Who’s watching you?

Studies show that 13 percent of college women are stalked every academic year, as opposed to the national average of 1 to 6 percent.

Researchers attribute this trend to typical college lifestyles, including high levels of social interaction, prevalence of alcohol and living alone.

A common misconception is that the majority of stalkers are strangers with mental problems. However, a number of studies show that this is not the case, and in fact 80 percent of stalked women knew their stalker previously, usually a boyfriend or jilted lover.

“Most stalker cases where the stalker and the victim do not have a previous relationship involves the stalking of an icon or celebrity,” said U professor Heather Melton.

In addition, research has shown that stalkers do not meet any particular group or demographic. They come from nearly every ethnic, social and economic background. The nature of stalking makes it difficult to enforce and create effective laws and preventive measures.

U Chief of Police Scott Folsom notes the importance of the victim saving evidence such as e-mails, phone messages and anything else that could be taken as a threat.

“Evidence saved by the victim is crucial in making these cases work,” Folsom said. “Without evidence it easily turns into a he-said she-said debate, which goes nowhere.”

However, this is easier said than done. Many of the women in Melton’s research voiced the frustration of feeling that police couldn’t help them with their problem. Many stalkers are prudent enough not to leave hard evidence, and restraining orders are only marginally effective.

“Breaking the law is a line that some stalkers shy away from, and others do it without a second thought,” says YWCA chief program director Jennifer Mackenzie. Another problem mentioned by the women in Melton’s study was that police involvement sometimes hurt more than it helped. Incidents such as arrests and police visits would sometimes antagonize the perpetrator, and sometimes lead to more aggravated or violent episodes.

However, police involvement is still the best method of protection from a stalking episode, police say.

“The best solution is early reporting,” Folsom said. “Many victims wait until the situation has escalated to a very serious level. The earlier they start saving evidence and reporting incidents, the more we can help.”

[email protected]