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Stalking on Campus: A Silent Epidemic

The first steps to combating this crime include taking it seriously, having an appropriate policy, and training campus personnel and public safety officers on how to effectively respond.

January 31, 2012  |  by Robin Hattersley Gray

"The stalker thinks if they try hard enough, the other person will come back to them despite the person telling them they don't want anything to do with them," claims Garcia.

A student might even stalk a teacher or faculty member because of a bad grade or a crush.

Is the Behavior Immaturity or Stalking?

Unfortunately, the level of emotional maturity in adolescents and young adults can make the issue quite murky.

"There is this notion of developmentally appropriate pursuit behavior," says Garcia. "There is some research that has looked at behaviors that are really typical of adolescents, such as having crushes on teachers, idolizing an actor or musician or someone in the public eye and having that person's poster on their wall.

Related Article: Stalking Stats

"It's common [adolescent behavior] to happen to be at [the target of their affection's] locker when they get out of class or going by a person's house to see if they are home or calling them repeatedly and hanging up or asking their friends for information about them or looking at their Facebook page repeatedly. All of this is typical adolescent developmentally appropriate affection-seeking behavior, and rarely does the target experience fear in response to these behaviors."

Evaluate Situations In Context

It can also look like stalking if not put in the proper context. It is important to view the behavior from the victim's perspective. Behaviors that seem benign to an outsider might be terrifying to a victim.

"One thing to look at is has the victim or target attempted to set a boundary that this person continues to ignore?" Garcia explains. "Has the person been told by the target, a friend, police officer, HR, RA, etc. that the stalking behavior is not OK?"

Generally, a verbal and/or written warning can be issued to the offender. Another option is an order of protection. That said, Garcia warns, "With stalkers, we know there is a really high recidivism rate. Over 60% will reengage in the stalking behavior after an intervention and after they have been arrested or served with an order of protection."

Identifying stalking, however, can be challenging, particularly for victims who often minimize the problem.

"If you think about any of those behaviors that are typical of stalking cases - the phone calls, showing up to places, the texts, the E-mails - many of those behaviors in and of themselves are not criminal behaviors," says Garcia.

Victims, law enforcement and campus personnel must be able to recognize the pattern and course of conduct that would indicate the behavior is actually stalking.

Clear Policies, Training Can Help

One way a campus can help victims, administrators and public safety officials identify stalking is to have a clear and well-publicized policy that defines stalking and explains that it is not acceptable. Campuses must also encourage the reporting of incidents.

"Victims will come forward and report if they feel that they can do so safely, that they will be believed and that there will be a good and effective response," Garcia says. "Campuses need to evaluate whether they are able to provide that. Do they have systems in place for victims to report? Is it clear where victims can report?"

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