OSWEGO - January 2020 marks the 16th anniversary of National Stalking Awareness Month, an annual call to action to recognize and respond to the serious crime of stalking. More than 6 million people are stalked every year in the United States, and most victims are stalked by someone they know. Yet despite the prevalence of stalking, it is a crime that is underreported and many underestimate its danger and urgency.
According to the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center, stalking impacts over 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men in the United States. It is a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that causes fear. Many stalkers use technology, such as cell phones, GPS equipment, cameras, computer spyware, and social media to monitor, track, and communicate with victims. Many stalking victims lose time from work and bear the burden of having to protect themselves by relocating, changing their jobs, or going to court to obtain an Order of Protection.
Oswego County Opportunities, Inc. (OCO) Services to Aid Families (SAF) program has been serving victims and survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking for over 40 years. Last year, SAF served more than 600 victims and survivors and answered more than 6,000 calls on its Crisis Hotline from those individuals.
“There is a real and frighteningly significant connection between stalking and intimate partner violence,” said SAF Community Response Coordinator Stacie France. “Many abusers use stalking to intimidate and control their victims. We see many cases where a partner or ex-partner tracks, monitors, follows, watches, spreads rumors, shows up unannounced, threatens, or otherwise scares the victim. And it can occur before, during, or after a relationship.”
This January, SAF is asking the community to once again pledge their support in helping to raise awareness. This year’s theme – “Stalking: Know It. Name It. Stop It” – is a call to action for everyone in this community. While police and victim service professionals are critical, the reality is that the vast majority of victims tell friends or family about the stalking first. “It’s important that we believe survivors, we trust them, we support them, and we help connect them to resources,” said France. “Context is everything in stalking cases. What’s scary to a victim may not seem scary to an outsider.”
Victims and survivors are encouraged to keep evidence of the stalking and document any contact. When the stalker follows a person, write down the date, time, and place. Keep emails, text messages, phone messages, letters, notes and messages sent over social media. Photograph anything the stalker damages and any injuries the stalker causes. And remember, victims are never to blame for a stalker’s behavior.
Community members looking to assist victim and survivors can also consider donating pre-paid minute cards to the SAF program. “Some victims and survivors we serve may not have access to a phone or it may not be safe for them to use their phone because the abuser is monitoring it or tracking them,” said France. “Donations of pre-paid minute cards or pre-paid cell phones are incredibly generous and very much appreciated by the survivors we serve, and can have a positive impact on their safety.”
If a person or someone they know is a victim or survivor of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual violence or stalking, call the Crisis Hotline at 315-342-1600. The hotline is available 24 hours a day and is free and confidential. Individuals looking to donate to the SAF program should also contact them through the Crisis Hotline. SAF is the domestic violence and rape crisis program for Oswego County and has provided crisis, supportive, advocacy and educational services throughout Oswego County for more than 40 years.
OCO, Inc is a private, non-profit agency that has been supporting communities throughout Oswego County since 1966. A member agency of the United Way of Greater Oswego County, OCO provides more than 50 vital services throughout 100 separate locations. For more information, visit www.oco.org.