Stalking: Why It Happens and What We Can Do About It

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Posted Thu, Dec 17, 2015

Kylie Mallory-Halter is a victim services coordinator at the Phoenix Center at Auraria [Photo: Khaleel Herbert]

Kylie Mallory-Halter is a victim services coordinator at the Phoenix Center at Aurora. [Photo: Khaleel Herbert]

DENVER–People may think stalking only happens to celebrities, but in reality, 1.4 million people are stalked in the United States every year.

Nine incidents of stalking have occurred on Auraria Campus and were reported to the Auraria Police Department in 2015. This number may not be as high as other crimes, but the seriousness of stalking cuts deep.

The Phoenix Center, located at the Tivoli Student Union, helps victims of stalking, sexual assault and other interpersonal violence crimes. Their slogan reads, “Ending Interpersonal Violence through Prevention, Awareness, and Support Services.”

A Stalker Wants Power and Control

Kylie Mallory-Halter, a victim services coordinator for the Phoenix Center, says stalkers have issues of power and control like people who are abusers in general.

“An abuser is looking for power and control over another person,” Mallory-Halter says. “And stalking is one way that a person is able to exhibit that power of control.”

The Power and Control Wheel, created by the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, shows that power and control can be exerted in various ways by abusers. Emotional Abuse, for example, states that a man puts down his spouse calling her names and making her think she’s crazy.

The wheel also discusses isolation and children as tools for power and control. A man controls what his spouse does, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, and limiting her outside involvement. A man may also use their children to relay messages, threaten to take the children away from her and use visitation to harass her.

“I think the goal of stalking is to control a person’s movements. It’s to keep them in a place of fear,” Mallory-Halter says. “It’s to feel powerful over them.”

Inside the Mind of a Stalker

Randi Smith, an associate professor of psychology at Metropolitan State University of Denver, says there are two main reasons for why stalkers want control. They have poor impulse control (the ability to contain one’s impulses and to not act compulsively) and insecurity.

“You or I or anybody might have the thought like, ‘Oh that person’s really attractive, I wonder where she lives’ or ‘I wonder what my ex is up to now? I think I’ll drive by,’” Smith says. “We might have that thought but then we probably wouldn’t act on it.”

Randi Smith is an Associate Professor of Psychology at MSU Denver [Photo: Khaleel Herbert]

Randi Smith is an Associate Professor of Psychology at MSU Denver. [Photo: Khaleel Herbert]

Smith adds that stalkers have poor impulse control and they act on those thoughts. They compulsively push into a person’s private space. Insecurity follows when stalkers think, How dare this person ignore me? I’ll show her. Intimidation follows.

Part of a stalker’s manner is to let their victims know they are being stalked. Smith says they want to be recognized.

“Maybe they don’t necessarily know they’re watching them while they eat lunch,” Mallory-Halter says. “But then they’ll send them a text message or note later saying, ‘You looked really great in that dress today. I wish I could’ve eaten lunch with you,’ and that’s creepy.”

Smith says some stalking can be malicious, where stalkers think, You hurt me so bad, I’ll show you! These type of stalkers can slash their victims’ tires or put dog poop on their doorstep.

“Some can be more ingratiating stalking where the person keeps sending flowers and notes, but it’s creepy because the victim has

said, ‘Leave me alone,’” Smith adds. “And the perpetrator can’t leave her alone and keeps doing things even if they seem like they’re kind things. It’s still intimidating and threatening.”

It’s Not Just Men, but it’s Mostly Men Who Stalk

Men are more likely to become stalkers and females are more likely to be victims in stalking cases. One in 12 women and one in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetimes.

Denise Mowder, an assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at MSU Denver, has worked as a prosecutor in domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. She has investigated and prosecuted many stalking cases for a 10-year period.

Denise Mowder, an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology at MSU Denver [Photo courtesy of Denise Mowder]

Denise Mowder, an assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at MSU Denver [Photo courtesy of Denise Mowder]

Eighty percent of stalkers are men stalking their significant other, Mowder says. Twenty percent of stalkers are women stalking their significant other.

“Men have been socialized for centuries through our patriarchal society that women are objects or possessions of men in their lives,” Mowder says. “Do all men think this way? Of course not. However, those that do are the batterers and stalkers.”

