Republicans Retreat on Domestic Violence – NYTimes.com

Republicans Retreat on Domestic Violence – NYTimes.com

If you are a Republican, or live in an area where your political representatives have opposed the Violence Against Women Act, I would encourage you to contact your senator and congressman/woman to urge them to vote for VAWA. Find your House and Senate representatives (check your state for your local Congress members).

This bill is S. 1925 To Reauthorize VAWA. It has passed in its committee by a narrow margin (10 to 8) and now has to go through the House and Senate. If current voting patterns don’t change, it will not pass. Senator Chuck Grassley is proposing a different form to replace VAWA — one which weakens its power, lowers its funding significantly, and significantly leaves out certain groups of women.

You can click on your representative’s name in this list, go to the bottom of the page under “External Links,” and find the official’s own web page. That’s where information should be posted on how this official has voted on VAWA, in the past and in the present.

Here is more information about individuals voting for/against VAWA:

Supporters and opponents

VAWA update (as of February 2, 2011)

Congress is comprised of the House + the Senate. So your state should have one or more members of the Senate, and one or more members of the House. These are the people to contact — your representatives who vote for/against VAWA.

Read the VAWA link I posted above; it will bullet-list many of the specific goals that VAWA has accomplished in the lives of victims of violence of both sexes.

It has passed overwhelmingly in 2000 and 2005 in Congress, and it should have passed easily again this year. We can only speculate as to why these leaders have changed their minds on an act that has done so much good for so many.

VAWA has accomplished what it was passed to do, and that is not something you can say about every act of Congress. We must keep it going to support victims of sexual violence, domestic violence, stalking, and other crimes.

Thanks for contacting your local Congressional representative to support VAWA.  I am thanking you personally and on behalf of others I know who are grateful for VAWA and the difference it has made in their lives. VAWA is a lifeline, and it works.

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Online Safety for Women Bloggers

New category on this blog: Internet safety. We’ll be exploring many facets of this category on the blog in the future. Today, we’ll talk about women bloggers, safety, hate speech, and freedom of speech.

The Experience of Women Bloggers

What happens

Women who blog have been routinely subjected to the kind of sexually based slurs and threats that it’s hard to imagine. If you read the comments section in women’s blogs, you will almost invariably see some sort of slur based purely on the blogger’s sex. This is after she has filtered the comments and not let the worst ones through. When a woman who blogs gets threats through the blog that someone should/wants to/is planning to rape her, mutilate her, or kill her, we have a safety issue.

A typical reaction

It’s very easy for those who don’t face this type of reaction to say, “Well, men get slammed and criticized in their blogs, too. If women can’t take it, they should just get off the Internet.” These aren’t bad people; they’re simply unaware of how different, and how awful, the comments really are on women’s blogs. Whether they’re interested in finding this out is an individual decision.

To equate the garden-variety insults and trolling that everyone gets with the gender-based, women-hating comments that show up on women’s blogs is to be entirely out of touch with what’s really happening. In women’s blogs, these comments are not merely mean naughty insults that hurt people’s fee-fees. They are vile, threatening, and chilling.

Examples

Some articles and real-life examples here and here and here and here. There are many more available with a quick Internet search. See whether these comments toward women look really similar to what you see in the comments section of the typical male blogger. He may get called out on wrong info, heavily engaged on his opinion of the issues, or even called names. But he will probably not have his home address posted in the comments alongside a threat to come and rape him, described graphically and in detail.

Free speech vs. hate speech

Efforts are being made to address this problem, but nothing that would abridge free speech — women bloggers don’t want free speech abridged. They just want to be safe and not have to deal with out-of-control, filthy verbal hatred. The challenge women face on the Internet is that they believe in free speech — even if it means a certain group consistently comes on their blogs and attacks them for being women. The problem is what to do when free speech on a woman’s blog so often devolves into vituperation, filth, and hatred from a small but vocal minority, for no other reason than that the blogger is female. The targeting is very specific — women.

Women bloggers will tell you from wisdom and experience that there’s no point in engaging these haters; they won’t change and it will only intensify their threats and the sick cruelty of their comments on the blog.

The only real solution is to block their comments or IP, and many women bloggers find that a number of haters simply sign up for another email account or uses another computer and come right back. In the meantime, more haters have found the blog by then. So she’s dealing with a constant stream of the worst ideas that can come into the heads of woman-haters. And the worst ideas are as bad as you can imagine.

