January 2019 marks the 15th National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM), an annual call-to-action to recognize and respond to the serious crime of stalking. It is critical to raise the issue of stalking as its own form of gender-based violence; it is a crime that frequently predicts and co-occurs with physical and sexual assault. Stalking affects over 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men in the United States — yet, despite the prevalence and impacts — many victims and criminal justice professionals underestimate its danger and urgency.
Stalking is defined as a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that causes fear. Many stalking victims experience being followed, approached, monitored and/or threatened, including through various forms of technology.
Victims and survivors often suffer anxiety, social dysfunction and severe depression as a result of their victimization, and many lose time from work and/or are forced to relocate. Stalking is a terrifying and psychologically harmful crime in its own right as well as a predictor of potentially lethal violence; in 85 percent of cases where an intimate partner attempted to murder his female partner, stalking preceded the attacks.
Stalking is a crime in all 50 states, the U.S. Territories and the District of Columbia, but it can be difficult to recognize and prosecute in a system designed to respond to singular incidents rather than the series of acts that constitutes stalking.
NSAM’s theme, “Stalking: Know It. Name It. Stop It,” is a call-to-action for everyone in the U.S. Virgin Islands and across the country. While police and victim-services professionals are critical, the reality is that the vast majority of victims tell friends or family about the stalking first.
“We all have a role to play in identifying stalking, intervening when necessary, and supporting victims and survivors,” said Clema S. Lewis.
In 2018, the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix (WCSC) assisted 49 victims of stalking and harassment. The organization offers support to survivors and information on their social media channels to promote awareness and public education about stalking during the annual observance and for the year.
For more information, please call the main office/crisis center at 773-9272 or visit the website: www.wcstx.org.
For additional resources to help promote National Stalking Awareness Month, please visit www.stalkingawareness.org and www.ovw.usdoj.gov. The Women’s Coalition of St. Croix’s mission is to support and empower people impacted by violence.
Debra Benjamin, Communications Coordinator of the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix