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By Melissa Lim
Celebrities and public figures aren't the only ones who can be victims of stalking. According to a report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in a 12-month period an estimated 3.4 million people over the age of 18 become victims of stalking in the United States. Young adults from ages of 18-24 experience the highest rate of stalking, and it is usually from someone the victim knows personally.
What is stalking—The U.S. Department of Justice defines stalking as "a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear." Stalking can occur in various patterns, from abusive and excessive calls/messages, trespassing, or even following the victim or the victim’s family and friends.
Stalking is a crime that can terrorize the victim, and many crimes involve attempted or completed sexual assault.
The danger of technology—With the development of the internet and smartphone applications, electronic stalking is on the rise. Online databases help make personal information more accessible to stalkers, and social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare give stalkers the ability to contact and follow victims. One in four victims report that their stalker uses technology. Be careful when publishing personal data online or “checking in” with GPS applications. Alter your settings so you have control over who can and can’t see your information.
What to do—Instead of remaining behind locked doors (60 percent of victims do not report incidents to police), take a proactive approach to the problem. Contact the proper authorities, such as campus police or your local law enforcement. They can help you file a police report, obtain a restraining order, and/or develop a personal safety plan specific to the situation. Locate safe places to go, such as domestic violence shelters, local churches, police stations, or homes of people that are unfamiliar to the stalker.
Other organizations, such as campus psychological services, can offer therapy and advise you on what safety precautions to take. Participating in support groups or talking to a counselor can help you deal with the emotional stress and anxiety of being a victim. Don’t be ashamed to seek help. Always remember that you are not alone!
January is National Stalking Awareness Month. Here are some resources: