “For an intimate partner you would need to put into place legal paperwork, whether it be a restraining order, filing criminal charges, reaching out to law enforcement community, letting those around you know what is going on and even having a safety word with a family member or coworker so if you say it they know to call the police,” said Palmer. Having a safety plan in place is key. “We tell a lot of clients in domestic violence situations which could coincide with stalking to have a safety plan, clothing put aside and copies of important documents that are stored at another location,” said Palmer.
We can hope that raising awareness on stalking will make a difference here in Forsyth County. “The key to substantially decreasing these incidents involves community education, collaborating with nonprofits and agencies, so there is education out there,” said Palmer.
The community makes it clear that stalking is not tolerated. Whether it is emotional, physical or financial abuse, if you or someone you know is in a stalking situation, seek help and get into a safe environment without delay.