When Cal Poly graduate school alumnus Angela Key moved from California to Minnesota for her undergraduate degree, she thought she left her past behind. Key was previously stalked and harassed through letters, by a girl who was kicked off the swim team on which Key was a star player.
It took two police actions, but eventually Key no longer had to worry about the envious stalker.
However, her freshman year of college, Key was assaulted by someone she was dating. After the assault, Key said the man made her undergraduate years a nightmare. He told people that she had sexual relations with someone, which was frowned upon at the Catholic university she attended. He also stalked her for several years.
“For about three years on and off I got text messages about the terrible lies he spread about me around campus and the athletic community,” Key said.
The stalking primarily involved hacking her social media accounts and posting her private information to Google. Key had to change many things about her life, from her phone number to her friends. Even after seeking help from the university, she found no solace.
“I did well athletically, academically I was fine, but mentally I felt as though nobody was understanding where I was coming from,” Key said.
Key was able to file a temporary restraining order through the university at the end of her junior year.
National Stalking Awareness Month
This year, Safer hosted events at Cal Poly for National Stalking Awareness Month for the first time. The goal was to shed light on resources that are available to victims, such as Key. Roughly 20 percent of Safer’s crisis counseling services last year concerned stalking.
“We don’t talk about it [stalking] enough,” Safer Coordinator and trained advocate Kara Samaniego said. “And we recognize that we, as a program, need to make that intentional effort to bring it to light and let people know what it is and that we are a resource to address that.”
To address this, Safer hosted events focused on cyber stalking, safety planning and misconceptions about stalking.
When most people think of stalking, they imagine a stranger hiding in dark alleyways, quietly lurking. However, that is rarely the case.
“Just like any other type of gender-based violence, like sexual assault or dating violence, stalking is almost always done by somebody the person already knows,” Samaniego said.
Samaniego said that in most cases, a partner or former partner wishes to exert control over the other person by maintaining a constant presence.
It often begins electronically with little things such as annoying text messages that are brushed off. However, an increase in frequency and intensity leads to fear.
“A lot of people don’t necessarily recognize that it’s stalking until it has escalated to a point where there is a tremendous amount of fear,” Samaniego said.
According to Samaniego, stalking is a repetitive action or behavior directed at a person that instills fear. However, Safer encourages people to be vocal at any point that they feel uncomfortable in a relationship or situation.
Safer and RISE provide trained advocates to develop personalized “safety plans.” In some instances, safety planning may involve turning off phone location services. In other situations, it involves keeping a record log of instances where a stalker made a person feel uncomfortable. It can then be reported to the university or the police.
Someone Stood Up For Me
The “Someone Stood Up for Me” display took place Jan. 25 and 26 on Dexter Lawn. It gave people the opportunity to thank whoever helped them during their time of need.
“People don’t always see the impact they can have on other people’s lives by just accepting what they [the victims] are saying and validating and offering resources and just being a good friend,” Samaniego said.
According to Samaniego, if a friend comes to you, you shouldn’t make them think the uncomfortable feelings they experience are common and should be ignored. Nor should you dismiss their concerns with peer pressure or by choosing sides.
“I lost friends in the process of making decisions because people pick sides on who to believe,” Key said. “I didn’t really get their respect back until the truth came out because they believed his story over mine.”
Instead, Samaniego said trusted allies should address their friend by providing support and suggesting different resources, such as counseling. However, counseling should not be the only option according to Hannah Roberts, the assistant director for Community Prevention and Intervention Services.
“It is so important to validate their [the survivor’s] experience without taking away any more of their control,” Roberts said.
Ultimately, a person’s decision to take action is their choice. An ally must realize that it is not the victim’s fault nor can the ally force the victim to seek help.
“Any kind of interpersonal trauma, like stalking or assault, is an individual experience and in counseling we follow the survivor’s lead,” Roberts said.
The Health Center offers both individual and group counseling, depending on what the survivor feels would work best for them. Key said that although she preferred individual counseling, finding the counseling that works best is vital for survivors.
“It can be powerful to sit down with four or five other people and hear them share similar stories and emotions,” Roberts said.
If you notice a friend may be in danger, Roberts suggested voicing concern through “I statements.” For example, “I am worried about this…” rather than labeling or accusing the victim.
This is also the case if you feel your friend is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship.
The difference between unhealthy and abusive
“There is a difference between an abusive relationship and an unhealthy relationship, but abuse comes in many, many, many different forms,” Samaniego said. “Physical is just one, far more common is the emotional abuse.”
Relationships that are emotionally abusive are, in Samaniego’s words, “repetitively chipping away at self-worth.” Similar to stalking, Samaniego said, abuse is about control.
“A relationship can be abusive for an extremely long time before it becomes physical,” Samaniego said.
For instance, Key’s now ex-boyfriend who stalked her would publicly voice his opinion of her food choice and weight. This ultimately led to her developing an eating disorder and attempting suicide twice.
Key went to many counselors and moved to San Luis Obispo to complete graduate school. She focuses on the importance of body positivism and health.
“I hope that people never go through or try to get through the experiences I did without being protected or self-guarded or self-aware of who they are,” Key said.
If a person in a relationship or a friend begins to notice abuse, Key says speaking out is the most important thing.
“Speak up even when you’re shot down … even if you’re silenced; find other ways to get around that,” Key said. “And advocate for yourself.”
The Health Center, Safer and RISE are all resources on campus and in the community if you or anyone you know is experiencing stalking or abuse.