It's an ordinary day. You step into a bookstore and start to browse through the shelves. Next thing you know, the feeling of being followed isn't something just in movies anymore - it's real. It's now.
A tall, lanky man weaves in and out of the same aisles you do. Then, suddenly, he's not behind you anymore. Coincidence, you think.
You turn to get a closer look at the book titles, and he's right there - peering at you from the other side of the bookshelf. His eyes pierce yours in the space between the top of several books and the shelf above them.
You look away for a second, and your eyes flicker to the children's book, "The Rainbow Fish," an illustration that will be burned in your mind forever, an image that you will flashback to and allow to fester in your mind in the years to follow.
Seventy percent of stalking victims fall prey to post-traumatic stress disorder, which can manifest itself into depression, sleep problems. anxiety, behavior problems, inability to cope with everyday life, heart problems, autoimmune problems and more, according to a 1998 New York Times article. Often victims live with PTSD issues, irrational thinking, panic attacks and seemingly odd behavior for years.
One California woman was stalked for 31 years before the police made an arrest, according to the same New York Times article. That's more than 11,000 days of being stalked, of feeling helpless and afraid.
Stalking only became a crime in 1990, according to the same article. One can't help but wonder, what about the centuries and centuries of victims before that?
Fifty percent of stalking cases involve violent threats. The stalkers who carry out their threats have been known to hurt their victims' pets or vandalize their victims' properties. As a result, some victims are forced to move, find new jobs and change their identities. In extreme cases, the stalker kills the victim.
Unfortunately, the Internet has placed stalking in a whole new arena. Stalkers don't need to constantly dial the victims' phone numbers or drive over to the victims' homes anymore. Cyberstalkers can haunt people from other states and countries.
In a 2002 Christian Science Monitor article, the president of SafetyEd, a group for stalking victims, was quoted as saying, "The majority of police departments, district attorneys and attorneys do not understand (cyberstalking), and the laws do not really protect you from this type of problem."But most cyberstalkers usually stop after one visit by the local authorities, according to the same article.
If only all police forces would make that visit.Even if the police and private investigators were vigilant, there is no profile for your everyday stalker. Stalkers can be psychotic, have a personality disorder (narcissism or psychopathy) that is almost impossible to detect, or both, according to the New York Times article. They may also be alcoholics or drug addicts.
Some people turn into stalkers because they've suffered abuse or abandonment, according to the same article. Other times, the trigger is "a recent loss."
But none of them are legitimate excuses. Everyone who is grieving or abusing drugs doesn't necessarily become a stalker.
A stalkers register was shut down in 2000, according to a 2005 BBC News article. It would have been akin to a sex offender register. The reasons for scrapping the plan?
"Practical issues and existing monitoring safeguards," according to the same BBC News article. What does that even mean? What could be more practical than keeping tabs on potentially dangerous stalkers? And what "existing safeguards"?The law and ALL those who enforce it need to catch up. Restraining orders, when it comes down to it, are pieces of paper. They don't do much. Almost 25% percent of the time, the stalkers remain undeterred, according to a 2007 ABC News article.
One million women and 400,000 men have been the victims of stalking, and one in 20 women will be stalked in her lifetime, according to the New York Times article.
To the victims: Persevere.
To the law enforcement (including local police, FBI, private investigators and IC3): Protect and serve. Start taking victims seriously!
To the stalkers (and harassers): Get a life.