But when do threats cross over into real danger? At what point does vituperative gender-based venting become hate speech? Many women bloggers can answer that question specifically, using comments on their own blogs as examples. But because we all –women included — want the Internet to continue to be a free and open exchange, we all — men included — face this problem.

Until men as a gender realize and accept the level of hate and danger that women bloggers as a gender face, we won’t all be united in combating people whose hate seems to utterly control them. I think many people don’t realize just how much those few bad eggs really, really, really hate women.

But it’s just talk

It may only be a matter of time before we start seeing news stories of these threats being actually carried out. It is my own hope that the haters are cowards who spew bile and muck online but won’t take action. Even so, no one should have to tolerate that kind of unbridled hate speech. And it is hate speech, even if in the interest of free speech we never decide to classify it that way. We, all of us, don’t want to find out whether a threat is credible only by reading about it afterward in the next morning’s paper.

Ideally, people would want to mature, would get psychological help, would do whatever it took to work past their hatred of women so that we didn’t have this terrible choice between free speech and just spewing uncontrolled hatred on women bloggers. I believe, and other women have said, that free speech is more important.

It’s shameful that a small group has to pay such a high price on behalf of everyone online in order to help preserve free speech. And women bloggers are paying that price to support free speech, in which they firmly believe. It would be great for them to hear and know that others are cognizant of the price they’re paying and the hatred and danger they’re coping with in order to make sure we all have a free place to speak and be heard — even those who post hate speech and least deserve that freedom.

Take a first step

What can we do? This is not a rhetorical question, but a real one. I’d like to hear your ideas, suggestions, and comments. (Be forewarned that comments that dismiss, derail, blame, or are hostile will not be posted.) We’re looking for comments here that are productive, generate more thinking and ideas, and/or support bloggers who have experienced this level of hatred and hostility. So really, what can we do to combat this?

Thanks, bloggers! You rock.

Profile of a Female Perpetrator

This is another one of the promised articles for calendar year 2008, and it took more research than usual. There’s less data on female sexual offenders than on male offenders, and the data that exists is interpreted in many ways. The information below is culled from a number of sources (see the source list at the end for examples) and represents an overview of generally accepted conclusions about female sexual perpetrators. If we are dedicated to rooting out sexual assault in our society, we must face facts.

The truth about female perpetrators and child sexual abuse

The heartbreaking introduction must be this: Twenty to 25 percent of substantiated child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by women. That’s right — one-fifth to one-quarter. Please understand this number correctly: It’s estimated that females report only about 10 percent of their sexual assaults, but males (especially children) underreport their sexual attacks even more.

What that means is that if 20 to 25 percent of substantiated cases are committed by female perpetrators, the real percentage is likely somewhat higher due to the fact that males underreport female attacks at an even higher rate than females underreport male attacks.

Current numbers show that about half the victims of female perpetrators are male, half female. In the case of the male victims, we can draw a fairly immediate line from victim to victimizer: About 59 percent of male sex offenders have a background of female sexual abuse.

Tragically, another line is even more direct than that: A male sex offender who has been sexually abused exclusively by a female chooses only female victims on average over 93 percent of the time.

What is a female perpetrator like?

It is widely acknowledged that women sexually attack for different reasons than men, particularly in the case of molesting a child. For example, where a man may use a child for sexual gratification, a woman may use a child sexually as part of her search for intimacy. Female perpetrators are often loners and have trouble forming relationships. Most come from abusive backgrounds.

So far as we have information, female offenders are significantly less likely than male offenders to perpetrate a violent sexual attack such as forcible rape, although those do happen. Their sexual attacks tend to be predicated on “winning” the victim and having a relationship with him or her.

Female sexual perpetrators are far more likely than male perpetrators to have an opposite-sex partner in crime. Many female sex offenders assault at the behest of a male partner, or at least facilitate and witness his assault. Far fewer female perpetrators act alone than male, and when they do, they typically have a longer, more severe history of abuse than male perpetrators. Far more male perpetrators than female actually don’t have a history of sexual abuse. Studies show that women are extremely unlikely to sexually assault a child where there’s no history of abuse in their own lives. These are simply informational statements as of 2008.

Female child molesters target boys significantly more often than girls. Female perpetrators of forcible rape or sexual assault against adults, however, tend to select female victims.

