Tamela Dawson dated—and dumped—the wrong man. “It started with psychological warfare,” Dawson, of Cherokee descent, recalled of a harrowing experience that began when she was living in Santa Rosa, California. She came home one day to find that her furniture had been rearranged and the crotches torn from her underwear.
(Click here for Valerie Taliman's story "Why Stalking Is a Critical Issue in Indian Country.")
She only figured out that her house was bugged when she told a friend she needed a soup ladle and one appeared soon after in her dishwasher. She said someone drugged the food in her kitchen and later returned to rape her. “I remember on several occasions coming out of whatever drugged state I was in to see multiple men in my room, and another time finding a man on top of me. I remember fighting to stay conscious and I couldn’t.” Date rape drugs like Rohypnol, GHB, and Ketamine can cause memory problems and confusion even when used just once on a victim.
Dawson said her assailants worked on her in stages. “With sophisticated psychological manipulation, a woman loses her problem-solving ability,” she said. “You’re operating at maybe 20 percent. You share the crazy things happening to you with your support structure, and that separates you from them. Once they’ve isolated you, they break you.”
After noticing the bruises on her arms and legs, Dawson’s therapist asked if she was being abused by her boyfriend. Dawson said no, but the therapist’s concern prompted her to contact police and hire a bodyguard. “Get out of Santa Rosa,” police told her. “We cannot protect you. Go home to your family.”
Her bodyguard turned to her one day, furious, asking what she’d done to make someone so mad, wondering if she’d testified against anyone. He said gang members were staking out her house.
A short time later, Dawson moved home to Arkansas.
Most Americans don’t pay much attention to their surroundings as they go about their daily business, but that wasn’t an option for the estimated 3.4 million women and men who became stalking victims in 2006. Indian women suffer the highest rates of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault of any population group in the United States, according to a 2008 study by the Tribal Law and Policy Institute and the Southwest Center for Law and Policy. Shannan Catalano, a statistician with the U.S. Department of Justice, says, “[I]n victimization…we see a higher crime rate across the board against Native Americans.”
The majority of perpetrators of these crimes are non-Indian males. “Stalkers are usually older, more intelligent than average, have higher levels of education and status,” said Ann Dapice, Ph.D., a Lenape/Cherokee and the director of education and research at T.K. Wolf, Inc., which focuses on the myriad health issues confronting American Indians.
Some states define stalking to include lying in wait, surveillance, nonconsensual communication, telephone harassment or vandalism. The DOJ stalking study reported other tactics include unwanted calls, texts, e-mails, notes or gifts, cyber-stalking, and the posting of information or spreading falsehoods about the victim on the Internet, in a public place or by word of mouth. Dapice, who has a doctorate in psychology, sociology and philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania, said some stalkers also use electronic technology such as tracking devices, identity theft, mail theft, bank account theft and wiretapping. Stalking can also involve theft, kidnapping, arson, breaking and entering the killing pets and “gaslighting”—when perpetrators steal or hide insignificant items or make changes in a victim’s home to make them think they’re going crazy. Dawson’s stalkers dressed uniformly and wore the same color shirt to let her know she was surrounded.
Dapice said stalkers use such mind games to make their victims “feel crazy,” and often enlist help from others to do that. Twenty-five percent of all stalkers use technology like satellite global position systems (GPS), computers, and hidden cameras to track the daily activities of their victims. “Roving bug” programs installed into a cell phone can listen through its microphone, even when the phone is off.
Victims are often subjected to such bizarre treatment that they have trouble convincing others it’s happening. Sheree Hukill, a board member at T.K. Wolf, said one woman reported to the police that “God” was talking to her each night when she went to bed. “As you can imagine, local law enforcement did not take her seriously,” said Hukill. “Eventually, one officer found that the stalker had rigged an elaborate sound system under the woman’s house with speakers in her bedroom. Her stalker was the ‘voice of God.’?”
