The new year brings opportunities and chances for growth, safety and happiness. There is also no better time to start working for a better future than the present. This last year has been difficult for all of us and it is the sincerest wish of the Advocates of Lake County that 2021 will be a happier year for everyone.

Let’s begin the year by recognizing that January is National Stalking Awareness Month.

The Stalking Prevention, Awareness and Resource Center encourages all of us and our communities to “Know It. Name It. Stop It” to help protect those dear to you and to help keep us all safe. Statistically speaking, we have all either directly experienced stalking behavior, or we know someone who has. The strength of our shared knowledge directly translates to our strength as a safe, happy and healthy community.

Some of us may not know what stalking is. Stalking is defined as a perpetrator specifically targeting one victim, involving multiple incidences over time and striking fear in the victim. Stalking is often more than just annoying or frustrating; it can be terrifying and traumatizing for the victim. Survivors of stalking can develop serious psychological issues, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety and other disorders.

Stalking can happen to anyone  regardless of age, gender, sexuality or appearance. And the number of people who engage in stalking behavior is more numerous than one might think.

A word most often used to describe a stalker is “obsessive.” According to the 2012 study “Stalking: Patterns, Motives, and Intervention Strategies,” Lawrence Miller writes how the “motivations for stalking include a delusional belief in romantic destiny, a desire to reclaim a prior relationship, a sadistic urge to torment a victim, or a psychotic over-identification with the victim and a desire to replace [them].” While stalking does not always have to do with a perceived romance or unrequited love, it always includes an element of obsession about or for another individual.

The United States often glorifies or idealizes stalkers and their actions in popular culture. Plenty of popular entertainment is guilty of this, such as “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Such pieces of entertainment often feature a handsome, extremely wealthy man who violates his love interest’s privacy, her financial autonomy, or her physical boundaries. Entertainment like this can warp the collective cultural mindset into thinking these abusive and dangerous behaviors are romantic or not to be taken seriously. When stalking is not taken seriously, it can lead to devastating harm or even the loss of life.

Stalking and all that it encompasses is not an easy topic to learn about or to discuss. If you, or someone you know, might benefit from talking with someone about stalking or other issues related to domestic violence, please call the Advocates of Lake County. Our hotline is operated 24 hours a day and seven days a week; we are always here to help.

This column, written by Alex Cutler of the Advocates of Lake County, is the first in a two-part series focusing on the mission and aim of National Stalking Awareness Month. The second column will be published in next week’s Herald Democrat.

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