There may be truth to the idea that females are less likely to sexually offend than males. This unfortunately tends to feed our unwillingness to see females as abusers, to take their offenses as seriously, to hold them as culpable, and to sentence them as we sentence male offenders. There is no excuse for any blindness that interferes with protecting people from sexual assault (particularly children) and prevents effective justice and treatment for all offenders.

The double standard: How we portray and punish sexual offenders

Our society often thinks of women as the nurturers and caretakers of society and doesn’t want to see differently. Over 85% of male victims of female perpetrators are not believed when they tell their story. Media stories of male perpetrators use terms like rape, forced sex (another problematic term), and sexual assault, where stories of female perpetrators often use deceptive terms such as had an affair, had sex with, slept with instead of the more accurate raped or sexually assaulted. With a female perpetrator and an underage boy, in particular, people more often assume a kind of caring relationship between the perpetrator and her victim. The boy’s experience might even be regarded as a rite of passage. Male attackers are animals, while female attackers are “troubled.”

This double standard does not go only one way, however. Male sexual assault of females is considered sad, but a fact of life, and people even have sympathy and understanding for male attackers. “He must have had a terrible childhood,” “Boys will be boys,” and so on. Female attackers, on the other hand, are considered to be far sicker than male attackers. There can be perceptions such as “He’s just doing what men do; she’s a sociopath.”

Regardless of perceptions and prejudices, today’s laws should at the very least reflect the equal responsibility of women who have committed a sexual assault. They do not. The tragic result is systematic injustice perpetrated via the legal system. Female child molesters, for example, are arrested, charged, and prosecuted at significantly lower rates than male. They are sentenced more lightly. That’s if they reach the legal system at all, which they also do at a lower rate. Most female sexual perpetrators are never even arrested — fewer even than male rapists, and not many male rapists are ever arrested. So it’s a very small number.

Myths and messages about male sexual assault victims

If the injustice stopped with the legal system, that would be bad enough. But male victims find they’re lucky if they’re not simply laughed at when they tell their story of being sexually assaulted. Social custom still sends false and crushing messages to male victims — messages as antiquated as the lopsided sentencing laws. People’s reactions to male victims — whether the victims are children or adults — can include:

  • “You should feel lucky.”
  • “A real man would be glad to have sex.”
  • “What’s the matter with you? It was just sex.”
  • “What did she do — hold you down?”
  • “You got attacked by a woman?”
  • “I wish she’d come to my house and attack me.”
  • “Honey, she’s your babysitter. You probably just misunderstood.”

These are some of the same messages people give to women who are raped, and if there’s anything I’d like today’s post to communicate, it is this: Sexual assault, and the painfully false messages and lack of support that can follow, are equally damaging to female victims and male victims alike.

In today’s culture, men often don’t — and often don’t dare — allow themselves to appear vulnerable. It’s incredibly difficult to even talk about a sexual assault, especially if a man has internalized, all his life, any of these common cultural myths:

  • Real men always want sex.
  • It’s impossible for a woman to rape a man.
  • Women don’t sexually assault people. Women don’t molest children. If they do anything, it’s just play. It’s not really bad or serious.
  • It’s OK for an adult woman to “have sex with” a teenage boy, even though it’s not OK for an adult man to “rape” a teenage girl, because boys and men are just sexual animals.
  • A real man would be grateful for it.
  • Men want it. And if they don’t, something is wrong with them.

We’ve begun challenging myths when they’re applied to female victims. Now it’s time to stop perpetuating myths when they’re applied to male victims too.

What about female victims of female perpetrators?

Younger female victims are reluctant to say they’ve been assaulted by a woman because they may question their own sexuality or worry about how they’ll be judged by others when people find out they were attacked by a woman. Like male victims of all ages, female victims of all ages are also much more likely to grow up to assault someone else than someone with no history of abuse or assault.

Resources for male sexual assault victims

As we’ve mentioned in this blog before, resources for male sexual assault victims are fewer than for female sexual assault victims. Here’s my earlier post on this subject. (Update in 2012: I’m sure there are more resources now. I’ve seen them, but haven’t had the time to go back and update all the relevant posts.) You would expect this, given the lopsided ratio of female sexual assault victims to male victims overall, but the ratio of resources for men is not even equal to that. Part of the problem is that while women have pressed for, and gotten, research done on their assaults, men’s relative silence due to severe shaming and social pressure has guaranteed that very little research has been done specifically on male victims. This is a heartbreaking oversight that needs to be remedied immediately.

