When people think of gender violence, they may think of crimes involving physical violence, such as sexual assault or domestic abuse. While stalking may not immediately spring to mind, it is a serious crime that can absolutely devastate its victims — even if it does not involve a single instance of physical violence.
Stalking can take many forms, but at its heart, it’s a pattern of behavior that makes you feel scared, anxious, harassed, or as though you’re in danger. It includes anything from a stalker: knowing your schedule and showing up to the places you go, or repeatedly calling, texting or emailing you, or even posting things about you online. In this era of rapidly advancing technology, stalkers have found new ways to harass, track or frighten their targets, such as using location data from a smart phone or social media postings. Stalking can occur in a relationship, or between total strangers.
Although the laws on stalking vary, it is a crime in all 50 states In Pennsylvania, stalking is defined as a course of conduct or communications that demonstrate an intent to place another person in fear of bodily harm or substantial emotional distress. Pennsylvania is one of the 66% of states that classifies a first-time stalking offense as a misdemeanor. You can check your state’s stalking laws here.
One of the most challenging aspects of stalking for the victims is that their loved ones often do not understand why they are so upset or afraid. Because the individual acts often do not involve violence — and may even seem sweet, like leaving notes or small gifts — others may have a hard time understanding why the victim is terrorized by it. This is partially due to the warped notion of romance often presented in pop culture, where creepy and disturbing behavior often results in the guy “getting the girl.” In reality, stalking isn’t romantic: it’s predatory and terrifying. 1 in 7 victims of stalking will move to a new residence in an attempt to stop the stalking behavior, and 1 in 8 employed stalking victims will lose time from work as a result of the stalking. Even more disturbing, 76% of female homicide victims who were killed by an intimate partner had been stalked by that partner as a lead up to the homicide, and 54% of these victims reported the stalking to the police before they were killed by their stalkers.
Stalking is a grave crime, with serious repercussions for the victims. This may include feeling vulnerable, anxious, depressed, irritable, stressed or confused, and having eating problems and flashbacks. If you are or have been a victim of stalking, please know that there is help. Blackburn Center offers trauma-informed therapy, which emphasizes emotional, psychological and physical safety for our clients. These services, along with many others, are offered free of charges to all victims of violence, including stalking victims.
If someone you know is being stalked, believe them. Listen and show support. Don’t blame the victim for what is happening to them. If you need to talk to someone about the situation, call our hotline at 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122.
Finally, even if your life has not be personally affected by stalking, you can be part of the solution by not minimizing this serious crime. Don’t joke about it, and don’t buy into the false narrative that it’s romantic for a man to stalk a woman. You can also get involved, right here in Westmoreland County, by joining Blackburn Center in our mission to end all forms of violence. Click the links below to find out more about how you can be a part of the solution!