University students

University students

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Stalking has been an overlooked problem that thrives in the close community campus setting. Perhaps no venue has greater potential for stalking-related behaviours to grow and develop. The Hidden Marks Report 2010 uncovered alarming results of the extent of the problem women students face:

  • 60% of these cases of sexual assault or stalking, the perpetrator was also a student;
  • Only 4% of women students who have been seriously sexually assaulted have reported it to their institution
  • 12% have been stalked while at university or college
  • Only 10% of women students who have been seriously sexually assaulted have reported it to the police
  • Of those who did not report serious sexual assault to the police, 50% said it was because they felt ashamed or embarrassed, and 43% because thought they would be blamed for what happened.

While there is a lack of research on the incidence of campus stalking in Scotland, comparable research figures gained from America has helped highlight the growing problem and some of the dangers that students face.

While the ‘Hidden Marks’ report focuses on women as the victims, men can also be victims of unwanted stalking attention. According to the Home Office report 2010/11 and the Scottish Survey report 2010 1:5 women will become the victim of a stalker and 1:10 men although recent research postulates this figure is rising to a ratio of 1:7

Campuses and can provide the fertile ground for stalkers to pursue and track their victims. Working, living, and interacting in a relatively closed environment provides the perfect substrate for relationships to develop – both healthy ones and those not so healthy.

Stalking is not limited to student-student interactions. Members of staff can also face the same hidden dangers. They can be stalked by another colleague and it is not unusual for students to form an unhealthy fixation on a staff member.

The University and College Campus setting provides opportunities to nurture new relationships and develop new social networks. It can be an exciting time and an experience all parents hope their children will enjoy. There is an expectation that University and College campus will offer a secure and safe place to live and study, and that their welfare will be catered for should problems arise considering many are likely to be living away from home for the first for the first time. It is difficult for parents not to be concerned.

For many younger students they will experience a new sense of freedom and eagerness in exploring the new opportunities University and College life offers

Sadly, this new social environment can hold hidden dangers. Students with inadequate experience in forming healthy relationships and exercising appropriate boundaries have a particular potential for becoming the victims of unwanted attention. Many students will come from backgrounds which may have been less than nurturing and will already be experiencing an existing vulnerability. Attractive qualities for would be stalking behaviours.

The University and College Campus is a micro social environment reflecting what already exists in the outside world.

College and University buildings and residence halls provide relatively easy access to virtually anyone who wishes to enter the premises.

For stalkers the campus setting is the perfect environment offering easy access and opportunities. Students tend to follow predictable schedules, attending classes, meal times, daily schedules. It is not hard for stalkers to second guess the next move of their victim. The very features, which offer freedom and a community environment, are the same features that can place a victim of stalking in increasing danger. Campus stalkers can easily familiarise themselves with a student's comings and goings-and and ensure close physical proximity to their victims.

The nature and structure of the campus unintentionally provides a supporting environment for both healthy and unhealthy behaviours. Student directories and information are easily accessible.

Campuses house computer labs from which a stalker could harass a student victim with relative anonymity. While campus facilities may be inaccessible to community members, a stalker who maintains active student status has a greater ability to move freely about the campus in pursuit of his or her victim.

What can start as seemingly relative and harmless behaviour can quickly escalate to serious forms of threats or violence. Stalking is more than just physical violence and requires more than a passing knowledge of the mechanics of this type of crime to effectively identify the early warning signals before they involve actual threats, physical injury, or destruction of property. To discount these can be dangerous practice. Stalking unlike other types of crime is predatory in nature and many of the behaviours employed by a stalker may not be overtly threatening or criminal acts in themselves. It is the ongoing course of conduct which constitutes the offence.

Failure to identify these as part of an ongoing stalking campaign can be detrimental to the victim in terms of his/her psychological, physical, emotional social and financial health. In many cases, early behaviours can sometimes go un-noticed even by the victim until the threat becomes more serious.

Research by Westup, Fremouw, Thompson, and Lewis (1998) surveyed 232 female undergraduates and determined that those who had experienced stalking victimisation were likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress symptoms. Living in a state of persistent fear and anxiety depletes the general health of many victims.

