Stalking is often minimized in our culture. In casual conversation, in movies and on television we often see stalking behaviors portrayed as romantic, exciting, funny or even sexy. But the reality of stalking is much darker, and the impact on victims is real.
Stalking behaviors instill fear and uncertainty in victims. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study, victims fear not knowing what will happen next, and are afraid of bodily harm to themselves, their children and their loved ones. Not surprisingly, living with such fear takes a significant toll. Anxiety, insomnia, and severe depression impact stalking victims at much higher rates than the general population. Recently, a study by researchers at Washington and Lee University, published in last September’s issue of Social Science Quarterly, confirmed that stalking has seriously detrimental effects on the well-being of those who experience it, even when no sexual assault has occurred. According to the University: “[T]he major implication of our findings is that while not everyone takes stalking seriously because in most cases nothing physical happened, the detrimental impact is clear…This study helps raise awareness that in many cases [stalking is] a really scarring event that causes real-life psychological outcomes for victims’ mental health and their ability to function in society.”
And it isn’t only victims who are affected. Nationally, one in eight victims will lose time from work, many losing five days or more. One in seven will move in an attempt to find safety. The impact is thus felt also by coworkers, schools, neighbors—entire communities.
A Maine-based 2011 crime victimization study found that stalking has one of the highest victimization rates of crimes in Maine, but reporting to law enforcement has dropped significantly in recent years despite an increase in incidents. As National Stalking Awareness Month draws to a close, let us all resolve to recognize and treat stalking like the serious crime it is, and support victims in seeking help and safety.