January 2023 marked the 19th annual Stalking Awareness Month, organized by the Stalking Prevention, Awareness & Resource Center (SPARC), which is based in Washington, DC. According to SPARC, an estimated 13.5 million people are stalked each year in the U.S. It says that nearly one in three women and one in six men experience stalking victimization at some point in their lives.
SPARC defines stalking as, “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’s website (stalkingawareness.org) lists common forms of stalking, including making unwanted phone calls, approaching the victim or showing up in spaces where they do not want them to, following or watching the victim, sending unwanted texts, emails and messages, sending unwanted gifts and using technology to monitor, track or otherwise spy on the victim. The slogan for Stalking Awareness Month is, “Know it, name it, stop it.”
FOUNDED BY DEBBIE RIDDLE
Stalking Awareness Month was founded by Debbie Riddle after her sister, Peggy Klinke, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend who had been stalking her. Even though she had reported him to the police and relocated, he tracked her down and murdered her before killing himself.
Anna Nasset, owner of Stand Up Resources based in Waitsfield, explained why building awareness of the dangerous crime of stalking, and the resources available, is so important.
“Back then (20 years ago) there was nothing about stalking,” Nasset said. “Nobody cared. There were so little resources, such little information. [Debbie] really channeled that pain and turned it into awareness, which is really incredible.”
Nasset was stalked for years by a man she did not know, which is why she relocated across the country to Vermont. Her perpetrator is currently serving 10 years in prison for that crime. At first, she didn’t want an advocate and wasn’t sure what to do. “As soon as I set foot in that advocacy center and got over my own fears, I knew that was what I needed. These are people who are trained to walk that process with you, to go to court appearances with you, to help you fill out a police report. They’re there with you in that really trauma-informed way.”
PREVALENCE IN THE COMMUNITY
Asked what people should know about stalking that they may not know, Nasset said, “One is its prevalence in our community. We always like to say ‘this is something that happens to somebody else’ or diminish it. Yes, I was stalked by a stranger and that might be what we see in the movies, but that’s not the norm. Most people know the person who stalked them -- either current or former intimate partner, an acquaintance, a friend.” SPARC says 40% of stalking victims are stalked by a former or current intimate partner and 42% are stalked by an acquaintance. “Seventy-six percent of all women killed by a former or current male partner had an element of stalking in the year prior. That really says that, if we have that awareness, if we start to look for those signs and seek out that help and are granted those services, that we can save lives.”
“If you’re starting to feel fearful of somebody, trust your gut. Document everything you see from that person and be open to those around you. Way too often we have the narrative of ‘oh, you’re overreacting,’ or ‘this isn’t a big deal.’ If someone opens up to you about any type of gender-based violence, we always want to start by believing and asking the person ‘how can I support you? What’s the next step you would like to take?’” She said help may be finding the right resources or accompanying them to speak to law enforcement or to legal proceedings. It may be something as simple as walking a coworker to their car at night or offering to help document contact with the offender.
“It doesn’t matter if that person’s not going to do a larger act of violence. It’s still an act of violence to your personhood, because it’s still psychologically fearful,” Nasset said. She added that social media and technology make it basically impossible to disappear.
Stand Up Resources provides trainings to law enforcement, advocates, prosecutors, the service industry and community members. It initially began specifically on the crime of stalking and has grown to look at other forms of gender-based violence and trauma.
Asked if she felt local businesses and the community have been responsive, Nasset said, “Absolutely.” One example she gave was working with the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce to put up posters in bathrooms throughout businesses in The Valley that list resources for victims of stalking, harassment and abuse. “I think that’s a really cool way that our community has stood up to a larger group of issues of gender-based violence or hate crimes, whatever it might be. I’ve been really impressed by the various people or businesses in this community who have reached out to me to get help for an employee or themselves. That also speaks to the fact that this is an issue in this community. This is happening here.”
She stressed that stalking awareness isn’t only important during Stalking Awareness Month.
“If somebody needs to pursue the criminal justice legal route, I recommend setting up a meeting with Circle (in Barre) and get an advocate first before you go to law enforcement. Stalking is a psychological crime, so by having an advocate with you, it really helps you walk through that process and understand the things that are going on and being said to you by law enforcement or a prosecutor or whoever it may be. It’s good to have that support. You don’t need to go through this alone.”
Find more information at standupresources.com.