Updated: Apr 13, 2019
I felt sick to my stomach reading about the tragic case of 19-year-old Shana Grice, who was killed in August 2016 by her ex-boyfriend Michael Lane after being stalked by him for months. In desperation, she had gone to local police five times in six months for help; not only was little to no action taken, but she had been fined for “wasting police time” after officers learned they had been in a previous romantic relationship. In spite of the statistics that clearly show that most perpetrators (and often the most dangerous ones) stalk ex-partners, the police apparently viewed this as a police saw this as a private matter and failed to appreciate that a young woman who had at one point been in a sexual relationship with a man could now be vulnerable and at risk of harm.
This case took place in England and I’d like to think the same situation wouldn’t happen here in the U.S. But I’ve been contacted by enough stalking victims to know that sometimes law enforcement either fails to appreciate the seriousness of what is happening, either because nothing physical has happened (yet), different officers are responding to various incidents and, as such, don’t see the full pattern of behavior, or, sadly, the victim is seen as over-reacting or paranoid.
Fortunately, law enforcement is becoming increasingly aware of the seriousness of stalking. Here are some ways you can up the odds they will take your case seriously:
1. Describe the pattern of behavior in writing. Keep a diary or log of everything that has happened to you. Make a note of every incident, including time, date and the specific details. If anyone else witnessed what happened, write it down. Keep emotions, explanations, or hypotheses about why it is happening out of it; think like a private investigator and document “just the facts.”
2. Back it up with organized evidence. Keep a file of any evidence you have gathered; include audio recordings, films or pictures, along with copies of emails, text messages, screenshots of any threatening or disturbing messages. If you’ve complained to a social media site about
, include a copy of your complaint. If you’ve contacted law enforcement before about the same problem, include a copy in your file. Before you hand it over to police, have a friend or family member look it over and see if they can make sense of it. If not, you may need to reorder it so that it can be easily understood.
3. Document the personal consequences the stalking has had on you. Most victims of stalking will minimize or try to ignore initial stalking behaviors such as unwanted phone or text messages, unexpected appearances of an ex, or unwelcome online contact. In fact, the average stalking victim will experience over 100 separate incidents before she even reports it to police. Because stalking is a course of conduct crime, police can have the same reaction; don’t let them.
Also document the specific fear or emotional distress the incident caused you. Explain the context of each incident, including past threats or behaviors that make this particular incident seem so frightening or harmful to you. Remember; the police do not know the stalker like you do and you may need to interpret the behavior and what it means in the context of your previous relationship. It may also be helpful to document how the incident has impacted your life (e.g., had to change work or routines, any financial cost as a result of sabotaged or destroyed property).
4. Show them you Mean Business. Make sure your social media profiles are set to private and immediately block anyone who sends you inappropriate messages. Consider investing in password protection software. Secure your property; keep your doors locked, get CCTV, and give your neighbor your spare key instead of keeping it under the doormat. If possible, get a dog who can alert you to any intruders. Not only are these good safety strategies in general, they show the police that you are, or have, already taken some of the first suggestions they might throw out as an initial response.
5. Be the squeaky wheel. Police do not have a legal duty to investigate all reported crimes. However, this doesn’t mean you’re out of luck if they won’t investigate yours. If the first officer you talked to didn’t take you seriously, ask to speak to his or her superior and present your evidence again. Repeated calls and reports to the police station and still getting nowhere? Take your case to the District Attorney.
Still no luck? Contact the mayor’s office or call the tip line of a local media channel; neither of these will investigate your stalker, but they can expert pressure on police to do so. There are numerous stalking resources that can help you weigh the pros and cons of each of these options and can also help you develop sophisticated safety plans while you are working to get your situation resolved. As Napoleon Hill said, “Victory is always possible for the person who refuses to stop fighting.”
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