Here’s a bit of the little we do know: If you are the wife, girlfriend, etc., of a man you suspect has been sexually assaulted, be a safe person for him to talk to. If you have children, let him see you being fiercely protective of them — and tell him you’re protective of him too. Open up a space for him (as opposed to badgering him) to talk to you if he chooses. Prepare ahead of time by having resources in hand that he might want to look at. If you sense he’s not open to talking to you about it, give him the materials. Be willing to be wrong about it and look foolish; you’d be shocked at how many men carry this secret. Eventually he may take action. Support his absences while he goes to meetings or counseling, and be willing to go to counseling with him if he wants you to. Above all, never, never shame him or blame him for any part of what happened.

Where is a child least safe?

It’s worth noting that despite the news stories in recent years, schools are still one of the safest places for children. Sexual abuse by teachers comprises less than 10 percent of all sexual assaults on children. The least safe place for a child is in the family. The vast majority of child sexual assaults are committed by family members. Incest stories tend to not make the news as often or as memorably because they’re so much more common than sexual abuse by others.

Wrap-up

Did anyone else notice the obvious conclusion to this research? The biggest single step we can take to help get rid of sexual assault in our society is to stop assaulting and abusing people today — especially children, who are tomorrow’s attackers if we assault them instead of protecting them. To stop a sick pattern — stop it!

Resource list for this post

Profile of a Male Perpetrator

Four major types of rapists are consistently identified by law enforcement experts, profilers, and psychologists. The vast majority of research has been done on male perpetrators, and this information reflects studies of men. The four rapist types are:

  1. Anger-excitation rapist
  2. Anger-retaliation rapist
  3. Power-assertive rapist
  4. Power-reassurance rapist

When people say, “Rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power,” they’re especially correct about the power-assertive rapist. This person is looking for the power trip. He feels entitled to a woman’s body if he wants it.

That attitude isn’t isolated. You’ll see that sense of entitlement in many areas of his life. This makes it a good warning sign if you’re considering dating someone. He may not be a rapist — most men aren’t rapists — but either way, he won’t be someone you want to date. His sense of entitlement won’t go away, and you can’t make it go away. Don’t waste your time and energy, and risk your own safety, trying to fix him.

About 44 percent of reported rapes are committed by this type. He may be violent and aggressive, slapping the woman around during the attack, but he probably isn’t trying to kill her. That’s not what gives this type of rapist his power rush.

The anger-retaliatory rapist lives exactly up to his name: He’s mad at someone female, so he’s going to find a female victim and retaliate. Perhaps 30 percent of reported rapes fall into this category. This is the rapist who’s going to want to degrade his victim. His physical attack on a woman will be punitive and humiliating, and if she resists, he’ll likely feel provoked and violently angry.

The type of rapist you often see in TV programs is the anger-excitation rapist–the true sadist who becomes excited through torturing his victim. Her pain turns him on. Although this type is popular among TV writers, in reality it accounts for only about 5 percent of reported rapes. He is the most likely of all types to kill a woman he has raped.

Finally, the power-reassurance rapist is another popular TV staple, though only about 21 percent of reported rapes are committed by this type of rapist. Without the skills to develop a romantic relationship with a real person, he substitutes a fake relationship for the real one by raping someone. This may involve romantic declarations and even his idea of foreplay.

Since he prefers to believe his victim is interested in him sexually–he may even view her as his date or his girlfriend–he wants to keep the violence to a minimum. He may threaten a woman with a weapon, and with a minimum of physical force gain control, but he may not even have a weapon. This type of rapist is most likely of all the types to be dissuaded by crying, begging, or talking to him.

Male gang rapes are considered a different type. Men who wouldn’t necessarily rape a woman on their own are more likely to do so in a group that rapes.

Keep in mind that any and all of these rapists can be people you know. You can be date raped, acquaintance raped, stranger raped, maritally raped, by any of these types of rapists.

  • There is no universal rule about whether to fight back or not. One of the tools you have in making this decision mid-attack is your gut instinct. You are the only one who’s looking into this rapist’s eyes. Don’t mistake your fear as a message from your gut that you shouldn’t fight back–you’d feel terrified during any attack. Do listen to your gut telling you whether this guy is willing to go all the way and kill you, or not.
  • The best time to deal with a pending attack is right at step 1, by trying to prevent it. This won’t always succeed, but far better to avoid the whole thing if it’s at all possible. Run into a crowd of people in a public place. Run out of the house into the street. Speak assertively and let him know you’re not a victim. Speak soothingly and tactfully and try to reason with him until you can get safe. Whatever you can think of to get out of the situation.

