Today: Jun 16, 2024

Watch out for stalkers

January was Stalking Awareness Month, a time when events, email blasts and blog posts generated across the world aimed at spreading awareness of stalking prevention. I think we should use this as an opportunity to think about and discuss how a small number of people use online social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace to stalk others, and what we can do as a community to respond to stalking behaviors.
Stalking as defined by the National Center for Victims of Crime is, “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” Stalking, whether online or offline, is a serious offense that results in stiff legal penalties and great emotional harm for victims. In fact, it is estimated that 3.4 million people over the age of 18 are stalked annually each year in the United States alone. One in 4 of these cases are through some form of technology such as text messaging and email.
There is a spectrum of stalking behaviors that range from a stalker following someone home to constant and creepy Facebook wall posts. But if these actions cause others to fear someone, it is stalking. The uncertainty of the behavior causes victims great distress; many fear that the behavior will never stop or that it will get worse. One journal reported that high prevalence of anxiety and insomnia, social dysfunction and severe depression are among stalking victims. I do not think we need statistics to tell us there is a problem, as I am sure we all have known someone to experience stalking-like behaviors that set off “red flags” through email, text messages, websites, and online social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
I believe that we as a community should take steps to address stalking behaviors, particularly when they occur online. We should begin thinking about the components of a healthy relationship, and whether respect, honesty, trust and communication exist in whichever relationship we are thinking of. As I often say to people, the core of the problem is not the technology, but rather, how someone abuses it because of his or her unhealthy behavior.
There is a lot of information and resources for family members, friends, coworkers and victims who want to learn more and try to stop stalking behaviors. The Stalking Resource Center is a national organization dedicated to raising awareness about stalking in all its forms and can be found online at The Men’s Initiative and Women’s Center located in Schwartz Hall on the lower level are on-campus offices that have information pertaining to stalking and how victims or friends, family, or coworkers of victims may address stalking.
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