January marks not only the start of a new year; January is also National Stalking Awareness Month.

The Advocates of Lake County (ALC) want to take some time to share the troubling realities of stalking, as well as some practices to help keep yourself, your loved ones and your community safe.

As defined by the Stalking Prevention, Awareness and Resource Center (SPARC), stalking is “a course of conduct or behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” A stalker is usually someone that the survivor knows. Becoming a victim of stalking can happen to anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age or economic status.

According to SPARC, an estimated 6 to 7.5 million Americans are stalked every year, and nearly one in six women and one in 17 men have been stalked at some point in their lives. Seventy-eight percent of stalkers will use multiple methods of contact with their victims, such as phone calls, social media and gift giving. And one out of every five cases of stalking found that a weapon was used to harm or threaten victims. SPARC also identifies women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community as more at risk of being stalked.

While stalking is a crime in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and all United States territories, the act is notoriously difficult to investigate by law enforcement and to prove in a court of law. However, there are ways that survivors can empower themselves for their own safety and security.

First, trust your instincts. Don’t doubt yourself, your senses or what you’re experiencing. If you’re feeling fear around a person and from what that person is doing, believe in yourself.

Second, log each time the stalker contacts you. This will help to prove the unhealthy and potentially dangerous behavior of the stalker, assisting in law enforcement’s investigation and eventually convincing the courts.

Third, save all the evidence you can. Take photos of any gifts that a stalker might send. Document how gifts were sent and any return address information. Save all emails, letters and text messages. If you know the stalker and you feel safe asking them to stop their harassment, keep evidence of that as well.

Last, confide in someone you trust, such as a friend, a family member, a neighbor or a co-worker. You are not alone in this; help is out there for you.

In Lake County some years ago, our community was rocked by the murder of Yvonne “Vonnie” Flores, who herself was a victim of stalking. The Advocates never want such a terrible event to happen again; we don’t want anyone to have to feel that kind of fear.

We can help survivors of stalking in a variety of ways, including safety planning, temporary and confidential relocation, and obtaining civil protection, or restraining, orders.  Civil protection order hearings can and should be attended both by the victim and a licensed attorney, and the Advocates are happy to cover legal expenses for eligible survivors.

ALC’s emergency 24/7 hotline is always available at 719-486-3530.

If you know someone who could benefit from this information, please feel free to share with them. If you have any additional questions, ALC staff would be happy to answer them. And if someone comes to you for help; believe them. It can make all the difference in the world.

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