Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of columns discussing healthy relationships and sex lives from The Daily in partnership with the Gender + Equality Center, Goddard Health Center and Norman’s Adam & Eve. Responses in today's column are from the GEC. Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
This January is the 15th National Stalking Awareness Month, according to the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center, or SPARC.
SPARC defines stalking as a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.
The Daily spoke with Bliss Brown, program coordinator for gender-based violence prevention at the Gender + Equality Center, about what stalking is, what it looks like and on-campus resources for stalking victims.
What are some signs of stalking, what does it look like and how can people tell if they're being stalked?
Stalking involves a pattern of unwanted communication or tracking. Perpetrators of stalking use a wide variety of tactics to control, manipulate, or scare their victims. These strategies tend to escalate and become more severe over time.
Stalking can take many different forms, and every case of stalking looks different. Most cases of stalking involve some form of technology. Some of the most common warning signs are repeated phone calls or messages; tracking your location through certain apps or via GPS; or monitoring your calls, texts, social media or internet searches. Other examples of stalking might include showing up unexpectedly at your home, class or workplace; leaving unwanted gifts or letters; threats of physical harm to you, people you care about or your pets; or damaging your personal property.
OU’s sexual misconduct, discrimination and harassment policy defines stalking as “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for the person’s safety or the safety of others, or suffer substantial emotional distress.” Students can read the entire policy at ou.edu/eoo.
Is there a group of people that is most likely to be stalked?
It’s important to stress that anyone can be a victim of stalking. However, the current research on stalking tells us that some groups of people do experience higher rates of stalking, such as women, bisexual women and young adults. The most recent National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that one in six women has been stalked during her lifetime, compared to one in 19 men. For women who are bisexual, the rate of stalking doubles to one in three. Young people are at a higher risk, as well. Over half of all stalking victims, regardless of gender, first experience stalking before the age of 25.
It’s also important to mention that anyone can be a perpetrator of stalking. Most victims are stalked by a current or former dating partner.
What is the best way to proceed if someone thinks they're being stalked?
Because no two stalking situations are alike, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to stalking unfortunately. The best way to proceed is going to differ based on every victim’s unique circumstances.
If you feel it is safe to do so, it can help to clearly communicate your boundaries to the stalker. Tell them straightforwardly that their behavior is unwanted and you want them to stop. Do this once and only once. It is best to do this in writing so you have a record of it.
After communicating your boundaries, or if you feel it is not safe to do so: don’t communicate with the stalker! Even if their behavior begins to escalate, don’t respond. Any response, positive or negative, can be a positive reinforcement for the stalker. Instead, keep a log of the stalking behavior. Record the date, time, location of each incident along with a detailed description of what happened and the names of any witnesses. If you make a police report, write down the report number and the name and badge number of the officer you reported to. Keeping a log will reveal a pattern of behavior, and this will be crucial if and when you decide to report the stalking or file for a Victim’s Protection Order (VPO).
Anyone who feels they may be being stalked should develop a personalized safety plan. A safety plan is both plan to help you avoid further contact with stalker and a plan for what to do if you do end up running into them.
Most importantly, seek professional help! Reach out to a confidential victim’s advocate who can help you best navigate your individual situation and walk you through the process of all of the steps mentioned above, including filing for a VPO and/or developing a safety plan. Victims advocacy services are almost always free of cost.
Are there resources on campus for students, faculty and staff in the case of stalking?
Yes! OU Advocates is a 24/7, 365-days-a-year confidential advocacy service for any member of the OU community who is experiencing stalking, relationship violence, sexual violence or harassment. The best way to reach OU Advocates is to call (405) 615-0013 any time, day or night. OU Advocates can also be accessed by walking into the Gender + Equality Center on campus during regular business hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday).
OU Advocates can connect you to other on-campus resources like the Sexual Misconduct Office, the Office of Student Conduct or the University Counseling Center. There are also off-campus resource options for students, such as the Women’s Resource Center in Norman and Palomar in OKC. You can find information on these resources and more at ou.edu/gec.
If you or a loved one may be a victim of stalking, please reach out to one of the resources above or dial 911 in an emergency.
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