Penn State shines light on stalking during national awareness month

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Stalking is a crime that happens all too often on college campuses, one that leaves the victim with feelings of fear, anxiety, vulnerability and depression.

Stalking is serious, sometimes violent, and often escalates over time.

However, unlike other crimes, stalking can also be hard to detect. Instead of a single, easily identified act, stalking is often comprised of a series of acts committed over time, encompassing everything from assault, threats, vandalism or burglary to unwanted cards, calls, gifts or visits.

“A lot of times people don’t even realize that they’re being stalked at first, or that they’re experiencing stalking-type behavior,” said Rebecca Bywater, director of threat assessment for Penn State University Police & Public Safety.

To help generate greater public awareness for a crime that the Stalking Resource Center of the National Center for Victims of Crime has characterized as “unpredictable and dangerous,” January has been designated as National Stalking Awareness Month.

Penn State is participating in the national effort with an informational campaign to help members of the University community recognize stalking when they see it — and ultimately do something about it. Penn State Police has been posting facts about stalking on its Facebook and Twitter accounts throughout the month, and it has made informational materials available to students in the residence halls and the HUB.

Nationwide, 7.5 million people are victims of stalking annually. In one in five cases, stalkers use weapons to harm their victims, and stalking is one of the significant risk factors for homicide of women in abusive relationships.

“We have a victim resource officer within University Police and Public Safety, so if someone does feel like they are a victim of stalking, we urge them to contact our department,” said Bywater. 

Bywater said it’s important for stalking victims to document the perpetrator’s actions, and to not remain silent.

“Safety is first and foremost,” she said. “Make sure you make others aware of what is going on, and document the stalking activity when it occurs. Even using a simple notebook to document when and what occurred can help. But just because you can’t articulate everything or have documented proof doesn’t mean you shouldn’t report it to police.”

Bywater said there are steps people can take to reduce the risk of being stalked, including paying attention to the information that one broadcasts on the Internet. Doing a Google search of your name is one way to find out what information is already out there about you. She also said to pay particular attention to what you are putting on social media — and who can see that information.

“What other information are you voluntarily posting on social media sites and other places that you might not necessarily want out there for everyone? Check your privacy settings and those types of things to make sure you’re not inadvertently making it easy for people to find out information about you,” she said.

In addition to the resources offered by Penn State Police, additional resources exist within the University for stalking victims. The Center for Women Students offers programming and resources for victims, and instructors and organizations on campus can contact the center to request stalking awareness programming.

And while it is participating in the national campaign this month to start a dialogue at Penn State about stalking, Bywater noted that University Police’s outreach and educational activities are not limited to just one month a year.

“We partner with the Center for Workplace Learning and Performance to offer programs each semester aimed at combatting stalking not only here at University Park, but also at the Commonwealth campuses,” she said.

“It’s not just in January that we talk about stalking or have programs available.”

Last Updated February 04, 2016