“Denial of the serious nature of this criminal behavior—and the high risk of violence—is still endemic among mental-health and law-enforcement professionals,” said forensic psychologist Reid Meloy, a clinical professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego. “Only two percent of victims claim they are being stalked when in fact they are not.”
T.K. Wolf interviewed law-enforcement personnel across the country and found a pattern of passing the buck, whether it was police, district attorneys, judges, U.S. postal inspectors or FBI agents. Dapice adds that social service providers, mental health experts, governmental agencies and private attorneys are often unable or unwilling to provide services to victims.
Meanwhile, the physical and mental toll of stalking is staggering. “Cortisol [a form of adrenaline], meant for fight or flight in temporary danger, continues acting, and continuous [blasts of] cortisol results in destruction of brain and body cells and organs,” said Dapice. “We know that post-traumatic-stress disorder induces cell loss in the brain and is related to depression.”
Social-service agencies and the law often categorize stalking as a form of domestic violence and limit their services to people being victimized by “known intimates.” Yet this group only includes 30 percent of all victims. “Known others,” such as co-workers, relatives, classmates and neighbors account for 45 percent of stalking cases. One in four victims do not know their stalkers. One more twist that makes stalking so difficult to understand: It is easy to assume this is a gender issue, but 27 percent of stalking victims are men, who are often doubly victimized “because police will say, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you protect yourself?’?” Dapice said.
Another reason stalking is so difficult to deal with through the legal system is that stalkers will follow their victims from one jurisdiction to another—making it difficult for authorities to investigate and prosecute their crimes. “Often, moving makes no difference,” said Dapice. Dawson thought moving home to Arkansas would end the harassment, but she learned that she was wrong when an elderly man, passing her on the street said, ‘You are disgusting.’ It was clear to her that someone was spreading ugly stories about her. She said that at her new job, “One day everyone loved me and I was doing a stellar job,” Dawson said. “The next day nobody would talk to me. People glared and stared at me—good people. I was so traumatized I didn’t know where to start.”
Tamela Dawson’s story is eerily similar to those of Vicki Burnett, a Minnesota Chippewa who lives in Nevada, and Elizabeth Buchanan and Diane Dillon, Métis women living in British Columbia, who also report having had sonic devices used to ward off animals trained on them from a distance, as well as radar devices that measure the speed of a car or baseball.
As it did for Dawson, Burnett’s terror began as simple stalking. Then came the nights she fuzzily awoke to find men in her room. After seeing mysterious tiny bruises on her body and noting her stalker’s uncanny ability to track her, she suspected her stalkers injected a radio-frequency identification microchip into her. Kits that make it possible to inject a tracking chip as small as grain of rice into pets with a hypodermic, then track the target with a handheld radio-wave scanner are available on popular merchandising websites such as Amazon.
Burnett wants to have an MRI to confirm her suspicion that a tracking device had been implanted in her, but physicians are leery of ordering a scan without medical justification.
Human-rights advocate Debbie Newhook lives in the picturesque harbor community of Nanaimo, on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. She knows of seven stalking victims in her community. Two are Native, and one has MRI and CAT scans that prove she has implants. “Her doctor will not remove them until she has legal counsel, but no one will take her case,” Newhook said. “All doors seem to be slammed shut even when medical imaging proves that there is some kind of foreign object in their bodies.”
“If we are to stop stalking, we must believe the victims and the statistics and then take action on multiple fronts,” said Dapice. “We must educate each other on the causes and effects of stalking and bring all players to the table: victims, social service agencies, law enforcement, attorneys, judiciary, mental-health professionals, medical professionals, employers, governmental agencies, scientific researchers, media and the faith communities. All must work together and be held accountable.”
If a friend, neighbor, co-worker or family member thinks they’re being stalked, encourage them to take it seriously and get help. If you or someone you know is a victim, visit the National Stalking Awareness Month site, StalkingAwarenessMonth.org, the National Center for Victims of Crime site, NCVC.org, or the DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women site, Ovw.usdoj.gov for information and links to state and regional resources. Or contact your local women’s crisis center.