Dangers of Ignoring Stalking Behavior

Dangers of Ignoring Stalking Behavior

Stalking is often portrayed as a harmless— even romantic — behavior by the media. Romantic comedies, in particular, frequently normalize this disturbing behavior. The book “Fifty Shades of Grey” is one of the most successful romance novels of all time. It has sold more than 20 million copies in the U.S. The book and subsequent books that came afterward prompted a series of movies. In the books and the film, the main character Christian Grey is a deeply disturbed billionaire that stalks naive college student Ana. He finds out where she works and then he follows and manipulates her at every turn. Grey also tries to control what and when she can eat. Instead of portraying this behavior as the violence that it is, it is transformed into a love story.

In the hit movie, “Love Actually,” one of the main characters, Juliet, discovers that her husband’s best friend has been secretly filming her — while acting as though he hates her in real life. He supposedly does this because of his unrequited love towards her. Instead of this being creepy and victim-blaming, this behavior is depicted as sweet.

“Sleepless in Seattle” is another classic romantic comedy that portrays stalking as being romantic. In this movie, Meg Ryan gets very emotional about a man that she hears once on a radio show. She uses her job as an excuse to fly across the country where she lurks outside the house of the man she heard on the radio show. Of course, the two of them later fall in love.

The problem with these characterizations is that they make stalking seem like a regular part of romance. A study conducted by the University of Michigan had 426 women watch a romantic comedy where a man pursues a woman aggressively. For one group of participants, the stalking behavior was depicted as scary, while the other participants were told that the behavior was desirable. The group that believed the character’s disturbing actions were romantic were more likely to endorse statements that normalize stalking.

The Facts About Stalking

Every year, more than 6 million people are victims of stalking. Stalking is anything but harmless. It is a dangerous crime of power and control that often escalates over time. Stalking is defined as a specific and repeated course of behavior directed at a person that involves physical proximity, nonconsensual communication or threats. The behavior is considered stalking when it causes the other person to feel fear. Examples of stalking behavior include:

  • Sending unwanted items or presents
  • Monitoring a person’s movements via GPS without consent
  • Harassing someone via the internet
  • Following or laying in wait for a person
  • Monitoring a person’s emails or telephone calls without permission
  • Use hidden cameras to watch or track someone

Characteristics of Stalking/Stalkers

Many stalkers are dangerous.  Approximately 3 in 10 stalking victims are injured by their stalker — either psychologically or emotionally.  More than 30 percent of women who are stalked by an intimate partner and sexually assaulted by that stalker.

Stalking can go on for years. More than 11 percent of victims are stalked more than five years, according to the latest figures. More than 46 percent of stalking victims are fearful of what will happen next. Twenty-nine percent of stalking victims fear that the stalking will go on forever.

The Consequences Of Ignoring Stalking

Stalking is not harmless as it is often portrayed in the movies. Being exposed to prolonged, pervasive stalking behavior is an intensely stressful experience. Numerous studies have found that it impacts social functioning,  physical health and mental health. There are many consequences of ignoring or minimizing this behavior.

Impact on Daily Life

Stalking victims often face many social and economic problems as the result of the stalking. They may stop going to school, change or quit jobs, avoid social activities or change residences frequently because of the stalking.

Toll on Physical Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, victims of stalking are more likely to suffer from adverse health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma than people with no history of this type of violence. Stalking victims often have sleep disturbances and have report difficulty falling and staying asleep.

Toll on Mental Health

Additionally, the rates of clinical depression, anxiety and social dysfunction is much higher among victims of stalking than the regular population.  Many stalking victims feel angry and anxious. They might be suspicious or distrustful of others. This may affect their ability to have healthy relationships with others. Victims score higher on trauma measures. Rates of suicides and attempts are higher among stalking victims, as well.

If you or someone that you know is being stalked, it is essential to get help right away. Tell everyone that you know what is going on so they can be on the lookout for any unusual behavior that might indicate that you are at risk. Tell the stalker to stop. If that does not work or you fear the person, then go to the police.

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Emily M is a writer who contributes to the Academy Alert.

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