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January is Stalking Awareness Month

U.S. Senators Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced a resolution designating January as National Stalking Awareness Month.

This is the fifth consecutive year the Senate has considered the resolution, which applauds the efforts of policymakers, law enforcement officers, victim service providers, and other groups that currently promote stalking awareness.

Stalking is not a one-time occurrence; this is a crime that leaves its victim fearful 24 hours a day, seven days a week. No place -- not even home -- is safe if a stalker knows where the victim lives. Victims spend their days and nights looking over their shoulder, often changing jobs, relocating their homes, and even changing their appearance to escape the stalker.

In many instances, victims usually know their stalkers, and 81 percent of women victims are also physically assaulted by their stalker. January is National Stalking Awareness Month -- the perfect opportunity for parents, lawmakers and community leaders to carefully review state and local laws on stalking and insist that laws keep pace with technology and protect victims.

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime and the Stalking Resource Center, approximately 1 million women and 400,000 men are victims of stalking in this country annually. One in 12 women and one in 45 men will be stalked at some point in their lives, as well as close to 13 percent of female college students.

Moreover, today's technology has made stalking much easier, as stalkers can design Web sites to encourage others to monitor or harm their victim, install spyware on their victim's computer or plant global positioning systems (GPS) in their victim's car to track their victim's travels.

Other technologies, including social networking Web sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, cell phones with surveillance devices meant for parents monitoring their children and running shoes implanted with GPS devices, may provide additional opportunities for stalkers to harm their victims.

While all 50 states have laws against stalking, only one-third of states have included language relating to stalking via electronic means.

Taking Stalking Seriously

For most people, stalking evokes images of a stranger with evil intentions lurking around corners or behind bushes. We know that stalking can cause intense fear. So why don't people take stalking seriously?

We've all heard people joke that friends who they keep running into have been "stalking" them. We joke about "stalking" potential love interests until they reciprocate our feelings. And some popular films romanticize or find humor in stalking. But we forget that such humor trivializes victims' experience.

If we stop to think how stalking victims really feel, the picture changes dramatically. Stalking victims live in prisons built by their stalkers.

A study published recently in the Journal of Forensic Sciences found that intimate partner stalkers frequently approach their targets (most using more than one means of approach) and that their behaviors escalate quickly. Twenty percent of the time, weapons are used to harm or threaten victims.

The Stalking Resource Center's recently updated "Stalking Fact Sheet," with statistics on prevalence, stalker behaviors, lethality and other key topics, shows the seriousness of stalking. "Stalking Myths and Realities." is available at

For more information, visit the Stalking Resource Center Web Site or call at (202) 467-8700, Tracy Bahm, director.

Locally, contact the Lakes Crisis and Resource Center at 218-847-7446.