Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January is Stalking Awareness Month

The Advocates for Victims of Abuse Organization would like to remind everyone that January is Stalking Awareness Month.

Stalking is a very serious crime that is often under-reported. Those that have reported the crime are numbered at over 3 million people in the United States every year. Stalking victims are often stalked by someone they know or a person they were once in a relationship with. It is estimated that in every 1 out of 5 stalking cases, violence escalates and a weapon is used.

Stalking behavior may include, and is not limited to, unwanted phone calls, sending unsolicited or unwanted letters or e-mails, following or spying on their victim, showing up at places without having a legitimate reason, waiting at places for the victim, leaving unwanted items, presents or flowers, and posting information or spreading rumors about the victim online, in a public place or by word of mouth.

With the ever-growing field of technology, there’s a new way of stalking “cyber stalking”. Cyberstalkers often begin their stalking behavior in ways planned to cause distress to the victim, or make them the subject of harassment by others. They may pretend to be the victim and post offensive comments or send offensive messages in their name. They may send hateful communications to family, friends and coworkers, either posing as the victim or “anonymous”. The victim’s computer may be hacked or their email accounts broken into, or the password is changed and the victim locked out of their own accounts. Recently, the Department of Justice showed that technology, including Internet services such as email and instant messaging along with other technology, like GPS and computer spyware like IP sniffers, have been used to harass one in four stalking victims. That converts into about 1.2 million victims whose stalkers have used some form of technology to find them no matter where they are.

Nevada Revised Statue 200.575 states “A person who, without lawful authority, willfully or maliciously engages in a course of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated or harassed, and that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated or harassed, commits the crime of stalking.” The NRS under Section 3 has been amended to include technology to say “A person who commits the crime of stalking with the use of an Internet or network site or electronic mail or any other similar means of communication to publish, display or distribute information in a manner that substantially increases the risk of harm or violence to the victim shall be punished for a category C felony as provided in NRS 193.130.” Stalking IS a crime and should never be taken lightly.

The fear a stalking victim feels has additional consequences. Anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression are only a few of the serious side effects a victim may experience, and these issues rarely go away when the stalking stops. Many will suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which can take years to overcome. Victims of stalking may be eligible for the Nevada Victims of Crime Program, more information can be found at their website: www.voc.nv.gov or by contacting an advocate at AVA.

If a person believes they may be a victim of stalking or cyberstalking, contact your local law enforcement. Save any information such as emails, texts, virus scans that show positive for a tracer, etc. Emails and logs can be traced by ISP. Remember: No one has the right to harass or threaten anyone or make them fear their safety. For more information, please contact the Stalking Resource Center at the National Center for Victims of Crime at www.ncvc.org or AVA at www.humboldtava.com

As the old proverb says, “A life lived in fear is a life half lived”. It’s our hope that by working together for our community’s safety and well-being that we may help those in need to no longer live in fear.

From Victim to Survivor: A True Story

From Victim to Survivor: A True Story

This is part of a series on the first-hand experience of a survivor of sexual assault.

I thought things would go back to normal once my best friend, Susie*, and I were talking again, but they didn’t. I still could not sleep, I would break down in tears often, I got migraines frequently and could not concentrate on school, and I didn’t want to hang out with my friends or do anything. To top all of that off, the guy who had assaulted me had began following me around school.

Susie had tried to convince me to tell my parents what happened. I was terrified at the idea of anyone knowing what had happened. Now Joe* was cornering me at school when Susie wasn’t around. I told him to leave me alone but he acted like I was kidding. Didn’t he know how much he hurt me or care?

I hurried through the hallways to avoid him. One day I heard him behind me calling my name. I rushed to get away and he grabbed my arm. I screamed and ran to the bathroom, passing Susie in my frantic rush. Locked in the bathroom stall, I had my first panic attack.

That was my breaking point. I knew I couldn’t keep pretending nothing happened. That night I told my sister about the rape and she held my hand as I told my parents. My father called the police and they came to the house to take my statement. They explained the investigative process and suggest my parents talk to the school to keep Joe away from me or we could get a protection order.
Joe was arrested not long after that, and things escalated. His friends began harassing me at school. They would follow me yelling “rape!”, “slut” and “go kill yourself”, along with other slurs. The school wasn’t much help; they told me to ignore it but did nothing to stop it.

At this time, I was talking with the District Attorney who walked me through the court process. Telling more strangers such intimate details about the most horrible event in my life was humiliating and I felt like they were all judging me. I had to go to school every day and be bullied by Joe’s friends’; my friends would get into fight with his: it was a mess. Everyone at school knew what happened and either pitying me or stayed away. My family didn’t know how to talk to me. They avoided the subject completely and if I tried to talk about it they would tell me not to think about it.

Before I reported the rape, I was the only one suffering. Now my family and friends seem worried and stressed. I was feeling overwhelmed with all of it and starting thinking maybe I should kill myself.

The more I thought of suicide, the better I felt: this would solve all my problems. One day, I planned it out. I was going to take a bottle of prescription pills my mother had. Thinking about it, I was happier, talkative, and ready for school to be over so I could set my plan in motion.

The last class of the day, my teacher asked me to stay after class for a moment. She asked why I was suddenly so different and upbeat, if something had happened. I told her no, I was feeling better. She stared at me for a moment, and told me she was there for me and not to think that this horrible time would last forever. She told me I could get through it and I would be a stronger person for it and people cared about me. Somehow, she knew what I was planning and she had just saved my life.

*Names have been changed.

This column is not is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice or treatment.