Stalkers and College Women: How to Protect Yourself

As collegiettes™, we’ve either been through or seen our fair share of relationships come to an end, but what happens when the other person just won’t let go and move on?

While post-breakup clinginess is annoying yet acceptable, when your ex starts to suddenly show up everywhere that you go or leave harassing text or Facebook messages, things are not okay. In fact, you may be one of the 3.4 million American adults dealing with stalking, according to a Supplemental Victims Survey conducted by a special report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The survey also found that nearly three-quarters of stalking victims knew their stalkers in some way, and whether the relationship was platonic or not did not make the situation any easier or less stressful for the victim.

A few brave women shared their tales of stalking and what they did to fight back and regain control of their safety and their lives.

The Ex-boyfriend: 

“It started after a somewhat bad breakup.”

For Helen*, the beginning of her sophomore year at Northwestern University did not start quite like she imagined. After ending a relationship with her then-boyfriend, Jim, behavior began to get “a little weird,” she said.

“He was a Community Assistant so he had keys, and he could get into whatever dorm he wanted to,” she said. “I got emails from him that would say, ‘I can’t help it, but I come into your dorm every morning just to walk by your room, and I contemplate going in.’ He lived in a dorm [on the opposite side of campus] so it wasn’t like he was just strolling past my dorm—he came to my dorm [purposefully].”

Even when she was with her friends, Helen’s ex-boyfriend would still manage to make an appearance. In fact, because they shared many mutual friends, he would call her friends and ask them where she would be for the night or if she was with them. 

“I told my friends to stop picking up his phone calls. They previously didn’t know that he was using their information in a negative way so then they all stopped taking his calls,” she said.

Things got really scary one night after Helen was returning back to her dorm from a friend’s house, and Jim was waiting in his car for her.

“He was driving by and waiting for me outside actually. He called me a couple times, and I ignored his calls, and then he drove past me a couple times and rolled his window down and yelled at me.” 

For Helen, her friends were her strongest tools against her stalker, and she recommends that any victim, whether male or female, talk to someone about what exactly is going on.

“I think you [as an ex-girlfriend] would assume that it’s just an emotional thing that will pass, and you feel bad because you were previously connected emotionally and pretty close to the person so you just think it’ll pass,” she said,  “but sometimes stalking can get pretty scary.”

“It’s even more imperative that after an emotional breakup, you make sure that at least your friends know, even if you don’t go to the authorities, [and] that your friends know that this guy is kind of creepy right now, because when people are emotional, sometimes they don’t really have control over the emotions themselves and might do something sketchy or scary.”

The Co-Worker

Unlike Helen and Jim, Jenna and her stalker were completely platonic. 

Yet he didn’t seem to think that.

Jenna was eighteen when she met her co-worker, Charles, who was twenty-one at the time. He opened up to her about his mental issues and struggle with drugs, and at first things were fine. 

They later took a turn for the extreme.

“I hung out with him one time outside of work, and we weren’t dating or anything like that, and he started getting confused about whether we had hooked up or whether we had been hanging out a lot and we hadn’t,” she said. “He told me that he loved me and all of these really scary things. Nothing was happening, and he had all of these really crazy delusions and it made me feel really confused.”

Jenna’s stalker then began to cyber stalk her excessively to the point where she was almost afraid to open up her email.

“He was sending me five or six messages a day, and I was asking him not to talk to me anymore,” she said. “It got to the point where he was threatening my life on Facebook [with] messages and emails, and I blocked him of course. He would make new names on Facebook, make new AIM screen names, new email addresses and call from different [phone] numbers, and it was just really intense.”

Charles’s behavior became even more dangerous. He brought a gun to work and kept it in the back room and was later fired for the incident. While Jenna stopped going to work to avoid him, he still did not leave her alone. He even broke into her house and her car.

“One time I came home and he was in my room, and once I ordered him out, he left, but it was really scary. I didn’t tell my parents that he was in the house—I told them that he was stalking me—but I didn’t tell them that he was in our house because I thought that would worry them too much,” she said.

“He broke into my car and left a note that said, ‘You have to contact me, and if you contact me, I’ll stop talking to you.’ ”

After both incidents, Jenna finally went to the police, but found that they weren’t as helpful as she had hoped for.

“It was really hard to get any kind of action taken when I was calm because I printed out all of the emails and had written down the phone calls where he had threatened my life and took them to the police, and they kind of dismissed them.”

Without their help, Jenna’s stalker was still bothering her and beginning to ruin all aspects of her life—from school to work.

“I had to [stop] my job at a preschool where I was translating because they were scared about having a crazy person with a gun come onto their campus,” she said.

“I wasn’t allowed to come back to my school campus either for high school for the last couple weeks of [senior year] because the principal was worried about having someone with a gun follow me onto campus, and they wanted me to have bodyguards at graduation.”

