BROOKSVILLE — Taylor had learned about stalking the same way most teens do, from news reports of victims or elaborated by fictional authors in novels she’d read.
But until she became the victim of an obsessive ex-boyfriend, she had no idea the depth of fear that another could perpetrate on someone they professed to love.
From receiving countless messages on social media to confrontations in public places, Taylor’s ex found ways to keep his presence known, though she’d been very clear about breaking all contact. And she fought to keep one step ahead while constantly watching her back. Until she filed an injunction and gradually he faded into her past.
Six years later, Taylor, who is only being identified by her first name, still shutters at the memories of that frightening dark time.
Stalking is no trivial matter. And it may be more prevalent than one might think. For that reason, the Hernando County government recently declared January as Stalking Awareness Month. Initiating the dialog is important to identifying stalking as a dangerous criminal activity that can lead to a felony conviction for perpetrators. For victims, the scars run deep.
Caitlin Wilcox, a Florida Board Certified attorney who works with domestic violence and stalking victims for Dawn Center as part of a grant received under the federal Victims of Crime Act of 1984, said stalking is often connected to domestic violence cases. There are conjunctions specifically for domestic violence stalking, she said. But the definition of domestic violence includes stalking and aggravated stalking.
“I’ve had a few cases that were just stalking,” Wilcox said. “But overwhelmingly most cases I have, whether it’s dating violence or domestic violence, include elements of stalking. So, it is very prevalent.”
When most think of the term stalking, images of a stranger following the victim often come to mind. And that thinking can be dangerous.
“Typically, it is with someone you’re not in a healthy relationship with,” Wilcox said.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, victimsofcrime.org, stalking is “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that could cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”
“It’s very important to know how you feel, to follow your instincts,” Wilcox added. “In your stomach you kind of feel it, when you don’t feel safe. When you don’t feel free.”
The stalking behavior might be triggered by a break up. “It can be a grey line when someone wants to get back together. But if you say. ‘stop calling me, stop texting me’ and they continue to call and text and call and text, that’s stalking. It’s someone disrespecting your boundaries.”
Stalking and aggravated stalking are crimes. The difference between the two is aggravated stalking includes a credible threat. “Someone texts you saying, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ and shows a picture of a gun in their hand.”
The law is clear with its definition of stalking; “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following, harassing, or cyber-stalking another person.”
Wilcox pointed out that fallacies still exist in our minds that stalking and domestic violence are about physical, observable wounds. “The dynamic of it is that it’s really power and control and manipulation. And with developing technologies, there are more ways to track someone.”
She also pointed out that social media has played a big role in creating favorable conditions for stalking incidents. “Especially with young people, they give so much away.” When they live stream, they are letting everyone know where they are and what they are wearing. Before social media, a perpetrator had to physically follow their victim. Now it’s easier than ever to keep track of someone’s whereabouts.
It is important to remember that laws exist to protect victims. But stigma still lingers which often prevents a victim from coming forward or seeking help. Dawn Center provides many opportunities for victims to obtain the knowledge they need to empower themselves in any domestic violence or stalking situation.
Wilcox encourages victims to reach out to Dawn Center if they fear they are being stalked. “Not only do we have our shelter and our legal services, but we also have our outreach program.”
There are teams in place to provide counseling and can help with ideas on how best victims can protect themselves.
Armed with objective information, legal guidance and representation that Wilcox can provide for free due to the VOCA crime-victim grant, victims of stalking have options.
If you believe you are the victim of stalking or domestic violence, or you know someone who needs help, contact the 24-hour crisis hotline at; 352-686-8430 or 352-686-8430 TDD.