With the advent of cell phones and social media, stalking has become a growing concern.
In 1990, California became the first state to enact an anti-stalking law.
Today, stalking is illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Under Missouri law, stalking can range from a simple misdemeanor to a Class C felony charge for aggravated stalking.
Missouri’s stalking law classifies stalking as two or more acts, defined as communication of any means, intended to convey a “credible threat” designed to intimidate, frighten or inflict emotional distress. The Code of Conduct for University of Missouri schools contains similar language.
However, determining exactly which behaviors qualify as stalking can be difficult.
A simple email or letter left on one’s doorstep could be intended to frighten or monitor a victim.
“Stalking often involves interactions that are often understandable only to the stalker and victim,” said Michelle Kroner, UMKC Victim Services Adjudication Advisor. “Fully understanding the context of stalking behavior requires understanding the history between the parties and the range of behaviors directed at the victim.”
Kroner said most victims she works with report feeling “‘creeped out’” and knew when the stalker’s behavior crossed the line.
Although the 15 cases handled by the Women’s Center last school year may seem like a drop in the bucket, stalking is a widespread problem.
Statistics show that stalking affects men and women unevenly.
“One in six women and one in 19 men have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed,” according to the D.C.-based Stalking Resource Center.
The Stalking Resource Center also found that female stalking victims tend to be younger than male victims and are more likely to be followed by a former intimate partner.
Kroner said men may be less likely to report stalking than women for fear of ridicule or because they are less likely to feel physically threatened.
However, Kroner said male and female stalking victims can often relate.
“Recent studies find that men and women seem to engage in and react to stalking behaviors similarly,” Kroner said. “Victims of both stranger and intimate partner stalking often share common goals—protecting themselves and getting the stalkers’ behavior to stop.”
Stopping the stalker often involves intervention.
Kroner said that if a stalking case fits the parameters of the Student Code of Conduct, it can be adjudicated in accordance with University policy.
Kroner said she encourages all stalking victims to inform law enforcement. Reports may lead to an arrest or a warning, and a restraining order may be issued by the courts.
“I am available to assist victims in obtaining an Order of Protection if that is what they desire,” Kroner said.
Victims must carefully document their stalker’s communications, maintaining a written record of each instance, timing and witnesses.
Victims are encouraged to formulate a safety plan to address the stalking both in the short term and long run. This involves knowing how to access help in emergency situations and finding out what resources are available.
Raising awareness and empowering victims is critical.
The Stalking Resource Center has designated January as National Stalking Awareness Month.
Kroner said the Women’s Center used social media and set up a table last Monday as part of its awareness efforts.
The Violence Prevention and Response Project was launched at UMKC in 2005 using funds from a Violence Against Women’s Act grant, according to Kroner, who has held her position as Victim Services Adjudication Advisor since 2008.
Kroner emphasized that she works with stalking victims—both male and female—throughout the year.