Jenna’s father, a lawyer, saw that his daughter was becoming more and more distressed with the situation, and he began to use his resources to help jumpstart police action.  Tired of being calm and complacent, Jenna made another visit to the police station and broke down.

“I went there and let myself cry, and when I did that, they immediately were like, ‘Okay, we’ll work on getting a restraining order.’ ”

Now Jenna, though still fearful of her stalker, can lead a life where she does not have to worry about her safety every time she checks her email or Facebook. 

Like Helen, Jenna said talking to someone and taking proper methods of action saved her from her situation.

“Talk to someone as soon as you can,” she said. “I was trying not to scare my parents because I thought I had made a mistake getting close to Charles just because he was kind of a person who was outside of the realm of my small private school, but I don’t think it’s a mistake now.”

“Invoke the powers that you have as soon as you can, especially if it’s parents or the police.” 
 

Protecting yourself

Nashville music industry image consultant Lori Bumgarner knows a thing or two about stalkers because like Helen and Jenna, she herself was the victim of not one but two stalker incidents. Like both women, she also knew her first stalker because they shared a mutual friend. Escaping him, though, was not as easy due to the fact that he lived right beneath her in their apartment complex. 

After getting advice from a fellow colleague at the time, Lori began to realize her situation and take proper action.  Now she is working towards setting up a program where she can speak about stalker prevention on college campuses. Here are a few of her tips for protecting yourself, your friends and your home from stalkers.

Document everything

“As much as it might be a pain to have to take the time to write down everything and print out any emails, you really have to do it,” she said. “In the end, if something happens, all [the police] can do is say, ‘Well, it’s your word against his,’ if you don’t have any type of documentation. Even if you have to take a picture of text messages on your phone to document them, do that.”

Utilize Facebook…

Bumgarner said it’s smart if you can pull a picture of your stalker from their Facebook page to show your roommates, neighbors, and police so they have a clear description of the stalker.  Also, print out harassing Facebook posts or comments that your stalker makes on your page.

…But be smart on Facebook

Bumgarner’s top cyber tip is not to post where you’re going to be on your status.

“It’s okay to say, ‘I was at this place, or I went on vacation here last week,’ but don’t say you’re going on vacation. That tells the person where you’re going to be and where they can find you or when you’re going to be away from your home, and they can break in.”

And of course, block your stalker and adjust your privacy settings so he can’t keep track of your whereabouts.

Let your roommates, suitemates, friends or family know what’s going on

Stalkers could not only be putting you in danger, but your roommates and friends as well. 

“[Stalking] also happened to my college roommate,” Bumrgamer said. “We were all scared for her, but we were also afraid that her stalker knew where she lived and all of us were in danger.”

By letting others know about the situation, everyone can be protected.

Use your cyber tools wisely

If you respond to any harassing emails from your stalker asking the stalker to leave you alone, make sure that you CC someone else on your email.

When Bumgarner responded to her stalker’s harassing emails, she did just this and said it was one of the most important actions she ever took. 

“He could see that someone else knew that I was asking him to leave me alone, so it was kind of like a little bit of a backup for me so that he couldn’t say, ‘Well you never told me to leave you alone,’ because once you tell someone to leave you alone and they continue, then it’s considered harassment.”

After responding to or sending an email to the stalker asking him/her to leave you alone, let that be the end of your communication with that person.   

“No matter what they respond with, do not get into an email exchange with that person,” Bumgarner said. “Do not even respond to that person even if they say something ugly about you, and you want to defend yourself about what they’re saying or you want to correct them.  It will just fuel their fire.”

Don’t have a routine

“In college it’s a little bit easier to do this because most college students’ schedules are varied from day-to-day,” Bumgarner said. “If you have too much of a routine, then that person is going to catch on to it and know where [you are] and be where you are.”

False decorate your apartment exterior

“If you have an apartment and it’s all girls, go to Goodwill and buy a big pair of men’s shoes and sit them outside your door because it will make others think that there’s a man who lives there,” Bumgarner said.

“Don’t have cutesy welcome mats that are really girlish because then they’ll assume it’s just girls that live there.”

Don’t assume stalking is just a male-female dichotomy

Most stalking incidents in the media seem to focus on a male stalking a female, but that’s not always the case, Bumgarner said.

“[Stalking] doesn’t discriminate, and it can happen to anyone, “ she said, “It can be a girl stalking a girl because she’s jealous her or is obsessed with her and wants to be like her.” 
 

The most valuable piece of advice that Bumgarner had for victims of stalking, though, was to trust your instincts.

“Always pay attention to your gut feeling and do NOT minimize the situation or make excuses for the person doing the stalking,” she said. “You were given a gut for a reason, and ninety percent of the time, it’s right.”

“As women, we often want to be polite and give people the benefit of the doubt, but never be concerned or embarrassed to tell someone about what is happening or how you feel about it.”

To contact Lori Bumgarner to come speak to your college campus, go to http://panashstyle.com/CollegeTalks.aspx

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