Recommended to read next: New post up called “The Self-Defense Dilemma: Blaming the Victim?”

Marital Rape

speak up against marital rape posterMarital or spousal rape is rape committed by one spouse against the other. This type of rape has been controversial in the modern era because of the historical assumption that marriage takes away the woman’s right to refuse to have sex.

As you read the following paragraphs, you may think to yourself, “Where did this information come from? What’s the source?” There are so many sources on this subject that I’ve chosen to list a number of them at the end of this post rather than insert them within the text.

The “ownership” view that rape couldn’t exist within marriage was upheld in British and American common law for a long time, based on legal opinions such as this: “But the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract” (Sir Matthew Hale’s History of the Pleas of the Crown, 1736).

Additionally, even atheists will point to the Bible as an example of “common sense”: “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:4-5, NIV).

They interpret this to mean that neither spouse can ever say no to sex — and in an ancient patriarchal culture, the real effect was to give the husband sexual autonomy but not the wife.

Conveniently, people often skip the very next verse, verse 6: “I say this as a concession, not as a command.” They also skip over the numerous passages throughout the Bible regarding the mutual love, respect, understanding, and gentleness that are actually supposed to characterize marriage.

Even today, when laws against marital rape exist in all 50 states–historically a very recent development–the cultural assumption of sexual “ownership” presents a massive barrier to better laws and enforcement, and to providing support and care for victims of marital rape. The reflexive, unthinking assumption is that when two people get married, the wife no longer has a right to say “no” or to own and control her body.

Commenters on the Internet are quite frank: “If she didn’t want to have sex, she should’ve have gotten married.” Assumption: When a woman takes marital vows, she gives up her free agency, sexual autonomy, and sexual power of choice as a human being forever. Or until divorce.

The more “civilized” version pressures women to simply “choose” to not have a choice — to always have sex according to her spouse’s will — and then crows that the woman has made this choice herself. This is not genuine free choice either.

Both spouses should be able to say No to each other. Both spouses should respect the other person’s No and not punish them emotionally or physically for it. Spouses who are not free to say No are not free to fully love.

Today, when we have the benefit of more knowledge and of studies on the subject, we also know that men don’t always want sex either. I’ve focused on women not because rape of husbands doesn’t happen (it’s rare, but it does happen), but because historically the husband’s sexual agency and his ability to say No, own his body, and set his own sexual agenda were not interfered with. In general, married men still had control over their bodies; married women explicitly did not.

Here are key facts about marital rape law and the realities of marital rape.

  • Until 1976, rape laws in all 50 states contained a Marital Rape Exemption specifically to prevent husbands who raped their wives from being charged with a crime.
  • As of 1996, only 17 states and the District of Columbia had abolished this exemption completely.
  • While all 50 U.S. states have laws against marital rape, 33 of the states consider marital rape a lesser crime than other types of rape–typically they charge the attacker with spousal abuse or battery instead of rape.
  • Studies show that marital rape is the most common type of rape. Ten to 14 percent of all completed rapes are committed by husbands or ex-husbands, and in keeping with rape reporting statistics nationwide, experts believe this is an underestimation of the actual incidence of marital rape.
  • Marital rape involves extreme trauma. Many people consider marital rape less traumatic than other types of rape, but studies show the opposite is true (see this example of information, and there’s plenty more with a simple Internet search or your local library). Being raped by a spouse is a betrayal of one’s trust, one’s humanity, and of the relationship. This is a whole other level of trauma not found in stranger rape or even date rape–our trust in a stranger or a date is far less to begin with, and our personal investment in them minimum to none.
  • Victims of marital rape have very little of the support that other rape victims can access. Many people around the victim may not believe it was rape at all. Victims of marital rape, far more than victims of other types of rape, find themselves having to cope in nearly total isolation.
  • It wasn’t until 1993 that marital rape nationally became a crime in the United States. For many years the U.S. legal system allowed a loophole in the marital rape law having to do with whether the spouses were actually living together at the time of the rape. If they were, the perpetrator got off. Additionally, when it’s already so difficult to secure a rape conviction for any type of rape, convicting rape within a marriage based on evidence is vanishingly unlikely.
  • One of the most common myths about marital rape is that it happens when the wife withholds sex from her husband. Research and evidence demonstrates decisively that the wife’s withholding sex is not the cause of, and doesn’t lead to, marital rape. Interviews with attackers and other evidence have all pointed to marital rape as a demonstration of control and power or an outlet for the attacker’s rageaholism.

