It’s not a joke. It’s not romantic. It’s not okay.
The young woman was laying in bed, quietly reading a book, her cat curled up asleep next to her. It was 11:30 p.m.
Suddenly, she startled, then froze, as loud, aggressive pounding reverberated throughout her apartment. Someone was ferociously banging on her front door.
She held her breath, daring not to move.
Soon, the pounding ceased, but before the adrenaline rush that hit her could subside, the banging resumed. This time, it was against her basement bedroom window just feet from where she lay in bed. The sound continued as she laid there praying for the man to go away.
“I was a senior in college. It was my last semester. We met through mutual friends, he showed up at my friend’s house. He seemed pretty cool. My friend said he’d like to go out with me. We went on a date and it was nice. We went on another date and it was nice, too, but he wasn’t someone I was interested in romantically,” the woman said, as she recounted being pursued by a man who was stalking her. The woman told her story on the condition of anonymity.
At the time, she knew she would be graduating college soon and wouldn’t be staying there, returning to Douglas to visit her family before taking a job elsewhere.
“After a couple of dates, I knew I wasn’t interested in him that way,” she said – but the man had other ideas.
He wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. He left numerous messages on her answering machine at her apartment. He’d show up unannounced and uninvited at the woman’s work.
The woman had never brought the man by her house or workplace. She had not shared her home address with him, yet he found out on his own where she lived, which apartment was hers – and where she worked.
She was frightened, not knowing what he’d do next.
“It was an old, cottage-style house. My apartment was downstairs in the basement. He would have had to have laid down on the ground – had to put some effort into it, to pound on the basement window of my bedroom,” she said.
The man was stalking her. He was also breaking the law.
January is National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM), an annual call to action to recognize and respond to the serious crime of stalking.
Stalking is its own form of gender-based violence in addition to being a crime that frequently predicts and co-occurs with physical and sexual violence, according to the Stalking Prevention, Awareness and Resource Center (SPARC).
Stalking is conservatively defined as a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated (two or more occasions) visual or physical proximity, non-consensual communication or verbal, written or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear, according to the National Institute of Justice.
Organizations nationwide are standing up, speaking out and spreading awareness of what stalking is and why it is dangerous, including the Converse Hope Center in Douglas and Glenrock.
Hope Center Executive Director Amy Needham said the center saw 25 cases of stalking in 2018. In 2019 those numbers rose to 39 cases.
“The national stalking statistics are staggering – 7.5 million people were stalked in one year in the U.S. Sixty-one percent of those were female victims and 44 percent were male victims, who were stalked by a current or former intimate partner. An estimated 15 percent of women and six percent of men have been a victim of stalking during their lifetimes,” she explained.
The Douglas woman who was stalked as a 22-year old college student said the experience forever changed how she approached dating and new relationships for the remainder of her life.
“I was extra-cautious. I put up walls. I didn’t let people in,” she admitted. Now, she’s a few years older, wiser and happily married.
Fortunately, the man who was stalking her stopped after awhile and left her alone.
“I’ve never forgotten it. It’s always been in the back of my mind,” she said.
Needham said what some people don’t realize is that stalking is a crime. By empowering everyone to understand, recognize and address the issue of stalking it will create a larger awareness.
While some stalking tactics have changed over the years due to technology advances, many have not.
Stalkers use a variety of tactics such as unwanted contact, unwanted phone calls and texts, contacting the victim via social media platforms, giving unwanted gifts, approaching an individual without invitation, showing up to family/friend events unannounced and without an invitation, monitoring/surveilling the victim, property damage, threats or threatening behavior.
“Stalkers attempt to provoke fear in their victims through repeated and unwanted contact,” Needham said.
For more information on stalking, contact the Converse Hope Center with any questions at 307-358-6148 or their 24-hour Hope Line at 307-358-4800 and ask to speak with an advocate. If your life is in danger, call 911 immediately.