Smith says, “Men are more socialized to be in roles of power, to expect power within a relationship. So when they experience a lack of power, as a result of rejection or disinterest on the part of that female, men can exert their power by engaging in this intimidation through stalking.”

Women can be stalkers and stalking can also occur in same-sex relationships, Smith adds. Men can stalk other men in gay relationships and women can stalk other women in lesbian relationships.

Why Victims Remain Silent

For many of the stalking incidents that have happened on Auraria Campus, victims have declined to prosecute their stalkers.

“Stalking, as well as a lot of other crimes of interpersonal violence, are hugely underreported,” Mallory-Halter says. “There is a lot of fear around reporting–fears of retaliation, fears of not being believed, fears of having to tell their story over and over and over, reliving the trauma every time to no end. In our experience, stalking cases are very difficult to prove.”

Mallory-Halter adds that with a lot of sexual assault cases, it can be traumatizing for a victim to go through a system that finds the perpetrator not guilty or refuses to press charges.

Fear plays a role in why victims wait to report their incidents to police, but there are other causes.

The Phoenix Center at Auraria is located at the Tivoli Student Union Suite 259 [Photo: Khaleel Herbert]

The Phoenix Center at Auraria is located at the Tivoli Student Union Suite 259 [Photo: Khaleel Herbert]

“Victims don’t always know what their options are around reporting. With something like a sex assault, there’s an incident and a person can clearly identify here’s when the crime happened,” Mallory-Halter says. “Stalking, because it’s continuous, it’s happening a lot and happening often times in more subtle ways, that can a make a victim feel like they don’t know what to report. They know that what’s happening is wrong and they feel unsafe, but they’re not even sure what to tell police.”

Mallory-Halter adds that the Phoenix Center helps victims create stalking logs, where they can write down all of the incidents and the dates that they occurred on. Giving this log to law enforcement allows them to have a full picture of everything that happened.

Victims of stalking can suffer from many emotions. Smith says there can be confusion, fear, concern for one’s safety and even sadness. “Often times the stalking occurs in the aftermath of a relationship that was at some point successful. Not always, but a lot of times they’re following relationships that have included intimacy and the person who’s been broken up with is not willing to let go of that.”

Smith adds that people can feel sadness and think, Wow, how was I able to really be attracted to this person who now is being so intimidating?   

Mallory-Halter says, “It’s definitely a combination of emotions. And I think also every person responds differently, every person is unique. Some people are really angry, some people are paralyzed with fear. Some people oscillate emotions–they’re angry one minute and they’re sad and crying uncontrollably the next minute.”

A victim’s emotions depend on the person and the case, Mallory-Halter adds. Some people also blame themselves for the incident.

Raising Awareness and Ways to Combat Stalking

Although stalking cannot be permanently resolved, there are some ways to minimize and raise awareness about it.

Mowder says that we have to get into the heads of our teenage girls to understand that stalking is not to be confused with jealousy or love. She adds that in both high school and college, we have to make all women fully understand how social media can put them at risk.

Mallory-Halter says, “If systems started from a place of believing the person coming in and making the report–that would be huge. I also think that sometimes law enforcement tends to not take a stalking case very seriously. It’s hard because maybe there hasn’t been a crime per say, but how is law enforcement looking at the bigger picture of how all of these individual incidents add up to an incidence of stalking.”

Smith says, “We can raise awareness through organizations like the Phoenix Center, where victims and perpetrators can become more aware of personal boundaries and how to maintain them. But I think the real hard work happens way earlier than that, even in childhood. When we have small boys and girls, raising them to respect one another’s personal space, so particularly raising boys to value women rather than raising boys who try to exert power over women. That would help a lot.”

If you or anyone you know is a victim of stalking, visit the Phoenix Center at Auraria, located at the Tivoli Student Union-Suite 259, 900 Auraria Pkwy, Denver 80204. You can also call their 24/7 free and confidential helpline for information on interpersonal violence, referrals and options at 303-556-CALL(2255). Their website is www.thepca.org

About Khaleel Hayes

Formerly Known as Khaleel Herbert, I am a writer/photographer and MSU Denver alumni who majored in Journalism and minored in English. I hope whatever I write–poetry, plays, feature writings, film reviews, etc.,– my words touch at least one person. I believe everyone has a story and I want to be the vessel to tell that story whether through journalism or fiction. Visit my site: The Lens Feature Writer https://thelensfeaturewriter.wordpress.com/

View all posts by Khaleel Hayes

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