REACH Counseling Center welcomes guest blogger Dr. Mary Beth Wilkas Janke.
Dr. Wilkas Janke has more than 25 years of psychology, security, and investigative experience. Dr. Wilkas Janke has conducted research and published work in the areas of stalking and domestic violence, self-esteem and young women, and stress management. Dr. Wilkas Janke served as a counselor in the Stalking Unit of Victim Services in Queens, NY, during which time she researched and created a Stalking Risk Assessment Prototype. In April of 2020, Dr. Wilkas Janke’s book, ‘The Protector: A Woman’s Journey from the Secret Service to Guarding VIPs and Working in Some of the World’s Most Dangerous Places’ was published.
January is National Stalking Awareness Month
January 2022 marks the eighteenth annual National Stalking Awareness Month, established by President George W. Bush in 2004. It is an important landmark which was inspired by the seminal Violence Against Women Act, passed by President Bill Clinton in 1994.
While legal definitions of stalking vary from one jurisdiction to another, a good working definition of stalking is: a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. Each of those bolded terms is important because those are the factors that shift legal behavior to the illegal crime of stalking. In other words, context matters in assessing what behavior is considered part of a romantic pursuit and what pattern of behavior qualifies for the crime of stalking. For example, if your partner were to surprise you and have your favorite coffee drink sitting in your cup holder when you get into your car at 8am to head to work, you would think this to be a romantic gesture. However, imagine you have moved to another city to get away from a stalker and, one morning, you get into your car to go to work, and your favorite coffee drink is sitting in the cup holder with your pet name on the cup. You would most likely be scared to death because you would know that your stalker had found you and that you were going to be put through hell all over again.
Stalking is a Crime
In 1990, California became the first state to establish a stalking law due to several high-profile stalking cases that ended up in murder. By 1995, stalking became a crime in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. Territories, the Federal Government, the military justice system, and many tribal codes. Pretty impressive. Now, there is no real consistency between states as to what constitutes stalking so understanding your state law and what it takes to establish the crime of stalking is key to building a stalking case. Stalking is typically classified as a misdemeanor upon first offense. However, the legal system does consider aggravating factors, such as the possession of a deadly weapon and violation of a court order, in determining whether a stalker is charged with a felony. Stalkers employ multiple tactics to instill fear, intimidate, surveil, and exert control over the people they target. My advice – document, document, document... Every phone call, every text, every unwanted gift, every behavior, and every date these incidents occurred. This will demonstrate the pattern necessary to establish a solid case.
Who gets Stalked
Contrary to popular belief, the majority of stalking victims are stalked by someone they know. Many victims are stalked by a current or former intimate partner, or by an acquaintance. According to the most current statistics, approximately 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men have experienced stalking behavior at some point in their lifetime. I do believe that the rate at which men are stalked is highly underreported. Individuals aged 18-24 have the highest rate of stalking victimization. There are a few reasons for this. First, young people are still developing impulse control. Next, many people in this age group live on college campuses, where the geographic proximity makes stalking easy for a perpetrator. Finally, this age group of individuals have fewer experiences with romantic (and sexual) relationships and ways of responding when those relationships end.
On average, a woman has experienced stalking behavior or has been threatened 19 times before she contacts or goes to the police. Nineteen times... Here’s why: they think and want the stalking to go away on its own; they often believe it’s their fault; and, they feel no one is going to believe them. As a result of the repeated pattern of stalking behaviors, along with the fear it induces, stalking tends to infect all parts of a victim’s life. Stalking victims suffer much higher rates of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and social dysfunction than people in the general population. Stalking can also take a serious economic toll, as those who are stalked may have to uproot their lives at their own expense to evade their stalkers or take unpaid time off from work in order to protect themselves and their families. Finally, stalking doesn't just end when the perpetrator leaves the victim alone; it can have a lifelong and damaging impact on some victims' mental and physical health.
Stalking is a crime that is taken seriously in the United States, as evidence by the existence of anti-stalking laws in all 50 states. If you know anyone who is being stalking, help them create a safety plan, remind them it is a crime, and provide them with resources (see below).
- Safe Horizon à https://www.safehorizon.org/get-help/stalking/
- Department of Justice – Office of Violence Against Women à
- Stalking Resource Center à https://victimsofcrime.org/our-programs/past-programs/stalking-
- The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC) à
- National Organization of Victim Assistance (NOVA) à https://www.trynova.org/
- RAINNà https://www.rainn.org/articles/stalking
- Los Angeles Police Department Threat Management Unit à https://www.police.ucla.edu/about-