Stalking Awareness Month

Standard

January is National Stalking Awareness Month.  How many of us would recognize the signs of stalking or feel confident that we’d know what to do?  Do we think of stalking as a “James Bond-style” incident?  A stranger in an unmarked vehicle with secret spy technology watching our every move?  Someone hiding in the bushes?  Peeping Toms?

Stalking may be those things, but it is also, often, found in the context of intimate or former intimate relationships or acquaintanceship.  It’s often our ex partner, our former classmate, a co-worker. It is often someone we know who refuses to acknowledge or abide by our boundaries.  And it can be terrifying.

Below is a story shared with our staff that illustrates the side of stalking that isn’t often talked about but we see all too often (CN: description of stalking and abusive relationship):

I wonder if he ever wonders what happened, the boy who asked me out my freshman year. He was on the football team and lived on my floor in my freshman dorm.  We had calculus together (not quite Rocks for Jocks, but definitely math for people who’ll never use math again). We hung out a few times. We even went out to dinner once at the fancy restaurant in town (literally the only one. God bless small town colleges).

I wonder if he ever thought of me and wondered why he never heard from me again. I wonder if he felt snubbed or ghosted when we stopped hanging out, when I stopped responding to his texts.  I wonder if he noticed that I stopped spending so much time on campus and, in fact, eventually transferred to another school. I wonder if he ever wondered why.

He never saw the other side of what I was experiencing.  He never knew that after an evening of sitting on the quad with him talking about life and school, I’d pull out my phone to see missed call after missed call and too many texts to count asking where I was and why I wasn’t answering my phone. He didn’t know about the unwanted gifts, letters, and messages.  He didn’t know about the surprise visits and the constant pressure to be with someone I didn’t want to be with. He didn’t see the stalking.  For many years, I didn’t either.

I didn’t realize what was going on. A former colleague, a brief romantic partner, a person I tried to push back into friendship when I realized how uncomfortable I was in a dating relationship.  A person who wouldn’t take no for an answer.  There was the constant pressure to be available to him.  To tell him everything about my life and my emotions. The pressure to talk on the phone for hours, even when we had nothing to say to each other and my homework was piling up.  To answer my phone right away and to not be spending time with other guys. The demands to know where I was and what I was doing. There were the unwanted gifts which he made sure to tell me how expensive and difficult they were to find, how thoughtful he was being, as if this somehow meant I owed him something.  There was the time he tracked down my schedule and showed up at my dorm room unexpectedly on a Friday night, knowing I would feel too uncomfortable forcing him to drive the 6 hours back home and would have to let him stay.

As I grew more and more uncomfortable with the situation and more and more aware of how inappropriately he was acting, I tried to distance myself. I gave stronger and stronger signals that his interest was unwanted and would not be tolerated. I cut him out of my life in every way I could.  He continued to contact me through mutual friends and overstepped my boundaries when we worked on the same projects. Even today, when it has been over ten years since I last saw him, I still avoid certain friends, specific locations, and even scents that remind me of those two years in my life. I still worry that I’ll see him at a summer reunion or when I visit old haunts. I wonder if he realizes how much his behavior scared me, how threatening it felt and how much power it felt like he took from me. I wonder if he knows how it affects me to this day.

I never had a stranger parked outside my house.  I didn’t have a stalker following me in the alleys.  I had a colleague who wouldn’t take no for an answer and who wouldn’t respect my boundaries. I had a friend who felt entitled to a relationship and who was determined to build it over my objections. I had my life taken over by someone I thought I could trust. It wouldn’t have been an exciting movie plot, but it felt frightening and violating and it happens more often than we think.

Stalking takes many different forms and can be a sign of an incredibly dangerous situation. If you recognize any patterns of stalking or feel uncomfortable, be sure to reach out for help and support.  Work with a domestic violence agency to create a safety plan.  Make sure trusted friends or family are aware of what is happening. Keep a “stalking log” of everything that happens that makes you feel unsafe and keep screenshots of excessive contact or disturbing messages. Trust your gut.

You’re not alone. If you’ve experienced stalking in the past or you’re currently unsafe, Safe Passage is available 24/7.  Call us at 815-756-5228.

 

 

I Don’t Need Counseling!

