Know the dangers of stalking

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 24, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Three out of four women killed by their intimate partners were stalked by that partner before they were killed, according to Suffolk Commonwealth Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson.

Most people associate stalking with celebrities like Madonna, Sheryl Crow or Britney Spears. Yet these cases, though dangerous and serious, are comparatively rare. Victims are usually ordinary people pursued by someone they know. Ferguson that what people don’t know about stalking may jeopardize their lives.


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He described a case in which a 19-year-old victim was shot to death by a former boyfriend. He began trailing her after she ended the year-long relationship. He filled her e-mail in-box, deluged her with flowers and gifts, called every night, every hour, begging her to come back. The answering machine was filled with messages every day, and he showed up at her college dorm, classrooms, and the library – virtually everywhere she went.

The young woman told him to stay away and told friends that he was annoying her. They cautioned her to be careful. She failed to talk with police about the situation, and the person grabbed her one evening, dragged her behind a building and shot her.

&uot;Stalking is a crime and all 50 states have passed laws that make it illegal to engage in stalking – a crime usually defined as a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a person to feel fear,&uot; said Ferguson. &uot;Stalking behavior can range from annoying and intrusive to terrifying and dangerous, and it can escalate to violence and frequently ends in murder.&uot;

He said stalking is shockingly common with more than one million women and 370,000 men are harassed every year in the United States. About one in 12 women and one in 45 men are stalked sometime in their lifetimes.

&uot;Stalking can dominate and devastate victims’ lives,&uot; said Ferguson. &uot;Victims live in constant fear of what their stalker might do. They may have trouble working, eating or sleeping, and some victims suffer disturbing flashbacks and nightmares.&uot;

Surprisingly, this stalking behavior goes on for an average of two years in which the victim feels trapped and vulnerable, he said.

Stalkers are not easily identifiable and they come from virtually every walk of life and socio-economic background. The attorney said they have no psychological profile, and the differences among stalkers make it hard to predict their behavior and find effective strategies to deter them.

&uot;The vast majority are obsessed with their victims, intent on controlling them, and determined to use any available means to keep their victims in their power,&uot; Ferguson said.

&uot;We want people to understand; they should trust their instincts and realize that stalkers are unpredictable and dangerous,&uot; said Ferguson. &uot;Victims should report the stalking to law enforcement and carefully document evidence by writing down the times, dates, and places they are stalked.&uot;

E-mails should be kept along with phone messages, letters, notes, and anything sent by the stalker. Victims should also alert friends and family about the stalking and enlist their support and help.

To mark Stalking Awareness Month, Diana Klink, the Community Outreach coordinator for the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, placed a display and resource materials in the lobby of the Godwin Courts Building. Those brochures are available free of charge to the public.

&uot;Our goal is to increase awareness of this crime and to provide the public with the information they need to protect themselves,&uot; said Ferguson. &uot;Police, prosecutors, advocates, educators, health care professionals, neighbors – everyone can and should play a part in ending stalking. Working together, we can make victims safer.&uot;

Klink is available by appointment to speak with clubs, churches, civic groups or individuals by calling 923-2238.