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digging up the roots of gender-based violence

Tag Archives: stalking

End Stalking Before it Begins

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Crosspost from Give Hope a Voice

This month is Stalking Awareness Month. In its most fundamental form stalking is defined as any unwanted obsessive attention or contact between individuals or groups of people. The contact may be physical or through technology and directly or indirectly communicates an explicit or implied threat, leaving the victim feeling fearful or intimidated.

Education around legal definitions, signs of stalking, and resources for victims is necessary and important. As a Prevention Education Specialist I understand the importance of also talking about primary prevention, or ending stalking behaviors before they ever begin. In order to do that we would need to take a closer look at entitlement, respect, and consent.

Primary prevention best practices would have the message of consent and respect come at an early age. Teaching children to respect bodily autonomy and consent should be delivered through mixed methods, from multiple sources, and at several stages of child development. Accountable communities would teach children the ethics of consent in such a way that encourages children to want to be respectful of each other’s boundaries and to know that their own bodies and personal space should also be respected – even by parents, relatives, teachers or other figures of authority. We would teach them that violating bodily autonomy would never be socially acceptable or tolerated.

I recently met with a group of teachers and counselors to discuss alarming behavioral issues that have swept their 5th grade classes. I was told stories of children leaving repeated love notes and death threats in lockers and desks, stories of kids following other kids around the playground even after having been asked to stop, going through belongings without consent, and harassing and intimidating behaviors and threats being delivered through text message, social media and other technology mediums. Their request was that I add a section within our Gender Respect curriculum related to bodily autonomy, consent and age appropriate bystander intervention.

At first glance, and out of context, these children’s behaviors sound strikingly similar to stalking behaviors. These behaviors are often dismissed as typical child development or even as “cute” or expected between children. This normalization of disregard for consent is absorbed by kids at extremely young ages and may lead to harmful behaviors when children mature into adulthood.

Many parents, teachers and media outlets unknowingly teach children harmful ideas about consent.

Talking to children and teaching them consent and respectful behavior at early ages isn’t difficult and here is a basic guide to start:

  1. Ask for consent before doing anything to a child’s body. Ask before picking them up, hugging, tickling, cuddling, or kissing their cheek. Respect their answer if they say no or ask you to stop and teach them to do the same.
  2. Respect a child’s request to be put down if you’re holding them. Never require them to hug or kiss a relative unless they say it’s okay. Children communicate lack of consent through both verbal and non-verbal cues and it’s important to recognize signs and teach them to do the same.
  3. Teach children that their body belongs to them and its okay to tell a grown up or another child not to touch them, hug them, or kiss them.
  4. In instances where a child’s consent to touch their body is overridden in a need to protect from harm (A speeding train is about to hit them and you need to pull them to safety), apologize for surprising them and grabbing them without asking first, then explain why it was necessary to do so in that moment.
  5. Teach children that when they violate personal space, boundaries and/or consent of other children, it may be scary and hurtful to the other child. Talk about the feelings that may come up when someone doesn’t respect personal space and how to avoid hurting others in that way.

HAVEN is Oakland County Michigan’s center for the treatment and prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault. For additional information or to learn more about Prevention Education options in your school system contact HAVEN’s Prevention Education Department at 248-334-1284, ext. 360.

Kristopher (Kole) Wyckhuys is one hopeful and optimistic voice within an intersectional social justice movement. As a Prevention Education Specialist at HAVEN, his focus is redefining healthy masculinity and works to engage men in ending gender-based violence. After graduating college he served in the military where he trained as a Combat Medic and Mental Health Specialist. Kole is an Iraq war veteran, NPTI certified personal trainer, and a trained massage therapist in addition to his work as a prevention educator. He envisions a collective consciousness that embraces individual and social responsibility, accountability, and equanimity. He shares his home with a 3 year old pup named Peanut the Pitbull.

The Basics: Unconsented Contact, or Stalking is a Synonym for Hunting

At Uproot, we occasionally do a short intro piece on some of our subject matter. January is Stalking Awareness Month, so we’re featuring this post to bring some understanding to a complex issue.

huntingtigerStalking is a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause any reasonable person to feel fear. Stalking is also what hunters do to their prey.

Far too often, stalking isn’t taken for the serious problem that it is. Many people, my co-workers included, will use it to mean, “I was looking for you to ask you a question” or “I have been waiting for you” or even to clarify that “I am only coincidentally following you right now”. Stalkers intend to make their chosen victim feel afraid. I am sure that when my co-workers are coincidentally following me to the bathroom, their goal is to get to the toilet in time rather than make me afraid.

We also shouldn’t overlook that stalking necessarily means a course of conduct, that is, a pattern of behaviors. Giving unwanted gifts. Showing up uninvited. Doing unsolicited “favors”. Driving by the victim’s house over and over again. In most states, stalking laws include language indicating that multiple incidences are necessary. In Michigan, the law states there must be 2 “unconsented contacts” in order for stalking to have occurred. “Unconsented contact”, according the Michigan criminal code means “any contact with another individual that is initiated or continued without that individual’s consent or in disregard of that individual’s expressed desire that the contact be avoided or discontinued.” So, unconsented contact means that the stalker never asked for consent OR the victim actually said, “stop it!” and the stalker ignored the directive.

So, what are the behaviors that stalkers use to terrify their chosen victims? They are legion, for sure, but here is the breakdown from the Michigan criminal code. Most states have similar legislation.

Following or appearing within the sight of that   individual.
Approaching or confronting that individual in a public place or on private property.
Appearing at that individual’s workplace or residence.
Entering onto or remaining on property owned, leased, or occupied by that individual.
Contacting that individual by telephone.
Sending mail or electronic communications to that   individual. There is specific cyber-stalking legislation too, but this should   be understood to include Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
Placing an object on, or delivering an object to, property   owned, leased, or occupied by that individual.

Another thing to think about is intent vs. impact. The stalker knows what they are doing is wrong, even if they make excuses. They especially know that what they are doing is wrong if they’ve been told to knock it off. Even so, the law says that what matters is how the stalker’s behavior makes the chosen victim feel, or how a reasonable person would feel when targeted by the stalker with the same behaviors. But it isn’t just a matter of the law, it’s also a matter of human decency and basic respect for individual autonomy. Impact trumps intent.

If you or someone you know is being stalked, you can get help. HAVEN has a 24-hour crisis and support line, staffed by people who want to help. 1-877-922-1274.

Cristy Cardinal is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has worked in the field of ending gender-based violence since 1997. Cristy has three kids, all of whom she is happy to share (gross or funny or weird, whatever) stories about any time. She is an avid fabric artist in addition to being a loudmouth feminist. Cristy is the 2012 winner of the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence Wave of Change Award, honoring excellence in social change and prevention of gender-based violence.