January is national stalking awareness month. In an effort to provide more information and support for those dealing with this issue we reached out to the Public Awareness Manager of Safe Harbor, Jordan Pye. Safe Harbor is an organization that supports victims of domestic and/or sexual violence. Below is an article written by Jordan with information about stalking, signs for identifying if you’re a victim of stalking and how to get help if you are.
Stalking is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. It’s also disturbingly prevalent in the U.S. – an estimated 7 million men and women are stalked each year. The most unnerving fact about stalking is that the perpetrators are much closer than you think: More than 85 percent of victims are stalked by someone they know.
There’s a powerful connection between stalking and intimate partner violence, because about 60 percent of female victims and 40 percent of male victims are stalked by a current or former intimate partner. Stalking can be a tool for an abuser, and the majority of stalking victims report they were also abused by their intimate partner in other ways. Stalking can also be a predictor of more violent behavior, and it can even escalate to murder. Seventy-eight percent of women who were killed by an intimate partner had previously been stalked by them.
Safe Harbor is the only dedicated agency in Henrico County that provides free support and services to those impacted by stalking, sexual violence or intimate partner violence. Staff member Paz Ochs serves as Safe Harbor’s Sexual and Domestic Violence Court Advocate within Henrico County’s Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, where she helps people navigate the legal system. In the past year, she and her team of trained volunteer advocates served roughly 500 people impacted by stalking, sexual and intimate partner violence. Advocates do not give legal advice, but they can explain the legal process, help victims understand their options and provide support in and out of the courtroom.
“Stalking is so difficult. It’s like being possessed, or being haunted,” Ochs said. “At some point it’s like you’re in your own personal jail.”
A stalker could use combination of actions with the intent to control, track or frighten you. Two-thirds of stalkers pursue their victims once a week, often daily, but the majority of stalkers use more than one method to survey their victims. Some stalkers literally follow their victims, and they might drive by or hang out at your home, school or work. They could use technology to monitor your phone or computer use, record you on hidden cameras, or use GPS to track you and show up wherever you are.
Other stalkers may strike from a distance but make sure you know they’re watching. They might damage your home, car or property, or send you unwanted gifts, letters, cards or emails. They could try to find out about you through public records and online search services, or by hiring investigators or going through your garbage. A stalker could also try to find out about you by contacting your friends, family, neighbors or co-workers. They could harass you by sharing your personal information and pictures, or by spreading rumors about you in a public space or online. They might directly threaten to hurt you, your family, your friends or your pets.
Stalking can fill your daily activities with dread, and impact whether you can safely go to work or school or enjoy your social life. Victims may not know how to handle the situation safely, or they may blame themselves for “leading on” their stalker in the first place. Many victims worry that others won’t understand them or believe them if they ask for help.
Ochs and her volunteers typically help victims file for a family abuse Protective Order (P.O.) against their stalker, who is a former or current intimate partner, a relative or a household member. To obtain a P.O. in Virginia you must have been “subjected to an act involving violence, force, or threat that results in bodily injury or places you in reasonable fear of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury.” This includes actual assault or a direct threat to cause harm, such as, “I will kill you.” However, Ochs explained that a conditional threat such as, “If you do this, I will kill you,” doesn’t fall within the realm of criteria for a P.O. By skirting around the criteria, a stalker can harass their victim in a myriad of ways.
One Safe Harbor client reported that after she ended a relationship, her ex-boyfriend broke into her neighbor’s house while they were out of town so he could spy on her. Another client notified her landlord that she had moved out of state to escape her stalker, but her perpetrator managed to find out where she lived and asked the landlord to move into a unit specifically near hers. No matter how terrifying, situations like these might not meet the criteria for a P.O.
“Stalking is tricky,” Ochs said. “Each case is very unique. It takes more time, and it’s not as cut and dry as your standard assault.”
It’s also important to know that while a P.O. can grant you legal protection, it’s not the same as pressing criminal charges, and it can’t necessarily protect you from violence. With or without a P.O., a Safe Harbor advocate can help you evaluate your options and create a plan to stay safe in a variety of potential scenarios.
“I feel like the personalized safety plan is really important,” Ochs said. “The situation can be so very specific, and not as tangible as ‘She hit me, I filed a police report.’’ Ochs and her volunteers also give their clients stalking logs and advise them to document everything and try to establish a pattern. While building their case, victims can increase their protection and find support by telling others in their life about what’s happening to them.
Safety measures you can take on your own involve carefully guarding and hiding your personal information. Ochs suggests you can have your mail sent to a personal post office box, remove your address and phone number from phone books or listings, and don’t give your forwarding address to the post office when you move. Don’t post your location on social media, and be wary of how many identifying details you share with others. A quick look at the average Facebook profile will likely tell you where that person works, who their family is and where you can find them on a given Friday night. You can also learn more about protecting yourself from cyberstalking.
Remember, you deserve a life free from violence. You are not to blame for a stalker’s behavior, and no one has the right to threaten or harm you. If you or a loved one has been impacted by stalking, sexual or intimate partner violence, help is available –
- Residents of Henrico County who want to learn more about their legal options and resources can contact Paz Ochs at Safe Harbor’s court advocacy office by calling (804) 501-7696. Safe Harbor provides services in both English and Spanish, and all services are free of charge to anyone who has experienced sexual or domestic violence.
No matter where you live in the Richmond area, you can call the free and confidential Greater Richmond Regional Hotline (804.612.6126) 24/7 to speak with an advocate who can answer your questions, explore your options and help you plan for your safety.