January is National Stalking Awareness Month.

The purpose of this month is to highlight the crime of stalking by defining behaviors and patterns, learning about the types of stalking and actions to take if you are being stalked.

Simply put, “stalking is a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that causes fear.”(2018 SPARC)

This pattern of behavior can include, but is not limited to, following, calling, texting, e-mailing, posting pictures or information on social media, driving past their home, work or school, spying, sending unwanted gifts or items, attempting to gain access/harassment through family and friends, hacking their computers, making threats and damaging property.

Stalkers often disguise their actions as being charming or loving rather than to promote fear or intimidation (i.e. sending flowers or nice gifts when the sole purpose is to let the victim know they are not going away).

While it is not the most prevalent type of stalking, we hear most about stranger stalking. Stranger stalking is where someone stalks a person whom they have seen but may have never even met. The stalker becomes fixated on an individual and creates fantasies or delusions about their relationship.

The case of Jayme Closs is an example of stranger stalking. Her abductor, Jake Patterson, did not know Jayme prior to stalking and abducting her. His fixation began with a single sighting of Jayme getting off of the school bus.

The most common and dangerous form of stalking is intimate partner stalking. The majority of stalking victims are stalked by someone they know – 61 percent of female victims and 44 percent of male victims of stalking are stalked by a current or former intimate partner. It often coexists with domestic violence. Intimate partner stalkers frequently approach their targets, and their behaviors escalate quickly – 76 percent of intimate partner female murder victims have been stalked by their intimate partner. (January 2015 SRC fact sheet)

People who are stalked find almost every area of their lives affected. They may isolate themselves, live in fear, look over their shoulder, check the back seat of their vehicle, change their phone numbers, remove themselves from social media sites, move and take alternative routes to work, home or school.

Here are some steps you can take if you are being stalked:

• Seek the help of a professional. Victim service organizations can be of great assistance and support in many ways, taking this step first will make any other choices much easier.

• Create a safety plan.

• Contact law enforcement.

• Obtain a restraining order.

• Document every occurrence of stalking. Stalking incident and behavior logs can be obtained online or through this office.

• Don’t communicate with the stalker no matter how many times they contact you. If you answer their 105th text to tell them not to contact you anymore it just lets them know it takes 105 texts for you to answer.

• Let friends, family and co-workers know what is happening; they can provide moral support and assistance in keeping you safe.

• Most importantly, follow your safety plan, and always trust your instincts. Stalking is a crime that should not be taken lightly.

If you have questions or would like further information contact me at the Office of the Redwood County Attorney by calling (507) 637-4010 or sending an e-mail to Denise_K@co.redwood.mn.us.

– Denise Kerkhoff serves as the crime victim services coordinator for the Redwood County Attorney’s Office