Carolyne Sysmans | Mustang News

Reports of stalking to Safer have increased since Cal Poly began promoting “Stalking Awareness Month” on campus three years ago.

“The numbers that we have aren’t necessarily indicative of all of campus,” Safer Coordinator Kara Samaniego said. “It’s very, very underreported, just like all forms of gender-based violence. We see just the tip of the iceberg here.”

In the 2016-2017 school year, Safer’s stalking/dating violence numbers consisted of 30 individuals, with 135 served total. In 2017-2018, there were only 21 individuals with 133 total served.

When Safer started outreach about stalking, people learned more about the definition of stalking and began looking at their own relationships and experiences. More people started to come in, according to Samaniego.

“We began to see more and more people coming in and feeling validated and saying, ‘Yeah, this person contacting me is scaring me, it’s making nervous, I’m afraid to go home, I’m afraid to walk home for fear that someone is following me or they know where I am,’” Samaniego said.

One animal science junior experienced stalking firsthand. She asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the topic.

“When I was in high school, my junior year, I was a lifeguard at a pool and it was my first season,” the animal science junior said. “One of our pool managers, he was kind of always just kind of rubbed everyone the wrong way. He started dating a 15-year-old on staff and he was 19, which is like massively illegal.”

“He started trying to be our friend and wanting to hang out all the time, and then it escalated,” she said. “He would always be texting me incessantly trying to get me to hang out with him and send me these really inappropriate text messages . . . I would shut him down immediately, saying, like, ‘Hey, I’m not interested.’”

During the time she was being stalked, she was only 17; he was 21.

After another instance with one of her coworkers, the police were notified of the situation. The case lasted nearly two years in court where her stalker took a plea deal.

“Had he actually gone to trial, it probably would have been 60-plus felonies on his behalf,” she said.

As part of the settlement, there is also a restraining order against him for the next 10 years.

“He has to stay away from my car, my work, [my] school, myself — so like, for example, he couldn’t come to San Luis Obispo and get near Cal Poly,” she said.

The judge ended up giving her perpetrator six months in jail, five years probation and a lifetime on the sex offender registry.

Safer’s role

For those who are stalked, Samaniego said it is a case-by-case basis for how to address the situation.

First, an advocate will spend a time with the individual to identify the different areas of their life that are being impacted, such as classes, work and their home life.

“I think peoples’ first instinct is to almost minimize this behavior,” Samaniego said. “How stalking is perpetrated is a pattern of behavior over a period of time directed at a person that causes them to feel fear. It’s slowly over time and I think that’s what makes it really difficult to identify right away.”

One of Safer’s primary roles is safety planning and making sure people know what their resources are. This includes encouraging people to make a log of contacts they have, not only to preserve evidence, but to have the individual begin to recognize the pattern as well.

“That gives something tangible to their fears of like, ‘Yeah, that would make me nervous too if someone called me 15 times a day and I’ve [already] asked them to stop,’” Samaniego said.

Safer can also help navigate instances where the survivor would like to involve law enforcement or the university.

“Stalking Awareness Month” events

This month Safer held eight events to help spread awareness about the seriousness of stalking.

Some of the biggest events include the Sex E comedy, formally known as Smile and Nod, on Jan. 25 and “An Evening with Ted Bunch” Jan. 29. Titled “It Takes Courage to Stand Up For What’s Right,” hosting Bunch is a collaboration with the Men and Masculinity Program, the Office of Diversity and Inclusivity and Safer.

“We’re bringing him to campus to specifically talk about the men’s role in addressing gender-based violence, so it’s not stalking-specific, but just like every other form of gender-based violence, males are predominately the perpetrator, whether the victim is male, female, doesn’t identify on a gender binary or trans,” Samaniego said. “By far we see [most of] these crimes being perpetrated by men.”

A lot of stalking cases are perpetrated by a former or current intimate partner, but Samaniego said one of the biggest fears is the fear of the unknown.

“It’s incredibly frightening, to be stalked,” Samaniego said. “What we know about people who perpetrate, not only stalking, but other forms of gender-based violence, is that it’s rooted in this power, this need to have power and control over another person and this sense of entitlement to this other person.”

The survivor felt similarly.

“I think he thought he was invincible, and I think he thought no one was ever going to find out,” the survivor said.

Other events in January included partnering with University Police Department, an online safety workshop and a discussion with an immigration attorney from the Dream Center.

What is stalking?

Samaniego said the first red flag of stalking is a gut feeling that people have when someone is communicating with them multiple times and they feel uncomfortable with it.

“If you are being made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe, even to the point of feeling fearful, from a pattern of behavior by somebody, so over a course of time, maybe somebody’s repeatedly texting or sending messages through Instagram or Snapchat or Facebook or any method like that, and you ask them to stop and they continue to do it — that is where I would begin to say, ‘Yeah, that’s serious,’” Samaniego said.

Oftentimes, people tend to minimize what could be considered “stalking” because it tends to happen over social media, rather than right in someone’s face.

“By the time they have entered your physical space, [when] they’re waiting outside your classroom, waiting outside the gym, waiting outside your house, it’s been probably happening for a long time,” Samaniego said.

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