The term “stalking” usually stimulates a vision of a young woman being followed by a stranger while walking alone at night. However, according to Nicole Wilkes, research associate with the Crime Victims’ Institute of Sam Houston State University, the term also encompasses seemingly trivial behaviors, many unknowing victims tend to overlook.
In the CVI’s Stalking Series publication, “Stalking in Texas -2014” and “Stalking on College Campuses: Perceptions & Approaches of Campus Law Enforcement Officers” are recently published reports compiled by Wilkes and her colleague Leana Bouffard, Ph. D. These reports take a deeper look and give insight to what exactly constitutes as “stalking” and how it can be prevented and/or stopped through the enforcement of regulations.
“Stalking is generally defined as a course of conduct that causes a reasonable person to feel fear,” Wilkes said. “There are a variety of tactics stalkers use. Commonly used approaches include repeated phone calls, texts, emails and messages, following the victim and showing up where they are, monitoring phone calls or computer use, driving by their home or work, sending unwanted gifts, letters or other items. Some stalking behaviors in themselves can seem innocent, but when put into context with other behaviors or the relationship, they illustrate a pattern of stalking.”
Although the issue of stalking did not gain momentum among the courts until the 1990s according to Wilkes, every state in the nation has since then passed laws regulating the behavior. For Texas, these laws include Title IX, Campus SaVE and the Clery Act.
According to the Texas penal code section 42.072, stalking occurs “when a person, on more than one occasion, knowingly engages in conduct the other person regards as threatening or causing fear of bodily injury, death or property damage.” These behaviors can be directed toward either the victim, the victim’s family or a person with whom the victim has a dating relationship, and are typically classified as a third degree felony on the first offense of that nature.
Nationally, it is estimated that 16.2 percent of the female population experience stalking victimization in their lifetime while only 5.2 percent of men, share those experiences. According to the reports, research shows that 18-20 percent of female college students experience stalking victimization while enrolled at their institution.
“Research has indicated that 18-24-year-olds experience the highest rates of stalking victimization, and that stalking is more common amongst female college students than the general population,” Wilkes said. “However, no one has yet identified the reasons for greater prevalence on college campuses or within the age group of traditional college students. In addition to more females being victimized through stalking, female victimization is also higher in intimate partner violence and sexual assault.”
According to Wilkes, some of the local resources students can access to address issues they may be having in regard to stalking include, but are not limited to, SAAFE House, SHSU University Police Department as well as Huntsville Police Department.
“If someone does not want to report to law enforcement, they can still get assistance locally through SAAFE House that is free and confidential,” Wilkes said.
Despite the classic “damsel in distress” scene which tends to unfold upon hearing the activity of a stalker, Wilkes said that the majority of stalking cases do not follow that pretense.
“People oftentimes presume that the stalker is generally a stranger to the victim,” she said. “However, the majority of females are stalked by an intimate partner and males are most frequently stalked by an acquaintance. It is important to note that stalking can occur as a form of intimate partner violence or following a sexual assault. I would also encourage students that the stalking situation isn’t their fault and they should not blame themselves, even if the stalker is a friend or current or former intimate partner.”
For more information, students can reach SAAFE House by calling 936-291-3529, UPD by calling 936-294-1794 or HPD by calling 936-291-5480.