In the state of Ohio, the law regarding stalking is called “menacing by stalking.” This law prohibits actions that would knowingly cause another person to believe that the offender will cause physical harm or mental distress to the other person.
From 2018 to 2020, there have been 34 reports of stalking on Athens’ campus and on-campus residential facilities. Every survivor's experience is complex and personal.
“I will admit it's a hard story to tell just by the nature of it, but I'm really passionate about this and it's something that I've been wanting to speak out on for a while,” a former Ohio University student who experienced stalking, who spoke with The Post on the condition of anonymity for her personal safety, said.
“I will admit it's a hard story to tell just by the nature of it, but I'm really passionate about this and it's something that I've been wanting to speak out on for a while.” —Anonymous former Ohio University student who experienced stalking
The former student experienced red flags when she was stalked, like her stalker waiting outside the building her class was in, or the stalker saying disturbing things directed towards her. However, red flags look different in every situation.
Because of this, identifying stalking can be difficult. Stalkers can be acquaintances, family members or even strangers. Kristin “KC” Waltz works as a survivor advocate and licensed social worker at the Survivor Advocacy Program, or SAP, an organization aimed to provide confidential support and advocacy services to student survivors of sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating/domestic violence and stalking. Waltz said that potential stalkers can often exhibit red flags, such as “love bombing.”
“Let's say you're talking to somebody and they are constantly texting you or calling you or expecting you to answer them right away — that's a red flag,” Waltz said. “I would say that that happens with people in a relationship and that's a red flag, but also happens with people who aren’t in a relationship.”
Other red flags to watch out for could include a history of failed relationships or constant buying of gifts. The overflowing amount of affection can correlate with the idea of beating someone down until they give in to a relationship, Waltz said.
“Things that happen sometimes in stalking situations is that the person who is stalking might damage your home, your property, your car, because there's a sense of rejection or attention,” Waltz said. “Sometimes you might not know who's leaving you gifts outside your door, and that's really scary when you're somebody who's receiving it. It's not appealing.”
For the former student, the feeling she thought she was exaggerating was prominent.
“It got to the point where I thought, ‘Is this a coincidence? Or is this something more?,’” the former student said. “And I would like to say that when you're going through an event like that, you almost don't trust yourself, you feel like you're being paranoid, or you're making things up, you're exaggerating it, even though your gut is telling you you're unsafe.”
“It got to the point where I thought, ‘Is this a coincidence? Or is this something more? And I would like to say that when you're going through an event like that, you almost don't trust yourself, you feel like you're being paranoid, or you're making things up, you're exaggerating it, even though your gut is telling you you're unsafe.” —Anonymous Ohio University student who experienced stalking
Today, the word “stalking” has garnered a looser meaning, despite stalking being a crime in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories. Many people associate the word “stalking” with stalking someone on social media or joking about the term without knowing how dangerous it can be. Taking away the meaning, Waltz said, can diminish a survivor’s experience.
TV shows can promote the normalization and romanticization of actions like these, such as in the show You on Netflix. But there is more to stalking than what is portrayed in the media.
With the light-hearted use of the term in the media today, there are other ways that a survivor’s experience can be reduced. For the former student, she felt her experience went unacknowledged because of the lack of guidance she got from those she believed could help her.
After the former student opened up to a friend, that friend reported the situation to a professor. The professor was comforting and said she believed the former student, but she ultimately left her with no actionable advice, she said.
Waltz said when someone is experiencing stalking, it’s vital to document what one is experiencing. SAP is able to help guide a survivor through steps that can be taken if they are experiencing stalking. This can start with keeping a log of all the times one encounters their stalker and documenting time, place, what happened and if anyone witnessed it happen. Waltz said it’s also important to let the people around you, like roommates or family, know of the situation and to keep location access off on social media.
“I have a lot of regret for not recording him because he is still out there, he's still hurting people and stalking people,” the former student said. “I feel like if I had had something on an official record, maybe that might help other people … just do something that gives people a heads up that this can't happen to anyone, no matter your age, no matter what you look like. It's really a very scary experience and it's something that we should take more seriously, especially on campuses.”
“I have a lot of regret for not recording him because he is still out there, he's still hurting people and stalking people. I feel like if I had had something on an official record, maybe that might help other people … just do something that gives people a heads up that this can't happen to anyone, no matter your age, no matter what you look like. It's really a very scary experience and it's something that we should take more seriously, especially on campuses.” —Anonymous Ohio University student who experienced stalking
At OU, Kerri Griffin, director of the Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance and Title IX coordinator, helps manage the Title IX policy. Title IX protects people from discrimination on the basis of sex within education, and Section E of Title IX covers sexual harrassment and sexual misconduct. Sexual harrassment and sexual misconduct are then split up between being a Title IX violation and a campus policy violation.
“Things that happen within the university, on campus, within an educational program or activity makes it Title IX,” Griffin said.
The Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, is part of what brought dating violence, domestic violence and stalking into the sexual misconduct realm, Griffin said.
The VAWA went through reauthorization this year, and the Biden-Harris Administration have taken steps toward preventing and responding to gender-based violence, like increasing funding for domestic violence and sexual assault services and directed action to protect students from campus sexual assault.
“We have a definition of stalking in the policy,” Griffin said. “It has to happen more than once, has to have at least two instances. And for our purposes, it has to be on the basis of sex. So if you're stalking somebody because they're a football star, and you're just stalking them because they're famous, that wouldn't constitute stalking under our process. If you're doing it on the basis of sex, it comes to us.”
If someone reports stalking, the questions considered include:
“Has the situation happened more than once?”
“Was it on the basis of sex?”
“Would a reasonable person be afraid for their own safety or somebody else's safety?”
“Does it cause substantial emotional distress?”
Going through the process of reporting can be difficult, especially with balancing safety and mental health.
“Important thing is that the survivor always has a choice,” Griffin said. “Almost always has the choice whether or not they want to go through a whole process.”
A no contact order can be made by the university, which would prohibit contact in person and online. If someone violates the university’s no contact order, they will go to Student Conduct for possible disciplinary action.
Though there are actions that can be taken through the university, the former student believes education about stalking is a foundational step. In her experience, things like drinking, sex, sexual assault and rape were covered, but stalking was never mentioned.
“I feel like stalking and some of the lesser known instances that can happen on campus would be beneficial, like maybe having a program dedicated to harassment and stalking versus just sexual assault and drinking culture,” the former student said.
Rick Sargent, a detective at OUPD, said he used to give presentations about stalking to different organizations on campus, like the Women’s Center, Margaret Boyd Scholars Program and different sororities, but they were discontinued due to COVID-19. Sargent believes there are different forms of stalking that can be seen.
“Some of the crimes that we see on campus are telecommunications harassment, which takes on many forms, with phones and emails and that type of thing,” Sargent said. “Those are being reported a little bit more now than they used to be.”
Sargent said incidents can happen in person as well. He said the first thing students will be asked when reporting to OUPD is “Have you told them to stop?”
“This is a college environment that, like any campus at any university across the state or nationwide, this is not just an OU problem — this is an everybody problem,” Sargent said.
Like Waltz, Sargent agrees it’s imperative to log any interaction the survivor experiences.
“This doesn't just happen to college-aged students,” Sargent said. “As people age, these situations do not go away. They're just under-reported.”
There’s also a psychological aspect of stalking — both during and after, the former student said. Being able to find places to find a sense of community is vital. Places like Counseling and Psychological Services, or CPS, and SAP are available for students to turn to on campus.
For the former student, stalkingawareness.org, a federally funded project providing knowledge from experts and resources to survivors on the violence of stalking, was a useful outlet.
“They provide a lot of good tips on how to support loved ones experiencing stalking, and resources on what to do when you're stalked or even being sexually assaulted or have any sort of trauma related to that,” the former student said.
“They provide a lot of good tips on how to support loved ones experiencing stalking, and resources on what to do when you're stalked or even being sexually assaulted or have any sort of trauma related to that.” —Anonymous Ohio University student who experienced stalking
For those who have survived stalking, Waltz said they can also pursue a Civil Protection Order, or CPO. A CPO lasts longer than a restraining order and can work in all states, no matter where it was originally issued. They can last up to five years, Waltz said. People are also able to report through SAP, and they will help guide them through the next steps. SAP can help a survivor through the process of obtaining a CPO.
To report a violation of Ohio University’s Sexual Misconduct, Relationship Violence and Stalking Policy to the Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance, students, staff and faculty can complete an Incident Form. SAP can guide them through this process, and advocates can also accompany students if they choose to report to the Ohio University Police Department, or OUPD, or the Athens Police Department.
“People think ‘I can handle this on my own. I got this. This is just a minor nuisance. This is just a part of growing up.’ And it's not … This is not normal. You didn't ask for this,” Sargent said.
Sargent said when people report, OUPD will walk them through the process because it’s important to not only document the experience but also to help the survivor find their own closure. Parents are also a huge factor in the process of finding help, Sargent believes.
“Obviously we understand that students don't just live here, this is just a temporary, in some cases, temporary spot for half the year. Take advantage of your home resources as well,” Sargent said.
“This can happen to anyone, and people can reach out for support and help and that they shouldn't be afraid to do so on the basis that there might be retaliation or aggressive behavior from the person who's stalking you,” the former student said. “Because for me, that's what made me not report it. I feel like if I had believed I was being stalked from the beginning, I could have had a very full report on what had happened.”
“This can happen to anyone, and people can reach out for support and help and that they shouldn't be afraid to do so on the basis that there might be retaliation or aggressive behavior from the person who's stalking you. Because for me, that's what made me not report it. I feel like if I had believed I was being stalked from the beginning, I could have had a very full report on what had happened.” —Anonymous Ohio University student who experienced stalking