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Local Commentary: Stalking: Know it, name it, stop it

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By Erin Koehntop

Stalking is a serious crime that affects more than 3.4 billion people over the age of 18 in the United States in a given year. In our highly technological world, electronic devices are increasingly used to perpetuate stalking. This can include text messaging, social network sites, GPS devices, video or digital cameras, and listening devices.

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What is stalking?

Minnesota statutes define "stalking" as any action or conduct that ma cause the victim to feel frightened, threatened, persecuted, or intimidated. Acts of stalking include--but are not limited to--following or spying on the victim, following or monitoring a person through technological or electronic means (such as social networking sites or GPS devices), repeatedly making unwanted telephone calls or sending text messages to the victim, leaving unwanted presents or gifts, or visiting the victim's home or workplace without invitation or consent. These actions alone might not constitute stalking, but when they are done repeatedly they can cause the victim to fear for their safety or the safety of family or friends.

Why should we take

stalking seriously?

Committing the crime of stalking is a felony in the state of Minnesota and is punishable with up to five years of prison and/or fines of up to $10,000. The effects of stalking on victims can be devastating. Almost 50 percent of stalking victims fear not knowing what will happen next, and nearly one in three victims fear that the stalking will never stop. What this equates to is that victims of stalking are likely to miss more days of work due to their victimization, may be forced to move due to stalking, and have much higher prevalence of anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression than the general public. Stalking can escalate into much more dangerous behavior. More than 75 percent of victims of intimate partner femicide (homicide of women) were stalked by their partner prior to their murder. In addition, an alarming 89 percent of femicide victims that had been domestically assaulted by their partner prior to their murder had also been stalked by that partner.

What can we do as a community?

If we understand and recognize stalking, we can work to end it. The more we know about stalking, the better chance we have of preventing a tragedy, and protecting victims. We can offer our support to victims of stalking in many ways. Contact Someplace Safe 320.589.3208 or at 202 Atlantic Ave, Morris to learn more, or visit http://stalkingawarenessmonth.org or http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov.

Erin Koehntop is a Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Advocate for Someplace Safe Stevens Outreach in Morris.

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