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Stalking is the damaging course of behavior involving unwelcomed communications and invasions constantly inflicted by one individual onto another (McKeon, McEwan, & Luebbers, 2015). The problem with stalking usually occurs after the victim leaves the partner. When that happens, stalking is one of the techniques used by abusive perpetrators to exercise their power over a prior or current partner (Hines, Malley-Morrison, & Dutton, 2013). Many view this problem as less serious in comparison to other crimes because they assume that there are no threats to the victim. However, it is the opposite of what people think. Becoming a victim of stalking can have negative consequences on the victim’s general quality of health, resulting in posttraumatic stress disorder and other mental health disorders.
The magnitude of stalking is extremely high due to the use of technology. Instead of physically following a victim, perpetrators can now go online and look up their information. Furthermore, the perpetrator may never have to meet the victim in person, but rather stalk the victim using social media such as Facebook and Instragram (Anderson, 2010). One of the current trends of stalking is it begins when the victim breaks up with the perpetrator. When a victim leaves an abusive relationship, the perpetrator resort to intimate partner stalking because they may be dependent on physically, sexually, or psychologically maltreating the victim (Hines et al, 2013). Perpetrators may use this to exert control over the victim, resulting in them coercing the victim back into the relationship. Additionally, the perpetrator may shower them with unwanted gifts, performing unsolicited favors, and showing up uninvited. Furthermore, the rate of intimate partner stalking is on the rise due to the advancement of technology. According to Anderson 2011, people are more prone in becoming victims of cyber stalking rather than physical stalking. Cyber stalking is the process of stalking a person online using emails, instant messaging, and having access to their personal information (Anderson, 2011). For example, many teenagers now post their entire lives without thinking about the risk factors. Those who use Facebook, Instagram, and other social media are at a higher risk of becoming victims of cyber stalking.
There are many risk factors to why a person may become a victim of stalking. For females, there are both macrosystem and microsystem level risk factors. The macrosystem level risk factors include unemployment and those who earn less than $7,000 annually. As a female’s income increases, the risk level decreases (Hines et al. 2013). One of the most significant risk factors for the microsystem level is at the end of an intimate relationship. The reasons may include the perpetrator missing the victim or wants to assert control over the victim to coerce them back into the relationship. Furthermore, the perpetrator may have also been abused a child because a stalker’s characteristics includes insecure attachment, abandonment and loss issues, highly sensitive to rejection, emotional unstable, low on conscientiousness and agreeableness (Churcher & Nesca, 2013). These stalker characteristic are shockingly similar to children who have been abused at a young age. Additionally, the characteristics for females that increases the risk of stalking includes those between the ages of 18 and 29, living in privately rented locations, college students, single, and are poor.
There are also many risk factors for males for stalking on the macrosystem, microsystem, and the exosystem level. At the macrosystem level, men who do not have a diploma or a degree are at a increased risk in comparison to those who do (Hines et al, 2013). For the microsystem level, men with limiting illness or disability and separated from their spouses are at risk. Under the exosystem level, men living in rural areas are at a significant risk of becoming a stalking victim. One of the reasons why living in a rural location may have a higher chance of being a victim is because the perpetrator may not be socialized in comparison to those living in an urban area (Hines et al., 2013). Additionally, living in a rural location may limit the amount of potential partners in the immediate area and force the perpetrator to coerce the victim into a relationship.
College students are also at a risk of becoming stalking victims. Under the microsystem level, those who are in a relationship that are dependent on love and possessive are more susceptible to stalking (Hines et al, 2013). Furthermore, intimate partner stalking for college students happen earlier and those in a relationship that repeatedly breakup are also frequent to stalking (Shorey, Cornelius, & Strauss, 2015). One of the reasons may be where the perpetrator assumes that they always breakup and get back together and if he or she stalks the victim, they will be together again. In addition, females college students have a higher chance of becoming stalking victims when they are from an affluent family, visit locations that serve alcohol frequently, international students, belong in an sorority, freshman, and victims of rape or attempted rape at the university. According to Hines et al. 2013, intimate partner stalking perpetrators in college have antisocial, narcissistic, histrionic, borderline and paranoid personality characteristics. Furthermore, they have insecure attachment, utilize psychological and verbal abuse, have problems with jealousy and anger, and have a need for control.
There have been positive response to combat stalking from the criminal justice system. By 1996, the United States has enacted laws that criminalized stalking (Hines et al. 2013). However, many law enforcement agencies still do not know how to respond to handling stalker complaints nor have an policies or personnel that knows the procedure in dealing with it. Furthermore, the legal definition for stalking and cyber stalking still differ across jurisdictions (Anderson, 2011). For example, if a perpetrator is arrested in one county for a type of stalking, another perpetrator may not be arrested in a different county for doing the exact type of stalking. Furthermore, the criminal justice system does not see relational stalking seriously despite the damages it can cause to the victim. For example, if a male victim reports that they are a victim of intimate partner stalking, law enforcement officers were less likely to report, arrest, detain the perpetrator, or refer him to victim services (Campbell & Moore, 2011). They were also less likely to receive a restraining or protective order. Additionally, many men victims are hesitant to report that they are victims of intimate partner stalking because of the stigma that they are “macho” and that they will not be taken seriously.
The policy many law enforcement officers utilize are referring victims to court services and suggesting a protection order (Strand & Belfrage, 2008). Even if the perpetrator is detained, they are rarely sentenced and receive an insignificant punishment. Many people assume law enforcement officers cannot do much and should focus their attention on real crime. Instead, law enforcement officers should work and protect victims by completing a stalking log to document the perpetrator’s behavior. Using the stalking log, they can record all of the behavior and submit it as evidence to the court when necessary (Strand & Belfrage, 2008). In order to take stalking seriously and protect the victim, the criminal justice system needs to develop stalking protocols across the nation and train officers on stalking deterrence. Experts on stalking recommend using formal social institutions such as utilizing mental health treatment providers, domestic violence shelters, housing associations, faith-based programs, victim advocacy programs, neighborhood watch programs, and colleges (Strand & Belfrate, 2008). On many college campuses, college administrators are addressing stalking by providing handouts with information on stalking and publishing newsletters about victim services. Furthermore, many campuses now have events to bring stalker awareness to the students.
There are individuals and communities that respond poorly to stalking. Many tell the victim that they should be flattered that someone is paying so much attention and showering them with gifts (McKeon et. al, 2015). They are misinformed and do not know how physically and mentally damaging it is. However, there are those who take it seriously and want to help. There are informal systems out there such as family, friends, neighborhoods, and communities that come together and respond to stalking in relationships. Rather than minding their own business, neighbors need to watch out and help each other. Furthermore, they may even form a neighborhood watch and report any suspicious activity. Individuals from diverse backgrounds and communities can prevent and intervene stalking because they may have experience on how to deal with them. For example, a neighbor may have been a prior victim of stalking and now how to respond in order to stop the stalker.
Communities can better address stalking in order to reduce its prevalence and impact by hosting awareness events. These events can inform the community what is stalking, suspicious behaviors, the characteristics of a stalking victim, and how to address it. It is hard for a victim to address a stalker on their own, especially if law enforcement officers do not have the experience nor think it is worth their time. Instead, utilizing informal responses such as the community and neighbors to watch out for one another can help address the problem of stalking.
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