‘Stalking awareness campaign’ launched

As the holidays wane and the new year begins, local law officers want residents to enter the new year with the thought of personal safety in mind.

To that end, Claremore Police and Rogers County Sheriff’s Department join the national observation of January as “National Stalking Awareness Month.”

“This year’s theme is ‘Stalking” Know it. Name it. Stop it.,” and it challenges people to combat the crime of stalking by learning more about it,” said Donna Grabo, executive director, Safenet Services. “Stalking is a crime in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“One in 13 women and one in 45 men are stalked in their lifetime for an average duration of almost two years, and most of the victims aren’t celebrities, they’re ordinary Americans,” she continued. “Victims may experience psychological trauma, financial hardships, and — in the worst cases — death. Eighty-one percent of victims stalked by intimate partner were also physically assaulted by that partner, and seventy-six percent of female homicide victims were stalked prior to their death — yet many victims underestimate the seriousness and impact of the crime.”

According to Oklahoma law, “stalking” is defined as when any person willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows or harasses another person in such a manner that causes that (reasonable) person to feel frightened threatened or molested.

Although most stalking itself is considered a misdemeanor with the potential for one year imprisonment and/or a $1,000 fine, certain circumstances — such as violation of a protective order —elevate the offense to a felony.

Additionally, Singer said the uncertain risk of whether or not stalking may to lead to violence is where the true danger lies.

“Our experience (with stalkers) has shown us that those who engage in stalking aren’t the types of people who miss their husband or wife and are wanting to find a way to spend time with them,” he said. “Stalking almost borders mental illness and, as we’re not mental health professionals, we take it very, very seriously — as though each case is going to escalate to violence, because you never know for sure when it will, and we’re not going to take that chance.”

Claremore Assistant Chief of Police Stan Brown concurs.

“At first, (stalking) victims may think of stalking as only being creepy, but not necessarily dangerous,” Brown said. “They may think that just ignoring or even confronting the stalkers will stop them, but stalkers almost never stop — plus, confronting a stalker may actually escalate into physical violence.

“Unlike other crimes, stalking is not a single, identifiable crime, but rather a series of acts, a course of conduct directed at a specific person to cause that person fear,” he said.

Stalking may take a variety of forms, such as verbal or physical assaults, vandalism, burglary, or even animal abuse — as well as unwanted cards, phone calls, gifts, or visits, and in an increasingly technological age, stalkers have an increased arsenal of tools from which to choose.

“Computers, Global Position System devices, and even hidden cameras or microphones have been used by stalkers to track their victims whereabouts and daily activities,” Singer said. “Unfortunately, the day and age we live in have made stalking people electronically much easier to do, and its even possible to stalk someone on the Internet, such as on social networks like MySpace or Facebook — this is known as ‘cyberstalking’.”

Although each suspected case of stalking is different, Brown said being informed is key to staying safe.

“By learning more about stalking, people in communities can support victims and combat this crime,” he said. “If more people can recongize stalking, we have a better chance to hold offender accountable. Knowledge about all crimes, not only stalking, can help communities support crime victims and prevent tragedies.”

While Singer says reports of stalking in Claremore are “no more or less common” than in other parts of the state, police consider reports of stalking to be a serious matter.

“If anyone feels they’re being stalked, we’d advise them to call us and let us handle it, rather than attempt to resolve it on their own,” Singer said. “Nine times out of ten, the ‘stalker’ might not do anything retaliatory when called on their behavior, its better not to risk it — a stalker’s motives may not always be obvious and we’re not willing to take the chance that a case of stalking isn’t more than a romance gone wrong — it’s not worth putting yourself in that kind of potential jeopardy.”

For more information about stalking or stalking prevention, contact the Claremore Police Department at 341-1212 or Safenet Services, Inc. at 341-1424.

Both the Claremore Police Department and Safenet will be offering free “Stalking Awareness Kits” to persons who suspect they may be victims of a stalker.