Imagine that the person you fell in love with, but broke up with a while ago suddenly has total control over you? You receive text message after text message saying “I know who you are talking to,” or ” I know where you are.” You receive presents in places you thought nobody had access to other than yourself. You see the same car circling around your home day and night. Wouldn’t this scare you, confine you and limit your way of living?
Violence against women is a global epidemic that affects 1 in 3 women worldwide, and is often caused by an intimate partner.
Several people in our surroundings may be in the trap of a stalker – a perpetrator, who causes psychological harm through threats. It can be you, your colleague, friend, sister, partner or daughter who experiences this mental prison.
This fall in Sweden, I had the opportunity to listen to Henrik Belfrage, Professor in Criminology and researcher in forensic psychiatry, speak about stalking. Stalking is a social issue that is expanding in our country and around the world.
Did you know that in Sweden, 15% of adults are, or will be exposed to stalking?
Women are over represented among the people experiencing these kinds of crimes. Important to add is that the protection and help women seek at the police is not sufficient and therefore some people hesitate to report what they are going through. As a result, the total number of cases is estimated to be much higher. Although a number of women also expose their ex partners for stalking, men tend to use another kind of behaviour such as physical violence or murder.
Belfrage discussed some general characteristics of a stalker, such as signs of borderline or antisocial personality disorder, depression, or alcohol and drug use. As a social worker in the area of alcohol and drug addiction, I am glad that Belfrage spoke about this issue and informed me about what to ask when in contact with my clients, besides being aware of the signals. It is a tough thing to approach indeed, however, we all need to be brave enough to ask since it concerns life or death for the women who are living under these threats.
Also, social workers in any field who work with people in vulnerable situations need to estimate further risk to which women might be exposed. It is of great importance to have an holistic perspective of the victim’s situation and to map out her factors of vulnerability, which can be of importance for the work of her protection. Questions to be asked could be for instance:
- Does the victim display an inconsistent behavior or attitude towards the perpetrator?
- Is she extremely scared?
- Does she have access to social and professional help?
- Does she have protection and alarm systems at home?
So, what should I do if I am exposed to stalking?
Here are some practical suggestions.
- Document and write down all incidents and contacts that happen to you, including date and time, as well as the type of insults and threats received.
- Keep all kinds of messages, such as emails, letters and text messages.
- Record telephone conversations, and other conversations.
- Take photographs when the perpetrator circles outside your house, workplace etc.
- Tell people in your surroundings that you feel threatened.
- It is important to stress to the perpetrator that you don’t want any contact with him.
- Avoid all sort of contact.
- Change your telephone number and email address.
- Change your daily routines, for example walk other ways and on different times.
- Report to the police!
Stalking is a serious crime and should not go unreported or uninvestigated. Along with Belfrage, I want to see an accident investigation team that investigates every case when a woman gets murdered in Sweden. Knowing these details will help prevent other women from suffering mentally and physically, as stalking completely restrains a person’s freedom.
Stalking is a form of violence, and through raising awareness and taking a stand, we can together end all forms of discrimination and violence against women. From 25 November, the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, International Human Rights Day, UN Women’s 16 days campaign calls on individuals and groups around the world to act to end all forms of violence against women and girls.
My mom and I wear orange to raise awareness of violence against women! And you should too!