January is National Stalking Awareness Month. The city and borough of Kodiak are marking the month to shed light on the prevalence of the issue on Kodiak Island and around the country.
“Stalking can be a very dangerous behavior,” said Rebecca Shields, the executive director of the Kodiak Women’s Resource and Crisis Center. “A lot of people have been victimized by it and so it potentially can lead to harm.”
She said the city’s proclamation about National Stalking Awareness Month, which will be addressed at the Kodiak City Council meeting today, will help community members educate themselves about stalking, and identify what stalking is and how to protect themselves.
It will also help them learn about the parameters of laws related to the issue.
Kodiak’s Chief of Police Tim Putney said stalking in Kodiak is prevalent and highly underreported.
“The Hollywood portrayal of (stalking) is what might come to mind first, but those cases are actually extremely rare,” he said.
“Stalking nonetheless is dangerous behavior and stems from a perpetrator needing to have power and control over their victim. Someone who feels like they are being followed or harassed should tell someone else about it.”
Stalking is a serious crime in the U.S., with 7.5 million people victimized each year. According to the city’s proclamation, victims are often forced to protect themselves by relocating, changing their identities, changing jobs and obtaining protection orders.
Since July, the Kodiak Women’s Resource and Crisis Center has helped 15 victims address stalking issues.
“In a small town such as ours, that is a significant number, and that is just representing the people that are coming forward and asking for help,” Shields said, noting that the actual number of victims is much higher.
She said that stalking is a pattern of behavior that causes fear in the victim.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stalking tactics can be physical, including watching, following or tracking the victim, showing up unwanted at places such as the victim’s home, workplace or school, or leaving potentially threatening items for the victim to find.
Stalking can also be done virtually through unwanted phone calls, emails, instant messages, text messages or social media messages.
Putney said local police investigate “a couple” stalking cases per year on average. The department also trains officers to recognize potential stalking cases.
He noted that public social media accounts may help stalkers carry out their crimes. When relationships become strained, social media platforms provide potential access to locations, memories and other personal activities.
Shields advised people who think they are being stalked to address the issue and be firm with the perpetrator, telling the suspected stalker to stop writing to them, calling them or following them.
If the behavior does not stop, she advised victims to start journaling and noting how often the behavior continues, and what the victim’s response was.
“There is help. We do have ways to put civil restraining orders in effect that will protect people from that type of behavior,” she said.
Putney advised people who are being stalked but do not want to speak to police to confide in a family member or close friend.
“I would suggest that people who use social media take a few minutes to review their security settings,” he added.
National Stalking Awareness Month is organized by the Stalking Prevention, Awareness and Resource Center, a project supported by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.