Every morning at the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), as one of our first items of business, my staff and I check the headlines related to violence against women – many of those stories involve stalking. On just one day, I read about a murder suspect who was arrested for stalking a witness; a man who was found guilty by a federal jury of stalking his estranged wife and taking her across the state line; and a man who pled guilty to stalking a 13-year-old boy. This small sample illustrates just how complex, misunderstood, and highly underestimated the crime of stalking is in communities across our nation.
Stalking is more prevalent than many people realize, affecting more than six million people a year. One in 6 women and 1 in 19 men have experienced serious stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime. As the headlines suggest, anyone can be a victim of stalking, but females are nearly three times more likely to be stalked than males, and young adults have the highest rates of stalking victimization.
Unfortunately, stalking is still not widely recognized as a dangerous crime that is often a precursor for serious violence, including rape and homicide, and a terrifying aspect of domestic violence. The media too often trivializes it – portraying stalking as romantic or comedic rather than traumatizing and potentially lethal. We can all picture advertisements, songs and movies that send young people the insidious message that stalking is a way to express love. However, many of us are working to counteract these negative messages and speak out on behalf of victims in our communities.
This Administration is focused on the issue of stalking and has expressed its commitment to developing a strong criminal justice response and providing victims with the appropriate services and supports they need. As the President stated in his proclamation of January as National Stalking Awareness Month, the last year has seen remarkable efforts and marked progress in communities that are tackling this issue. I’d like to take a moment to recognize some of the exceptional work that is taking place nationwide:
- In Palm Beach County, Florida, victim service and criminal justice professionals formed an Anti-Stalking Multidisciplinary Collaborative. They received national and state training on stalking issues and developed an anti-stalking toolkit as a resource for all victim service professionals throughout Palm Beach County.
- The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence secured a grant to develop kits to help victims document stalking. The kits include logs, digital recorders, and other resources to assist victims in substantiating the stalking behaviors they experience.
- The University of Iowa organized a group of stakeholders to enhance campus policies that address stalking, including the student code of conduct, anti-violence policies and anti-sexual harassment policies.
- The Iowa Attorney General’s Crime Victim Assistance Division along with other agencies including the Law Enforcement Academy, Medical Examiner’s Office, Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the Departments of Public Health and Public Safety teamed up to conduct a series of multi-disciplinary conferences on responding to victims of stalking.
- The University of Kentucky Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History and OutrageUs launched “The Stalking Project,” a series of videos and other resources designed to educate and shine a spotlight on one of the nation’s most misunderstood areas of partner violence. The Stalking Project hopes to give voice to the often silent victims of stalking.
- Florida and Arizona strengthened their stalking statutes by amending their laws to include any contacts or threats made by electronic communication.
OVW has played an active role in educating and raising awareness about the crime of stalking. We fund both formula and discretionary grant programs that address the crime of stalking. The OVW-supported National Center for Victims of Crime Stalking Resource Center has provided training to tens of thousands of victim service providers and criminal justice professionals throughout the United States on stalking dynamics, legal remedies, multidisciplinary efforts, practitioner-specific practices, and the use of technology to stalk. I encourage you to visit their Stalking Awareness Month website to learn more about stalking and what you can do to stop it.
During Stalking Awareness Month, please take a few minutes to learn more about programs and initiatives like the ones I list above. Spread the word about the dangers of stalking and let your friends, colleagues, social networks, campuses, and communities know that this is a serious issue with a direct correlation to violence and homicide. We need your help to raise the nation’s awareness and put stalking prevention, intervention, and prosecution front and center. We cannot prevent violence against women until we make ending stalking a priority.