By Jessica Bachiochi
While typing a paper in the Ithaca College library, I notice a cute guy a couple computers away. The same handsome face appears on some of my next visits and I pick him out among my fellow students busy with their work. I begin to wonder: Who is he? What is he like? What are his interests? What classes does he take?
One evening, while cramming for an exam, I spot him working at a table nearby. When he leaves, for maybe a bathroom break, I casually walk by his table and glance at his papers. I find what I’m looking for: his name. Now I have the power to answer some of my questions.
If I look him up on Facebook, I can learn what his major is, what his interests are, how to contact him, where he lives on campus, what classes he takes and when, what activities he’s involved in and who his friends are. With this information, I could put together his schedule. I could even figure out his daily routine. And I can do all of this without him ever knowing I exist.
So what do you think? Should someone call Campus Security?
Or does that sound familiar? The ease of the Internet and popularity of sites such as Facebook have allowed more people to gain personal information about complete strangers with little effort.
“Facebook helps me answer the questions I don’t want to ask. It makes it easier to find out who people are.” Laura Bradrick, a sophomore at Nazareth College, says. “But sometimes I feel like a creep.”
These creepy feelings may come from the similarity this behavior appears to have with stalking.
Well, I have news for all of you.
This is not stalking.
*Natalie, now a sophomore at Ithaca College, found a real reason to call Campus Security last March when her ex-boyfriend’s attempts to reconcile the relationship crossed a line.
It began the spring of Natalie’s senior year at Valley Regional High School in Deep River, Connecticut, when she developed a relationship with *Jerry.
With only a summer left before college, Natalie and Jerry spent almost every day together.
“There was nothing between us we didn’t know,” Natalie said.
However, college carried Natalie five hours away to Ithaca College, and Jerry remained in Connecticut. The relationship, originally a summer fling, stayed intact through the fall.
But the 300-mile distance eventually strained the bond. Natalie, sick of fighting and sick of holding back in her new environment, lost her feelings for Jerry. She made her first attempt to end the relationship in November. By Christmastime Natalie failed to get through to Jerry that she did not want to be with him.
He refused to accept it.
On one of her first nights back in Connecticut for the holidays, Natalie made a trip to her high school. On route, she passed Moravellas, the pizza place where Jerry works. He spotted her as she drove by, got in his car, and followed her. He then sent her a text message: “Pull over, we need to talk.”
After many fights and unwelcome visits to her house, she officially terminated the relationship and any hope of reconciliation on New Years Day.
But the next day, Natalie woke to a phone call. He wanted to see her. She swiftly said no, and asked him to leave her alone.
Five minutes later the doorbell rang.
This frightened her, but she believed she could deal with him.
Right after the breakup, she spoke with him many times and received phone calls and text messages, each ending the same way: she maintained she didn’t want anything to do with him and he refused to accept it and wanted her back.
But a few months into second semester, the amount of contact decreased. It appeared like her feelings had finally gotten through to him.
Then, when checking her voicemails after leaving the Fitness Center last March, Natalie was shocked to hear Jerry’s familiar voice.
“Why’s it so fucking cold in Ithaca?”
She stopped dead in her tracks when she heard his satirical words drumming into her ear. Cautiously, Natalie made her way back to her dorm room, peeking through the window before entering. Just as she suspected, Jerry was waiting for her. She left before he saw her.
Natalie knew she had to do something, so she turned to Campus Security. After telling him not to return to Ithaca and not to contact Natalie, Security escorted him off the campus.
She still received three phone calls, which she ignored, from an unavailable number the next morning.
This is stalking.
And Natalie isn’t alone. According to the National Center for the Victims of Crime, more than one million women — or one in 12 — are stalked annually.
However, only within the last fifteen years has stalking been recognized as a criminal offense. Prior to that, the term “stalking” had no stable meaning.
Now, college campuses, a popular breeding ground for all kinds of stalkers, are taking steps to educate, protect and prevent stalking.
But what is stalking?
The word “stalker” is used loosely in a wide range of circumstances. Many legal and clinical definitions have been compiled, but stalking, essentially, is a crime committed by one person against another including repeated behaviors or a pattern of conduct over time, unwanted and intrusive contact, implicit or explicit threats and a cause for reasonable fear in the victim.
Jerry represents the most prevalent kind of stalker; the rejected ex-partner. In fact, 77 percent of women and 64 percent of men personally know their stalker and over half of women’s stalkers are former partners.
Typically, one person wishes to end the relationship, and the other will not accept the rejection. In most of these cases the suspect is searching for reconciliation, power or revenge. Jerry’s persistence and random appearances frightened Natalie, but, to him, he was only trying to win her back.
“You never know when someone will have an extreme problem,” says Diane McPherson, a Women’s Studies professor at Ithaca College.
Anyone can stalk, and anyone can be stalked.
Heath Campbell, the education director at the local Advocacy Center, says that sometimes a stalker doesn’t realize what he is doing is wrong or what effect his actions have on his victim.
“[Victims are] always looking over their shoulders for that danger,” she says.
A stalking victim can suffer from depression, anxiety, headaches, social isolation and intrusive thoughts, which occur when fears and worries about the stalker constantly bombard the victim’s thoughts.
“The impact is different for everyone,” Campbell says.
It also is hard for outsiders, such as the victim’s friends or family, to realize the gravity of the situation or understand how the victim is feeling.
Michele Archer, the director of Safe Horizon’s anti-stalking program says that people should take each situation seriously and treat it like a crime.
“It is important that people know that stalking is a crime, and they can do something about it,” says Archer.
Though every stalking situation is different, stalkers possess common traits.
Predominantly, they’re unemployed with a bad employment record, educated, intelligent with exceptional manipulative skills, and male (87 percent). Most have not been diagnosed with a mental illness. Though they’re not psychotic, many have a history of bad relationships. Many suffers from depression, substance abuse, and personality disorders.
But these are merely generalizations. Every case is different, and every stalker is unpredictable. The motivation behind one can only be uncovered by looking at the individual circumstance itself.
Although most stalking cases occur on college cases, college students feel safe in their little communities. The concentrated world of a university gives a false sense of security. People constantly share and spread information about friends, classmates and faculty. But this may come with a price. In the National Sexual Victimization of College Women survey, it was found that about 13 percent of college women have been stalked.
“It’s not a safe community,” Laura Durling, an investigator in the Ithaca College Office of Public Safety, says. She adds that students should remember they’re in an environment in which they must be responsible for their own safety.
The problem with college campuses is people aren’t always careful. Personal and contact information are easily accessible on websites such as Ithaca College’s online directory and Facebook.
While harmlessly exploring an interest online is not grounds for an arrest, it doesn’t mean technology cannot be dangerous.
“People have a false sense of security,” Heather Campbell says. “We need to educate everyone about the risks.”
Jessica Bachiochi is a sophomore journalism major who wonders what your favorite scary movie is. Email her at jbachio1[at]ithaca.edu.