The U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that an estimated 3.4 million people are stalked every year. Although males and females can become victims, females are at a higher risk of being stalked. People ages 18-24 experience the highest rates of stalking. About 60% of stalking victims do not report the crime to law enforcement.
I was stalked during my junior year in college. It was during one of my visits to the computer lab that I encountered the man we call “Stalker Jeff.”
I walked into the computer lab after my morning class as usual. As I started up SPSS (a computer program used by the psychology department for statistical analysis), I noticed a man get up from a computer in the corner to sit right next to me. He didn’t even wait to get comfortable in his chair to start conversing with me. I tried to answer his questions as short and vague as possible, all the while, trying to think of a nice way to let him know that I did not want to be bothered.
After a while, he pulled out a card and handed it to me. It was not a business card, but a personal card with his name, major, phone number, email, and myspace url. I looked at the card, then looked at him, and firmly said, “I’m not giving you my number.”
“It’s okay,” Jeff said. “You don’t have to. My card is for networking only.” Networking, innocent enough. I took his card.
The next day, he sat next to me again. In a room with more than 50 computers, he sat right next to me. And again. And again. And again. I started to realize a pattern. Jeff would walked in and sit next to me 5 minutes after I entered the lab. It didn’t matter if I stayed 15-20 minutes after class to speak with classmates or the professor, he always walked in after I did. He never greeted me when I was with someone. He only talked to me when I was alone. Then I started to see him wherever I went on campus. In the cafeteria. Down the hall. In the parking lot. Stalking wasn’t even on my mind. It was a university. I am bound to see him.
As time passed, Jeff’s constant prying into my personal life made me feel very uncomfortable. I feared him. I finally told one of my friends during lunch at school. This guy might be stalking me, I told her. Even before I could say anything else, Rose exclaimed, “I know who you’re talking about!” I sat there, shocked and bewildered, listening to Rose’s story of Jeff. Her story was very similar to mine.
Wondering if it could be the same guy, Rose and I looked up his myspace profile. It was the same guy. Rose told me of how he had stalked other women she knew—all in school settings.
I started to avoid the computer lab after that. I still saw Jeff around campus, especially the cafeteria (always standing around, looking, and staring at people, staring at my friends and me). Next semester, I bought myself a laptop, avoided places on campus I had gone the semester before, and went home during my long breaks between classes.
It’s been years since graduation, and just recently, my friend, Sam, encountered him at Borders. Jeff came up to her under the pretense that he was her former client (she used to work at a salon). He gave her his card for “networking” and demanded she text him right then and there, just in case she “lost” his card.
The next day, he started flooding her inbox with text messages. “Hello? When are you going to call me? You said you would. Why aren’t you calling me?” She took a second look at his card. It was then she realized she had given her number to the stalker girls from college spoke about.
“All states have anti-stalking laws, but the legal definitions vary. Some state laws require that the perpetrator, to qualify as a stalker, make a credible threat of violence against the victim. Others require only that the stalker’s conduct constitute an implied threat. The National Institute of Justice’s Model Anti-Stalking Code doesn’t require stalkers to make a credible threat, but it does require victims to feel a high level of fear.” (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse). (You can read the updated Model Anti-Stalking Code here).
In California, stalking is defined by Penal Code 646.9(a) as an act by a person who “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or willfully and maliciously harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family.” This means that you cannot get a restraining order (also called protective order) against a stalker unless that person makes a threat to harm you or your family. Since I live in California, I wouldn’t have been able to get a restraining order against Stalker Jeff because he didn’t threaten me. Even though he constantly stalked and harassed me, there is basically nothing I can do about it. What would people think or say if I told them there is a man stalking me? “Oh, he’s just interested in you, that’s all. Don’t make such a big deal out of it.”
It’s quite frustrating that in the United States (where most people believe we have come a long way from being discriminated against and victimized) that victims of crimes (such as stalking, sexual harassment, rape, or abuse) have to go out of their way to make themselves feel safe again. When I was being stalked by Jeff, I had to stop going to the places I frequented for fear of him being there. I had to change the way I studied and the way I socialized at school.
Additionally, the Internet makes it even easier for stalkers to prey on their victims. Online networking websites such as Facebook (especially the check-in feature), Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, and Myspace are great ways a stalker can stalk you with the press of a button. No need for stalkers to get out of the house anymore.
The media portrays stalking unrealistically. “When stalking is depicted as romantic or comical, or used casually to sell services and merchandise, it can be damaging and hurtful for victims and survivors. Additionally, it can influence our perceptions of stalking, minimizing or trivializing this very dangerous and potentially lethal behavior.” (National Center for Victims of Crime).
Virgin Mobile’s cell phone commercial. Marshall’s Creek billboard. T-shirts such as this, this, this, this, and this. These are all examples of the media and society influencing and minimizing the dangers of stalking. Stalking is a serious crime. I do not find any of these examples funny or romantic at all.
Going through what I went through with Stalker Jeff was one of the most scariest experiences of my life. I still cringe when I meet people and they tell me about their encounters with him.