School has begun and thousands of college students are now feeling comfortable with their new classes, teachers and all the experiences a new school year brings them. Which means there’s space in their minds to start thinking about partying and dating.
Dating in college is a huge component of student’s life. While students can have diverse experiences from casual dating to their first romantic relationship, the reality is that dating can be much more complicated and violent for a significant percentage of adolescents and young adults at American schools and universities. One in three U.S. adolescents is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, and 43% of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors, including physical, sexual, tech, verbal and controlling abuse.
One form of violence that is often overlooked and hardly discussed is stalking. According to the Stalking Resource Center of the National Center for Victims of Crime, people associated with colleges and universities are actually more likely than the general public to be stalked and less likely to report it to the authorities.
Dating in college is tricky because your partner could live in the same dorm or share the same classes, making it “easier” for a former partner to stalk. During college, students are also behaving in more activities that put them at a higher risk for stalking, and it could be easy to know what classes a person is in, what time and where those classes meet, where someone parks their car, where someone eats and where someone lives. Campuses are generally open to the public, and tend to have free Wi-Fi that allows easier cyber-stalking.
One thing we want to emphasize is that stalking is a form of harassment, therefore is considered violence. It consists of repeated threats that cause a person to feel fear. Some of the things a stalker might do to the person they are targeting include following or spying on them, sending unwanted gifts, gossiping or spreading rumors about them, damaging their property, breaking into their online accounts and harassing the person on social media.
Stalking is often directly linked to domestic violence, as they are both crimes fueled by a need for power and control. In any relationship, young or adult, violent partners might use stalking to regain or maintain the relationship and control of the victim. With sexual assault cases, stalking might take place before and/or after the incident or it can also happen when there’s a romantic rejection. Most stalking cases involve men stalking women, but men do stalk men, women do stalk women, and women do stalk men.
Given the high rate of stalking on campus, concerns about it should never be dismissed. Stalking is not simply a personal matter. It is an issue of campus safety. The Clery Act, requires institutions to report incidents of sexual violence to the federal government, information that is then made publicly available. Stalking was one of the crimes that a 2013 amendment to the law required colleges to track and disclose.
Every state has a different definition for stalking, and often universities can punish the behavior before the legal system, highlighting the importance of an institution’s involvement in these cases. A clear policy on stalking is key, as it provides an opportunity for enhanced awareness by naming stalking as a specific problem on campus.
College Campuses need to also make sure that all violence prevention trainings emphasize stalking awareness and give students the skills they need to navigate potentially dangerous situations. Without knowing the tools available and how to use them, students are at risk.
Stalking is a deadly serious crime that has life-altering impact on victims, and we need to do a better job in this country to hold stalkers accountable and keep victims safe. Stalking is not a joke and should never be taken lightly.
Stalking is unpredictable and dangerous. No two stalking situations are alike. There are no guarantees that what works for one person will work for another, yet you can take the following steps provided by victimsofcrime.org to increase your safety:
- If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
- Trust your instincts. Don’t downplay the danger. If you feel you are unsafe, you probably are.
- Take threats seriously. Danger generally is higher when the stalker talks about suicide or murder, or when a victim tries to leave or end the relationship.
- Contact a crisis hotline, victim services agency, or a domestic violence or rape crisis program. They can help you devise a safety plan, give you information about local laws, refer you to other services, and weigh options such as seeking a protection order.
- Develop a safety plan, including things like changing your routine, arranging a place to stay, and having a friend or relative go places with you. Also, decide in advance what to do if the stalker shows up at your home, work, school, or somewhere else. Tell people how they can help you.
- Don’t communicate with the stalker or respond to attempts to contact you.
- Keep evidence of the stalking. When the stalker follows you or contacts you, write down the time, date, and place. Keep e-mails, phone messages, letters, or notes. Photograph anything of yours the stalker damages and any injuries the stalker causes. Ask witnesses to write down what they saw.
- Contact the police. Every state has stalking laws. The stalker may also have broken other laws by doing things like assaulting you or stealing or destroying your property.
- Consider getting a court order that tells the stalker to stay away from you.
- Tell family, friends, roommates, and co-workers about the stalking and seek their support. Tell security staff at your job or school. Ask them to help watch out for your safety.
For more information about stalking and resources available visit www.victimsofcrime.org/src
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