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Kelly Gives Tips for Combatting a Stalker

Kelly Garrison is a senior journalism major from Conroe. The opinions in this column are hers.

Stalking is a crime that may not seem serious--until it happens to you. At first, it might seem a little flattering. Then weird. Then creepy. By the time things get scary, you might feel that you've let it go on so long it's your own fault.

One million women are stalked each year, and more than half of the cases involve an intimate partner, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime. The National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women found that the largest group was 18-29 year-olds.

According to the Office of Secondary Education, which tracks crime statistics on 6,000 college campuses, there were 10 murders on U.S. college campuses in 2003. There were 2,581 reported rapes.

In 2004, Curtis Dixon, a student living on campus at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, raped and strangled Jessica Faulkner, a fellow dormitory resident.

According to the Columbia News Service, Dixon, "son of a high-ranking UNC official," lied about having a criminal record and being kicked out of the Navy after only 11 days.

ABC news reported that Dixon had been kicked off two other UNC campuses: UNC-Charlotte, for fighting, and North Carolina School of the Arts for brandishing a knife.

There was information that Faulkner had complained to friends and families about Dixon's strange behavior and constantly following her around and asking her out. Dixon lured Faulkner to his dorm room with an instant message that said he had a gift for her.

A month later, on the same campus, another student with a violent past, John Peck, killed his ex-girlfriend, Christen Naujoks. He had also lied on his application, having previously assaulted a woman.

UNC now employs a task force to increase communication between schools and screen applicants for potential problems.

Before deciding that this is a good idea, consider the flip side of this policy. Opponents say screening students may lead to a false sense of security. Sweeping background checks are costly and inefficient. Liability could be heaped on the university that does screen but accidentally lets a dangerous student through.

Most universities do not screen applicants. SHSU asks about criminal history on each application. If a student with a past tells the truth, they may still be admitted, on a case-by-case basis.

"I would not be the one making that decision," said Trevor Thorn, director of Undergraduate Admissions.

He refers all applicants with a felony to the vice president pf enrollment management. That office, the dean of students and Residence Life jointly considers those cases.

"If I was fearful about anyone living on campus, I would be fearful about admitting them," Thorn said.

If they lie, and if they're caught, "it's grounds for immediate suspension for falsifying records," said Thorn.

University Police Chief Dennis Culak knows of such cases.

"I am aware that there have been occasions that someone had a felony conviction and they lied about it on their application." After contact with UPD, their criminal history was discovered and they were discharged from the university.

Thorn added that Admissions keeps an eye on student safety by talking with students who have had suspensions from other universities, even academic ones, and that UPD has a strong presence on campus, which he feels makes SHSU safer than most campuses.

Interim Dean of Students, John Yarabeck, said that about 75 percent of applicants who check the box indicating they are felons have only done so mistakenly. Of the felons who apply, 95-98 percent are honest about it.

Yarabeck also deals with student disciplinary problems on campus.

"We do everything we can to ensure SHSU is a safe campus, including working with UPD and Residence Life," he said.

SHSU crime statistics can be found on the Office of Post Secondary Education Web site at . After clicking on the "campus security" link, searches can be conducted by crime or by school.

In comparing SHSU to Stephen F. Austin, results are mixed. Both are somewhat rural Texas schools with similar numbers of students.

SHSU had fewer reported dormitory burglaries, aggravated assaults and rapes in 2003 and 2004. In 2003, SFA reported 3 burglaries of a motor vehicle and SHSU reported 1, but in 2004, SFA had none and SHSU reported 1. SFA reported one rape in 2004 and SHSU has reported none for 2003 or 2004.

From 2003 to 2004, alcohol-related arrests at SHSU jumped from 10 to 78. SFA's went down from 15 to 13. Yarabeck feels this increase in arrests at Sam is due to the Alcohol Abuse Initiative, introduced around that time, which has heightened awareness of the issue.

It is important to note, as it states on OPE's Web site, that these statistics are based on reported crimes, and many studies show that rapes are widely underreported.  

A U.S. Department of Justice report found that 13 percent of college women have been stalked. It is defined as any behavior that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.

The problem is, it can escalate gradually, from unwanted advances to harassing phone calls and threats. The victim may feel it isn't serious enough to report or the police may not take them seriously if they do make a report.

To be fair, men can be stalked, too, and it's probably even harder for them to admit they need help or are afraid. But this is exactly what a stalking victim should do.

Here are some tips from for dealing with stalkers, and they work for men or women. Many just make good sense to ensure general safety.

Always think safety. Get a cell phone, keep gas in your car, get a locking gas cap, shred all discarded mail, and take a self-defense class with the purpose of becoming more aware of your surroundings and less afraid, rather than feeling like you can physically take this person on. If you are being followed, find a police station, 24-hour store or even a fire station. Many fire stations are manned 24 hours.

Accept that your life has changed. You will have to make these changes to discourage this person and ensure your safety. Say no, firmly, once, and then do not allow him or her to communicate with you again. advises that you don't change your phone number, but instead, add another line and put an answering machine on the old one. Give the new number only to friends and family, and soon the stalker will be the only one using that number. If listening to the tapes bothers you, have someone do it for you, and document everything. Every incident, every sighting.

Getting another phone line may not be possible for college students, so the important thing to remember here is that any interaction with a stalker can be taken as encouragement, so try to avoid him or her, and never react by screaming or otherwise showing that the stalker is having any effect.

Many stalking behaviors are, unfortunately, perfectly legal. Documenting the problem can go a long way to proving the extent of harassment. Even if you don't feel like going to court now, keep that option open for later--stalking often escalates.

"Your shame is your stalker's best weapon," says, so get the help you need, even if you feel you have to fight for it. Don't be afraid to make noise, ever, and join a support group if you need to. Be persistent with the police if they don't take it seriously right away. Know that stalkers need no encouragement; the behavior is not your fault. added that to help keep your living address confidential, get a post office box and use it on all correspondence, and put the address on your checks.

Your local telephone service provider can set your phone to reject calls from blocked or unknown sources.

Stalking is serious, but if you let it destroy your life, the stalker wins. Keep your sense of humor. Many police officers advise that if you live in an apartment or house, consider getting a dog.

Remember what Groucho Marks once said: "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read."


SHSU Media Contact: Kelly Garrison
April 21, 2006
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