Even though he is in prison, Joelle* still leaves in fear of being followed and harmed by her abuser. Throughout her marriage, Joelle’s estranged husband physically and verbally abused her and stalked her relentlessly. He followed Joelle to and from her workplace and also used a GPS system to monitor her whereabouts so he could harass and threaten her.
Joelle recently contacted a an advocate at The Center for Family Justice—who also provided her with support and counseling when she left her abusive relationship—to express concern for her personal safety as she contemplated her abuser’s eventual release from prison.
Her CFJ advocate worked with her on a safety plan which included changing her social security number and connected her with the Safe at Home Address Confidentiality Program, which will allow Joelle to keep her address confidential in court documents and hearings related to her divorce. Her advocate also provided her with an emergency safe phone with free minutes for emergencies.
These steps were part of an overall plan to help Joelle stay safe and ease the legitimate fears she has about being stalked.
Here at CFJ, we work daily with men and women with stories similar to Joelle’s. More and more those of us who provide crisis and supportive services to victims of domestic and sexual violence find we are being called on to provide safety planning for victims of stalking, who fear for their lives.
Their fear is real: Stalking has an especially strong connection to domestic and sexual violence, with stalkers using their actions as an emotional weapon intended to exert power and control.
Stalking is also a warning sign that already dangerous abusive patterns are escalating: Estimates are that 76 percent of women who were murdered by an intimate partner were stalked first.
Stalking, of course, is not limited to marriages or intimate partners who share a home. It can be experienced by men or women and develop in more casual dating relationships. Sometimes, even strangers are impacted.
As we conclude National Stalking Awareness Month (January) and begin Dating Violence Awareness Month (February), it is important time to highlight the work we do at The Center for Family Justice supporting stalking victims.
Some other things to know about how stalking impacts victims and our communities:
- About one in six women and one in nineteen men have been a victim of some form of stalking.
- Stalking victims suffer higher rates of depression, anxiety, sleeplessness.
- During the last 15 years, incidents of stalking have increased dramatically, largely because of technology.
- One in eight stalking victims have reported losing work because of stalking and more than half of these victims reported losing five or more work days.
- Of the women who were stalked by an intimate partner, 31 percent of them were also physically abused.
It’s also important to understand that stalking, which is illegal in every state including Connecticut, takes on many different forms. Some of the things stalkers do to instill fear in the lives of their victims and their loved ones include:
- Following someone to their workplace, home, school or social destinations.
- Sending unwanted gifts, letters, emails or texts.
- Damaging their home, car or other personal property.
- Monitoring their phone and computer or use technology such as hidden cameras and GPS systems to track their whereabouts.
- Driving by or hanging out at their workplace, school, home or social destinations.
- Threatening to hurt the victim, their family or pets.
- Using public records or private investigators to learn things about their target.
- Post (or threaten to post) false information about a victim in public places (including social media.)
- Physically, emotionally or sexually abuse them.
Here at The Center for Family Justice we provide a myriad of supportive services to stalking victims. While they vary from client to client, these services include safety planning; connecting our clients with law enforcement; offering assistance of our court advocacy team as well as the help of our civil/legal team. In some cases, we provide shelter in our Kathie’s Place safe house to victims who need protection from the stalking of their abusers.
If you or someone you care about is experiencing stalking please contact our emergency domestic violence hotline at 203-384-9559.
–Debra A. Greenwood is the President & CEO of The Center for Family Justice.