Stalking, Fear, and Context
Many survivors do not realize that they have been victims of Stalking. Stalking is a commonly misused term, so what exactly is Stalking? Stalking is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear, and it’s a crime in all 50 states. Because of the legal definitions, it’s important to remember that Stalking is not just a repetitive behavior or simply looking at all of someone’s photos on social media.
For example, if a repetitive behavior is unwanted but does not cause fear, then that would be annoying but not Stalking. If the repetitive behavior is creepy and annoying, then that would be harassment. Fear is really the key indicator in recognizing Stalking.
Many tribes lack Stalking codes, and fewer tribes have protocols to respond to Stalking incidents. Those that do have codes may focus prosecution around proving intent. Those types of codes are problematic because it is so difficult to prove intent.
Most state statutes require proof of:
- A course of conduct, or a pattern, which is more than 2 or 3 incidents;
- No legitimate purpose for the Stalker to be where they were during the time of the incident;
- Actual or potential fear; and
- Knowledge that the behavior could or would cause fear.
Stalkers are creative and use tactics that may seem innocent if service providers do not take the time to understand the context. When you are feeling confused as to why the victim is afraid, ask! Most Stalking perpetrators are current or former intimate partners, and the Stalking begins before the relationships end. These perpetrators know exactly how to intimidate victims without being obvious about their intent. It benefits Stalkers to make victims look “crazy”. Learning more about the context of a Stalking incident will reveal a lot about the threat level. We all have “inside jokes” with those closest to us. Stalkers have “inside threats”.
The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC) has a variety of tools for you to use when a housing or shelter participant is experiencing stalking, which is very likely in Domestic Violence cases.
Some resources from SPARC, include:
This guide provides information that includes the intersection of Stalking with other crimes, common victim reactions, address confidentiality programs, and Protection Orders.
Unfortunately, evidence collection tends to fall on the Stalking victim. A Stalking Incident and Behavior Log can help with collecting evidence and looking for patterns. Escalating behaviors or “bursts” of behaviors are signs of increased danger. If possible, Advocates can give out Stalking Kits that include cell phones, tape recorders, the Stalking Log, brown paper bags and any other collection methods. However, always keep the old phone and keep it on, in order to continue recording incidents and to prevent the Stalker from trying to find out the new cell phone number.
Safety Plans for Shelters and Housing Programs
What are some key considerations for safety planning with survivors in shelter and housing programs?
First, keep in mind that the goal of safety planning is to balance safety and autonomy. The goal is not for survivors to stop using social media, stop going to community events, and otherwise isolate themselves. Abusive tactics thrive when survivors are isolated. Survivors may want to continue engaging in cultural and social activities, or start joining those activities. How can the things that bring joy become safer? Our role is to offer options, and to help think through the safety planning process.
Second, safety plans need to be holistic. They should address a survivor’s emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental needs and goals. Many safety plans only focus on physical safety, while leaving out options for emotional safety. As an example, a survivor may want to keep sage or lavender close, to use when they are feeling triggered.
Third, comprehensive safety plans are the best safety plans. Comprehensive safety plans would include all of the places that the survivor goes… not just the shelter or housing program. What are the safety plans at school, work, community locations, and online? What is the plan for transportation to and from these places? Then, of course, you will want to consider safety planning at home, which may be a shelter or housing unit.
Property damage is common in Stalking cases, which is another reason that it’s helpful to brainstorm different ideas for improved lighting, locks, and other security measures. While it would be ideal to keep the location of housing and shelter programs a secret, it’s especially unlikely and difficult in rural and tribal communities, where families are deeply interconnected. Everyone knows everyone, and Advocates cannot depend on secret locations to keep survivors safe. Therefore, it’s a good practice to help create safety plans under the assumption that perpetrators will know where survivors are living.
If you have questions or are interested in more resources to respond to Stalking in your shelter or housing program, please contact Wyanet Tasker at Wyanet@Red-Wind.net.
This project is supported by Grant №2015-TA-AX-K069 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this presentation are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.