Standard

Many people are hesitant to meet with a counselor because they don’t really know what counseling is.  We know going to counseling or being in therapy can seem scary or negative.  It may feel like something is wrong with you.  In truth, the opposite is true!  Reaching out for help can be one of the hardest, bravest, and most healing things you can do. A counselor isn’t going to shame you, judge you, or bully you into changing.  They are your support system; someone you have in your corner to help you process, understand yourself, and start healing.

If you’ve ever wondered if counseling is right for you, read on.  This description is meant to explain what counseling is and isn’t and to outline what clients can expect when meeting with a Safe Passage counselor.

Most counseling appointments are made through our 24-hour hotline.  Hotline staff will ask whether you would like domestic violence or sexual assault counseling.  If you need to talk about your situation with the hotline worker when you call, you can do that and they will listen, validate, and guide you in the right direction.  You will then be scheduled with the appropriate counselor for an intake appointment.  At this appointment, you will be greeted by your counselor in the lobby.  The counselor will introduce themselves and walk you to their office.  Once there, the counselor will allow you to share what brought you into counseling.  You are allowed to go at your own pace and the counselor will never pressure you to discuss or share anything you are uncomfortable with.  The counselors at Safe Passage are committed to being client-centered and trauma-informed which means that you, as the client, get to direct the course of counseling.  At some point during the first session you will be asked to complete some intake paperwork.  Again, you don’t have to share anything you are uncomfortable sharing.

It is up to you how long you stay in counseling and even if you want to return after the intake.  The initial process of seeking help can be overwhelming and Safe Passage staff recognize that.  If you don’t feel ready, we will still be here when you are.

All sessions with your counselor will be collaborative.  Your counselor recognizes that you are the expert on your own life and they are there to guide and support you on your journey.  After a few initial sessions you and your counselor will begin developing specific counseling goals.  As sessions continue, your counselor will help you to move forward on your goals.

Safe Passage staff do not ask clients “what is wrong with you?”  Our staff ask “what happened to you?”  We know you are here because you have experienced some trauma and that you are seeking help because you are struggling with the aftereffects of that trauma.  Our counselors are trained to help clients recover from the trauma they have experienced, whether the trauma occurred recently or in the past.  People of all ages can access counseling at Safe Passage.  If you have any questions about counseling services, the hotline staff can answer those questions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 815-756-5228.

We know it can be difficult or scary to reach out for help, but when you are ready, know that we will be here!

Keeping Up with the Times

Standard

Content warning:  Discussion of digital abuse and stalking.

***

***

 

NPR: I Know Where You’ve Been–Digital Spying and Divorce in the Smartphone Age

If there is one thing that has been constant in our culture, it has been that things always change.  The biggest change in recent years has been the rapid development of personal technology.  Gone are the computers that filled an entire room and the phones tethered to the wall.  Instead, we have smartphones and Google and Alexa.  If you’re extra fancy, you might even have a refrigerator that can tell you what you need to pick up at the store!

This technology has brought all sorts of benefits to our society from improved medical care, increased information on demand, and improved connectivity but it has also brought challenges.  One of those challenges is the way that abusers can harness this new technology to add new and terrifying tools to their abusive arsenal.

NPR recently shared a story about an anonymous woman dealing with the effects of technology (particularly GPS tracking) on her divorce.  NPR highlighted the many ways the woman’s ex-husband was using technology to track her, including a GPS monitor hidden in her car and hidden GPS tracking technology on her phone.

It is important to note that this is more than just digital spying or information gathering in a messy divorce.  This is a pattern of targeted actions intended to abuse, frighten, or harass a victim.  This is nothing new.  New technology like smartphone apps and GPS trackers may be making it easier for abusers, but this is a familiar story for far too many people.  Stalking is common and it must be taken seriously.

Whether using technology or not, stalkers are dangerous.  A woman in DeKalb was killed less than a year ago, despite having an active Order of Protection against her estranged husband.  (Daily Chronicle).  Law Enforcement needs to understand the role new technology can play and the Judicial System needs to effectively enforce Orders of Protection and we all need to speak up and speak out about the dangers of unhealthy and abusive relationships.

If you’re concerned about a current or former partner using technology to track you, don’t hesitate to reach out to Safe Passage (815.756.5228) or your local domestic violence agency.  Help is available.