The toll on victims can be high. They might miss work or class to hide from the stalker, seek psychological treatment or legal assistance, and bear the expense of relocating (VAWO, 2001). These consequences alone can decrease the student victim's likelihood of successful university degree completion, regardless of presence of physical threat to the student victim.

The threat of stalking-related violence in the campus setting remains a paramount concern. This fear is not unfounded. Fisher, Cullen and Turner (2002) found that in 15% of campus stalking incidents, violence was either threatened or perpetrated against the victim. Violence is most common in cases where the stalker and the victim once shared a relationship. As with other forms of partner violence, the severity of the stalking in these cases escalates over time, and in some cases culminates in physical harm to the victim. Those who are stalked by a former partner are among the most vulnerable victims, as the stalker often has knowledge of the victim's daily schedule, habits, and the addresses of friends and family (Burgess, et al., 1997). Furthermore, not only might innocent bystanders be touched by the stalker's violence, but also stalkers often redirect their violent behaviour toward third parties such as family members, friends and classmates if they are unable to reach the victim. An attack against a third party may be an effort to harm the victim vicariously, or serve as an act of aggression against a person the stalker believes is impeding his or her access to the victim (Leong, 1994).

Non Reporting

There are a myriad of reasons why students may not report they are being stalked and chief among them is the perception that stalking is a personal or domestic matter, not a criminal one.

Stalking has not been given any serious consideration up until recently, with cases being treated as part of domestic abuse. Stalking can be an element of domestic abuse but it is not a domestic crime. By definition, an ex partner is no longer in a domestic situation. Where no domestic situation exists, domestic abuse likewise cannot exist.

While approx 35-50 of stalkers are of the ex partner typology, hence commanding the most attention, the rest of the figures represent a range of other typologies. To treat these under the structures of domestic abuse not only discriminates but also places stalking victims within a situation which is totally inaccurate. Ex partner stalking holds a high risk of violence but not any less than being stalked by a delusional or an erotomaniac stalker.

Given the lack of knowledge and understanding surrounding this crime it is understandable why students fail to report. Shames, embarrassment and fear of being judged are highly acceptable reasons. We live in a society which is very quick to point the finger, all too often at the innocent victim. Women who have been domestically abuse or raped have suffered these stereotypical attitudes for many years. Attitudes are changing but the old ones remain albeit they foster the illusion otherwise.

It is not uncommon for victims to include self-blame and the lack of support available to be successful in their attempts to seek help.

Victims are left to cope with a variety of reactions which can serve to compound the stress they are already suffering even more. Reactions from friends and family, ranging widely from complete disbelief to unconditional support. In extreme cases, and most commonly when the stalker is a former intimate, the victim is blamed for somehow instigating the stalking, or for responding to the stalker in a way that fails to discourage his or her behaviour (Dunn, 1999; VAWO, 2001).

Failing to move forward in cases where the victim does not feel he or she has been stalked, or where fear on the part of the victim is absent, may have serious consequences. Brewster (2000) and Roberts (2005) found threats to be a statistically significant predictor of violence, and suggested that threats made by stalkers should not be ignored. However, it is a myth that only stalkers who overtly threaten the victim are dangerous. Perez (1993) points out those truly dangerous stalkers may never issue a direct threat. Dietz acknowledges "this false assumption [that dangerous stalkers always threaten the victim] is the source of more misguided policy and decision making than any other error in this field" (Orion, 1997, pp.210-211).

Involving the police to arrest the offender may not prevent the behaviour from continuing. Research by McFarlane (2000) indicated that the actual arrest had little to do with deterrence of violence. McFarlane (2000) concluded that while arrests served as immediate deterrents, over a six-month period there was no difference between victim complaints that were dismissed and those that resulted in arrest.

A highly significant number of college students are victimized by stalkers. Given that so many students fail to report their victimization is indicative of the failure of educational institutions to enact policies and to offer appropriate and timely report. It is important to ensure an easily accessible and active reporting system.

Colleges and universities have the unique opportunity to provide the victim with one, unified, multidisciplinary response all coordinated together through one central organizational structure.

With the new anti stalking law ‘The Offence of Stalking’ students can now find recourse through the law. Colleges and universities will now have to consider protecting themselves from potential threats of litigation through the development of specific stalking policies.

partner stalking

partner stalking

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