Hema Khan, program attorney for the Stalking Resource Center at the National Center for Victims of Crime, gave a presentation to the Georgetown community about stalking behavior Monday evening.
Khan, an expert on stalking law, said that she aims to improve victims’ safety and well-being and to strengthen the mechanisms for holding perpetrators accountable.
“We have a duty to educate and spread awareness as much as we can in order to get a better understanding of what this crime is,” Khan said. “There is a lot of misunderstanding about what exactly is stalking behavior.”
According to Khan, although stalking is a crime in every state, each jurisdiction has a different definition for it. To clarify the term, the National Center for Victims of Crime has a working definition of “a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”
“One incident is not enough to be considered stalking,” Khan said. “It is a course of conduct, repeated again and again over a course of time, usually two or more under most state statues.”
The most frequent form of stalking is unwanted phone calls and messages, Khan said. Regardless, stalking can consist of surveillance, vandalism and identity theft, among many other forms.
Although men are occasionally victims of stalking, women under 25 are by far the most targeted group. According to a 2010 Center for Disease Control study, one in six women is stalked at some point in her lifetime. The report also found a high incidence of stalking in the LGBTQ community.
Stalkers are most often males and current or former intimate partners of their victims who resort to stalking because they have an obsessive need for control or are unable to accept rejection, Khan said. There is also a considerable incidence of mental illness among perpetrators.
Khan added that popular culture and discourse tend to portray stalking as a romantic or funny gesture.
“Society maybe presents stalking as something that is socially acceptable,” Khan said. “There are movies like ‘[The] Cable Guy’ with [Jim Carrey] or songs like ‘Paparazzi’ by Lady Gaga. … Why is it that we use stalking so freely as a term? I mean who hasn’t heard somebody use the term ‘Facebook stalking’ in the past month? When we use the term so freely, so casually, it minimizes it. What people need to realize is that this is a very serious, illegal crime.”
Khan told students that whether they have been victims of stalking or know friends who have been victimized, the best thing they can do is take advantage of resources on campus and in the city.
Director of the Women’s Center Laura Kovach said that, in the past few years Georgetown has made a push toward promoting awareness about the stalking problem on campus.
“Our strategy here has been empowering and addressing our community as one of bystanders rather than [of] potential victims or perpetrators,” Kovach said.
She also said that there are nonprofit groups in D.C. that provide resources to victims.
Students were surprised by some aspects of Khan’s speech.
“I thought it was really informative about something that people don’t give a lot of attention to but is experienced by so many of us,” Scott Ruona (MSB ’15) said. “It was nice to give what behaviors exactly constitute stalking some thought and be presented with some ways … to effectively address them both psychologically and culturally.”
Eric Nevalsky (SFS ’16), who occasionally works with stalking victims at the LGBTQ Resource Center, agreed.
“The most interesting thing for me was learning about all the ways you could engage in stalking, [like] sending gifts,” Nevalsky said. “I’d never thought something like that would be considered stalking and that it only takes a few instances for the behavior to be classified as such. It seems to me that stalking in the media is usually talked about over much broader time periods, like over years and years.”
Nevalsky said that he would incorporate what he learned into his work with stalking victims.
“Also, I have a little sister, and I want to watch out for her,” Nevalsky said. “We all have a responsibility to be aware of bystanders when it comes to things as serious as this.”