Bottom line for both spouses: How much respect and autonomy and ownership of your own body do you want? Give that same level to your spouse. Let’s be clear: We’re not saying to demand as much sex from your spouse as you want yourself. We’re saying to extend to your spouse the same level of self-ownership and freedom you want your spouse to extend to you. Full agency = full love relationship. There are no shortcuts.

Helpful sources of information include:

If you’re a victim of marital rape, you can access the same social services resources as all other rape victims. (See this earlier post on what to do if you’re raped. Also check the blogroll on this blog for RAINN, AARDVARC, and other resources for domestic violence and sexual assault.)

Be aware that individual members of law enforcement may still harbor prejudice about marital rape and may even encourage you not to report or not to get evidence collected at the hospital. Please don’t let this stop you. Someone has committed a rape against you, and that’s a crime–you have every right to protect yourself, gather evidence, and get help.

If you’ve forced sex on your spouse, whether by verbal pressure or threats, brandishing a weapon, or physical violence–get help now! Don’t do it even one more time. Contact any rape support group or resource, and they’ll willingly point you to the help you need. Or contact SHARPP in the list above and check the resource list at the end.

Getting safe and getting help: Stalking

woman with shadowy stalker in backgroundStalking Isn’t Like Other Crimes

See this previous post on stalking, with a definition and basic info about stalking. Today’s post will provide you with a safety plan and tell you what to do in a stalking emergency.

Stalking is a major issue for both sexes. Unlike rape, where the victim ratio is heavily skewed toward female victims, stalking happens to over a million women each year–and also to almost 371,000 men, over a third. Eighty-seven percent of stalkers are male, which means women comprise 13% of stalkers, a far higher rate than for any of the other crimes we’ve provided information for so far.

Interestingly, out of the 28% of female stalking victims and 10% of male stalking victims who obtained a protective order, 69% of the female victims and 81% of the male victims had the order violated. For whatever reason, protective orders against stalkers are more effective for female victims than for male victims. (This is not true, however, of protective orders against male stalkers who have committed domestic violence.) This information is worth noting if you’re facing a stalking situation.

The good news: Stalking is against the law in all 50 states. Whether it’s unwanted phone calls, letters, vandalism, threats, being followed, or other stalking actions, you have legal recourse. For information about specific laws in your state, visit “Stalking laws state by state.” For more information that’s well organized and easy to follow, visit Washington State University‘s Stalking Resource Center page (looks like it’s sponsored by their Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response Taskforce).

Stalking Safety Plan: Immediate Danger

If you’re in immediate danger from your stalker, your first priority is to find a safe place. Family and friends can help you get out of a dangerous situation. Be very careful. Don’t pick tactless or argumentative people to help you–pick people who can focus on effectively helping you get out of danger.

  • Home of family/friend, a place your stalker doesn’t know;
  • Police station;
  • Domestic violence shelter;
  • Church;
  • Public area.

Your next priority is to contact the police. Call 911. If the police don’t respond, ask for a supervisor, or ask someone to contact police for you. Identify yourself, report the incident and request confidentiality. If you’ve previously obtained a protective order, tell the police so that the current incident will be linked to the order and the stalker can be penalized for violating the order. You might also decide to contact other social support services in your community as needed, such as a therapist or victim assistance program.

