Is it Love or Stalking?

“Part of consent culture is learning how to accept, no,” said Health Initiatives (HI) VOICE Advocate, Amanda Planchard.  People have the right to set boundaries and choose who to spend time with or date.   

Popular media often romanticizes stalking behaviors with romantic comedies that involve manipulation and wearing down the defenses of an unsuspecting victim to show that “love” knows no boundaries. The romantic storyline of slowly wearing someone down over time through repeated and unwanted interactions is one that is inexplicably held up and admired as unrequited love. Planchard said, “The portrayal in the movies of one character persistently pursuing another who has rejected them perpetuates the notion that if you just put the time in to woo them, you are entitled to them.”

At least 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime severe enough that they feared they or someone close to them would be harmed, according to The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC). Stalking is defined as a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. It is also common to feel anger, frustration, hopelessness or despair.

Planchard categorized stalking as often falling into two categories at Georgia Tech: stalking that occurs after a breakup and repeated unwanted attempts to get someone to be in a relationship or friendship with you. “A student may think they can handle the situation on their own and continue to try to reason with the person, delaying when they seek help,” said Planchard. Stalking often occurs as a larger pattern of intimate partner violence and can be an indicator of escalation and danger. Many abusers use stalking behaviors to intimidate and control their partners or to try to convince them to return to the relationship. Stalking in real life can manifest in more subtle ways than a John Cusack movie and it’s important to understand the behaviors and red flags. HI VOICE Advocates, Jennifer Gagen and Planchard compiled the following tips to consider:

Trust your instincts. Survivors of stalking sometimes feel pressured by friends to downplay the person’s behavior, but stalking can be dangerous and it has a serious impact on the survivor’s day to day life. Remember that your safety is the most important.  Friends and family members are often the first people who a victim tells about what’s going on, and their response heavily influences whether or not the victim seeks further help. 

Call the police if you feel you may be in any immediate danger. Explain why the stalker’s actions are causing you fear. GTPD is available 24 hours per day to help keep you safe. They can contact the other person and tell them to leave you alone and also take further action as needed. You don’t have to go alone – bring a friend or have a VOICE Advocate join you.

Get connected with a VOICE Advocate.  They can assist you in exploring your reporting options as well as safety planning and connecting you to resources.  VOICE Advocates are confidential and available 24 hours per day. They can be reached at (404)385-3351 or (404)385-4464. After business hours, call GTPD at (404)894-2500, ask for the on-call advocate, and provide only your phone number.

Keep a record or log of each contact. Be sure to document all attempts to contact you, follow you, or spy on or monitor you, including any police reports or restraining orders filed. Stalkers can escalate quickly or sometimes stay quiet for a while, making you think they stopped. A record like this will help you remember details and track their patterns, even if you choose not to report.

Stalkers often use technology to contact their victims. Save all emails, text messages, photos, and postings on social networking sites as evidence of the stalking behavior. You may also want to consider ways to use your technology and your devices in a safer manner to limit someone’s access to your personal information. For more information, please visit the National Network to End Domestic Violence Safety Net Project’s Tech Safety Site. Especially at Tech, perpetrators find creative ways to monitor and contact the people they are stalking. Spoofing, spyware, and making fake accounts are just a few. You can get creative too to track and document what’s going on.

Every January is National Stalking Awareness Month and acts as a reminder to recognize and respond to the serious crime of stalking. Stalking is a terrifying and psychologically harmful crime in its own right as well as a predictor of potentially lethal violence. For more information regarding stalking and other forms of sexual violence visit healthinitiatives.gatech.edu/voice.

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