‘Stalking is more common than people realize’

(Photo courtesy of StrongHearts Native Helpline)

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

StrongHearts Native Helpline exists to help victims of domestic violence, which is where stalking can lead to.

Social media has made stalking more dangerous and more common, especially in Native American communities.

Between six and seven million people are stalked every year, said StrongHearts Helpline Assistant Director Lori Jump, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians from Michigan.

The StrongHearts Native Helpline is an organization that hosts focused on helping Native survivors of domestic violence and concerned relatives. They provide a “culturally-appropriate,” free, anonymous and confidential service to callers.

“Stalking is more common than people realize,” she said.

January has been acknowledged as National Stalking Awareness Month since 2004 with the help of advocates.

The general definition of stalking is behavior that causes a reasonable person to feel fear. However, the definition can differ among tribes because they define it themselves.

Approximately half of American Indian and Alaskan Native women, which is 48.8 percent, have experienced stalking in their lifetime, according to a 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice.

Within the past year, approximately one in 10 Native women, 11.6 percent, have experienced stalking.

“It can turn into dangerous behaviors. People tend to say, ‘Yes, just ignore him and he'll go away.’ It doesn't happen that quite often,” Jump said.

The person stalking can be a stranger, a current intimate partner or former partner.

According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey completed by the CDC, participants said “stalking was often committed by people they knew or with whom they had a relationship.”

To put numbers to that finding, 66.2 percent of female victims were stalked by a current or former partner, 24 percent were stalked about an acquaintance.

The percentage for female victims being stalked by a stranger was lower, 1 in 8 or 13.2 percent. For male victims, 1 of 19 have been stalked in their life.

Everyone having a phone and many people existing on social media platforms has influenced those numbers.

“It’s such a big part of our lives and many of those apps have location identifiers associated with them. It pops up with where they are,” Jump said in a phone conference. “It has increased the use of social media for those purposes and has definitely increased the statistics. It has made them higher than it would have been without those electronic forms.”

The location tagging on social media platforms, like the geotagging, can be used by stalker.

“With social media now, it’s so easy to track people with their location, you can see it on SnapChat wherever you’re walking or talking,” said Mallory Black, the organization’s communication manager.

Stalkers can use the geotagging to keep track of you without your consent.

Other signs of stalking can be the stalker sending unwanted gifts or messages, following you to work or events, showing up unexpectedly where you aren, listening into phone conversations, repeatedly calling or texting, sometimes calling and hanging up or driving by your work or home.

Cyberstalking was also included in the Violence Against Women Act in section 113.

The stalking occurs in relationships, too.

An example is one partner getting social media passwords so the person can read your messages.

Black said she found it interesting that stalking can happen after a relationship has ended.

Spreading rumors, trash talking online, and damaging property like slashing tires, breaking windows, egging houses can happen after relationships and “it has that potential to further escalate into violent behavior,” Black said over the phone.

(Photo courtesy of StrongHearts Native Helpline)

The Netflix show, “You,” is another example of stalking. The guy obsesses over the girl and stalks her before they get into a relationship. (Rotten Tomatoes rated it a 92 percent if you’re curious.)

“It’s eye opening to think about. Your partner could be following you before you know they exist. Following or tracking you before you met them. It’s fictional story but it’s eye opening and could be anybody who could stalk,” Black said.

StrongHearts is also welcomed to phone calls from people who are stalking.

“We try to help everybody and we do receive phone calls from people in domestic violence who are questioning their own behavior. We talk about what behaviors look like and do an assessment of what they look like, and healthy and unhealthy relationships,” Black said. “We definitely would have a conversation with them and provide education to them around their behaviors from us.”

Concerned family members and friends are encouraged to say something because of the impacts stalking can have on the victim, which vary.

“Many people who are stalked report fear including the fear of being alone or being hurt by their stalker. Victims may also fear going out somewhere where their stalker might show up. All of these fears can result in increased anxiety, isolation and even the loss of sleep, which only heightens all of their reactions. Some victims may also feel irritated because suddenly the responsibility to change their routine and normal behavior to avoid their stalker shifts to them,” Jump said. “This is a common experience for victims of domestic violence as well. Victims of stalking may feel frustration or anger for not being believed by their friends, family members or local authorities or may feel powerless to change their situation. In any stalking situation, it is so critical for victims to be heard, believed and validated. Stalking is never okay.”

One piece of advice Jump gave to those being stalked is: keep a diary. It will help keep track of incidents with dates, location, who you were with, and witnesses as it will help authorities take action.

“It can be hard to convince the authorities that what you’re experiencing might need to be addressed to the justice system,” she said. “Keep a diary of what’s going on so that if they want to seek a protection order or legal recourse they’re going to have to show that something has been occuring.”

Receiving attention from a stalker can be flattering and it shouldn’t be confused with it, but it’s about obsessive, power and control, said Black.

The missing and murdered Indigenous movement can be something to think about in regards to stalking, but there’s not enough statistic to back it up. However, the connection is possible.

“The potential there is pretty high,” said Jump. “Maybe some of these women who have gone missing, it’s entirely possible that they have been stalked and may have been former partners.”

Dial 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) the organization’s phone hotline on Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. CST.

If callers dial outside of business hours, they can be connected with the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

More information can be found at the StrongHearts Native Helpline website, www.strongheartshelpline.org, especially for next month’s campaign on teen dating violence.

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter - @jourdanbb. Email - jbennett-begaye@indiancountrytoday.com