Here’s what the Stalking Resource Center (SRC, part of the National Center for Victims of Crime) suggests as an emergency safety plan*:

While a victim may not be in imminent danger, the potential always exists; therefore, a contingency plan (a sort of “fire escape plan”) may be appropriate. Suggested considerations include:

  • Knowledge of, and quick access to, critical telephone numbers, including:

    • Law enforcement numbers and locations;
    • Safe places (such as friends, domestic violence shelters, etc.); and
    • Contact numbers for use after safety is secured (such as neighbors/family, attorneys, prosecutors, medical care, child care, pet care, etc.).
  • Accessible reserve of necessities, including:
    • Victims may wish to keep a small packed suitcase in the trunk of their car, or at another readily accessible location, for quick departure;
    • Reserve money may be necessary;
    • Other necessities — such as creditors’ numbers and personal welfare items such as medication, birth certificates, social security information, passports, etc. — should be readily available;
    • Miscellaneous items — like always keeping as full a tank of gas as possible in the car, backup keys for neighbors, etc. — are practical; and
    • If a victim has a child(ren), she/he may want to pack a few toys, books, or other special items belonging to the child.
  • Alert critical people to the situation who may be useful in formulating a contingency plan, such as:
    • Law enforcement;
    • Employers;
    • Family, friends, or neighbors; and
    • Security personnel.

Stalking Safety Plan: Not in Immediate Danger

1. Apply for a protection order. These are given at the discretion of the courts–they’re not guaranteed. They may cost money. Contact your local court clerk to find out where and how to apply. While you may need an order to help your case–it’s just a piece of paper, not an armor, and it only takes effect when it’s violated. Continue taking steps to keep yourself safe as suggested below and in other resources listed here.

2. Research and find out your local stalking laws. State laws can be found here, and you may want to Google your local city and county as well. What precisely is defined as stalking? What’s the penalty? What do you need to do to support the legal process in dealing with your stalker? Contact your local prosecutor to find out more, and search “stalking+[your city]” on the Internet.

3. Document your stalker. Take pictures of the stalker stalking you and of any physical damage he/she does to you or your property. Keep a written log of times when you see the stalker–where, when, what circumstances. Keep this file in a secure place. This will support your case against the stalker, and as such, it may become evidence in court.

Steps to Keeping Yourself Safe

The SRC suggests these safety guidelines if you’re being stalked.* Ask police for other suggestions when you report. It may not be practical to, for example, hire a personal bodyguard, but utilize all the safety steps you can.

Preventive Measures.

  • Install solid core doors with dead bolts. If victim cannot account for all keys, change locks and secure spare keys.
  • If possible, install adequate outside lighting. Trim back bushes and vegetation around residence.
  • Maintain an unlisted phone number. If harassing calls persist, notify local law enforcement, but also keep a written log of harassing calls and any answering machine tapes of calls with the stalker’s voice and messages.
  • Treat any threats as legitimate and inform law enforcement immediately.
  • Vary travel routes, stores and restaurants, etc., which are regularly used. Limit time walking, jogging, etc.
  • Inform a trusted neighbor and/or colleagues about the situation. Provide them with a photo or description of the suspect and any possible vehicles he/she may drive.
  • If residing in an apartment with an on-site property manager, provide the manager with a picture of the suspect.
  • Have co-workers screen all calls and visitors.
  • When out of the house or work environment, try not to travel alone if at all possible, and try to stay in public areas. If you ever need assistance, yell “FIRE” to get immediate attention, as people more readily respond to this cry for assistance than to any other.
  • If financial means exist, use a “dummy” answering machine connected to a published phone line. The number to a private unlisted line can be reserved for close friends and family, then the stalker may not realize you have another line.

If someone is stalking you, you need the Stalking Handbook. It’s a terrific booklet full of solid information, not speeches, and it’ll help you stay safe.

Other helpful resources and web pages I found while putting together this entry:

*All rights reserved. Copyright © 1997 by the National Center for Victims of Crime. This information may be freely distributed, provided that it is distributed free of charge, in its entirety and includes this copyright notice.

Washington State’s Confidentiality Program

Address label with address crossed outAddress Confidentiality Program

I just became aware of a Washington State service called the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP). If you’re fleeing from domestic abuse, stalking, or a sexual assault, you may be able to access this program to keep your new address and contact information strictly confidential.

There are certain requirements you have to meet–the Confidentiality Program has to be only one strategy in an array of strategies to keep you safe. Essentially, they don’t want you to use this program as your only safety strategy while ignoring the other safety guidelines given to you by police and other agencies. They want you to be really serious about staying safe.

To access the Washington program, call 1.800.822.1065 or visit the Confidentiality Program web page. While you’re there, click on the More Services for Crime Victims link for more Washington resources.

Available in other states

The better news is that there are ACP programs in 31 states. View a PDF document with program addresses and phone numbers here. You may also want to do an Internet search, because most of these programs also have a web page somewhere with more information. Why the URL isn’t listed along with address and phone number, I don’t know.