A boy waits for you outside the class. You met him recently, and you don’t know very much about him. You didn’t ask him to wait for you, and he never asked you if you wanted him to.
You feel uncomfortable, but you don’t know how to tell him. You know what’s happening isn’t right, but you’re not exactly sure what to do.
Your ex-girlfriend texts you daily, even though you don’t respond. You’ve blocked her on social media, but she makes new accounts just to follow you.
She threatens to harm herself if you don’t see her. You’re afraid she will make good on the threat. You don’t know who to tell or talk to about it, but you want this behavior to end. Sometimes it feels like she will never leave you alone.
A man you went out with once keeps showing up in the same places that you happen to be. At first you thought it was coincidental, but then it kept happening. After the third time, you told him to leave you alone.
All of a sudden, he began showing up outside your home. You fear for your safety, and are unsure of how far he might escalate. All you want is to be able to live normally again.
According to Oklahoma City Community College’s Annual Security Report, there were 38 total reports of stalking from 2013 to 2015. Those numbers jumped from just two in 2014, to 13 in 2015 – a 550 percent increase in just one year.
One young woman, Sara Jones, has experienced the fear of being stalked. Sara agreed to tell the Pioneer her story, but asked that her name be changed.
Jones was walking through the college’s parking lot one afternoon, just about to reach her car and head home. She was relieved the day was over. It had been hard in recent weeks, dealing with a messy breakup in the midst of school and work. Her ex-boyfriend would not leave her alone.
She spotted her car at the end of the long row ahead of her, when a man jumped out from behind a nearby vehicle, yelling her name.
Within seconds, she realized the man was her ex-boyfriend. He had known where she was going to be, and was waiting.
Sara ran as fast as she could to her car. She called her mother for help, who told her to go to the campus police.
Before the incident in the parking lot, Sara had received a text from her ex earlier that day that said, “I see you.”
“At the time, it didn’t even rub me the wrong way. Because of all the crazy stuff he had said to me before, I wasn’t even phased. I thought he was just trying to scare me,” Jones said.
This was not the first time he had followed her.
Sara’s ex had shown up at a restaurant where Jones was eating dinner, causing a scene. He had come to her house multiple times, and spoken to her little brother when she wasn’t home. These were only a few incidents that occurred after the end of their two year long relationship.
“At the beginning of it, I thought it was something that would go away. I figured not speaking to him would make it go away,” Jones said.
The incident in the parking lot was the last straw for Jones. She went to the security office that same day and filed a report.
She was met with understanding and support.
“They were very helpful in providing resources and making sure that the school was a safe place for me to be. Title IX has a great program if you’re being harassed at school. If you’re getting a restraining order, they will have a woman come with you during the process so you don’t have to be alone. They’re a great resource,” Jones said.
Jones hasn’t heard from her ex since the restraining order was filed.
“It was a huge weight off of my shoulders,” Jones said.
Many victims of stalking are confused, scared, and unsure of what they can do. Some victims do not even realize that they are being stalked. It can take shape in many different ways and forms. It isn’t as simple as a stranger following you home.
When someone makes you feel uncomfortable by following, observing, surveilling, or communicating with you two or more times, whether directly or indirectly, it is stalking.
It could be sending threatening messages through text or social media, or simply having unwanted contact repeatedly.
“A lot of times people don’t understand what’s happening at first. It’s definitely something that’s complex and difficult and pretty emotional. It’s a really odd situation to be in,” Jones said.
According to the Violence Against Women Act and Oklahoma’s statutes, stalking is defined as two or more acts directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety.
This includes, but is not limited to, acts in which the stalker directly, indirectly, or through third parties, by any action, method, device, or means, follows, monitors, observes, surveils, threatens, or communicates to or about a person, or interferes with a person’s property.
OCCC’s Equal Opportunity Director and Title IX Coordinator, Regina Switzer, believes that the jump in the college’s stalking reports may be a result from a better educated student body.
“I think people understood better what stalking is after the introduction of the sexual harassment training,” Switzer said. “Because they understand the concept better, they are more likely to report stalking behavior.”
Stalking is a fairly common occurrence. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men experience stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime.
“We’ve come into a time where it’s just more recognized,” Switzer said.
She explained how easily dating relationships can escalate into stalking when things go wrong.
“When they end, one of the person’s doesn’t want to let go, and that can easily bleed into a stalking situation. With just two or more unwanted contacts, you get there pretty quickly,” Switzer said.
Both Jones and Switzer advise others to report stalking behaviors as soon as possible.
“If a person feels like a pattern is there, they don’t have to be able to sort it out or answer all the questions. It’s better to report and be overly cautious than to be under cautious, or not cautious enough,” Switzer said.
Jones encouraged frightened students to report the incident.“For anybody going through the same situation, it’s better to be safe rather than have something worse happen to you,” she said.
People who stalk are statistically more likely to be prone to violent behavior, according to the National Census of Victim Service Providers. In 1 out of 5 cases, weapons are used to harm or threaten victims.
It’s not something that the school wants students to take chances with, Switzer said.
“People need to know that they need to trust their instincts and trust their gut. If you feel like you are being stalked, it may be that you are. It’s better to get help. Even if you’re not sure,” Switzer said.
Switzer advises keeping all documentation of the behavior as evidence.
“If you feel like an old boyfriend is stalking you and his texts become concerning, don’t delete them,” Switzer said. “If he shows up on your door, keep track of the dates.”
Reporting stalking also helps prevent further incidents to occur with other potential victims. The NCVSP has found that almost one third of stalkers have stalked before.
“Imagine if no one had reported [him], to what extent would he go? Those people don’t need to be on campus,” Jones said.
If you feel like you are being stalked or that your safety is at risk, the college has resources to ensure you are not alone.
A confidential report of sexual assault or stalking can be made by contacting a licensed counselor in the Student Support Services Department in person, or online through a complaint form that can be submitted in order to discuss options with the college’s Title IX Coordinator.
A report can also be filed with campus police in person, or by phone through the department’s non-emergency line at (405) 682-7872.