Course of conduct. Reasonable person. Level of fear.
Those are the core elements of a widely accepted working definition of stalking—and the definition that is recommended in the Stalking Resource Center’s Model Campus Stalking Policy: stalking is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.
These elements also demonstrate why representation and cultural sensitivity are so important when drafting campus stalking policies and supporting stalking victims. Taking conduct seriously (no matter how it subjectively feels or sounds) and respecting students (and faculty) who may genuinely feel fear are the only ways to establish an effective and responsive stalking prevention effort. The efficacy of the program is critical because one in six women and one in 17 men have experienced stalking, and less than 40 percent of stalking victims have filed a report with law enforcement, which may be related to another fear: the fear of not being taken seriously.
As the Stalking Resource Center notes in its model policy guide, an effective strategy to respond to stalking starts with policy.
A policy demonstrates institutional commitment to the issue and serves as an authoritative mechanism to inform the campus community about this serious crime. A policy on stalking can create guidelines for students, informs the campus body that stalking behaviors will not be tolerated, and can be a proactive measure in guiding student behavior on campus.
Maya Raghu, director of workplace equality and senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center and former senior attorney at Futures Without Violence, highlights that cyberstalking–the incidence of stalking through the use of technology–has sharply increased over the last two decades, and over that same period, colleges and universities have significantly expanded their use of online tools to communicate with students (and for students to communicate with each other), especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Raghu also cited a U.S. Department of Justice study that found that the top two forms of stalking behaviors experienced by victims were unwanted phone calls and messages and unwanted letters and email, adding that “technology is rapidly outpacing the boundaries of the law and surpassing law enforcement’s ability to identify, investigate and prosecute technology-enabled stalking.”
If what Raghu says holds true, then campuses are likely having a difficult time keeping pace with the cyberstalking–even those with strong stalking policies. Raghu suggests “getting ahead of the issue” and “not wait[ing] to react to a particular incident.” Again, that starts with a strong stalking policy and extends to sending clear messages that stalking will not be tolerated and victims will be supported and taken seriously.
The Stalking Resource Center’s model policy clearly addresses potential cyberstalking behaviors in the “Stalking Behaviors” section by including a broad range of “non-consensual communication” to include all forms of unwanted communication and specifying online behaviors, such as:
- Posting of pictures or information in chat rooms or on Web sites
- Sending unwanted/unsolicited email or talk requests
- Posting private or public messages on Internet sites, social networking sites, and/or school bulletin boards
- Installing spyware on a victim’s computer
These behaviors can be updated to include specific learning management systems, such as Canvas, and videoconferencing technology, such as Zoom. In addition, providing faculty with clear instructions on how to safely and effectively manage Zoom meetings to ensure students are protected.
The National Network to End Domestic Violence’s Technology Safety website has several resources campuses can explore to develop or strengthen stalking policies and prevention efforts. The Center for Changing Our Campus Culture resource page also has more than 50 resources campuses can use to address stalking, including the recently released Building Coordinated Community Response Team to Address Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking on Campus: A Toolkit for Institutions of Higher Education developed by the University of Colorado Denver’s Center on Domestic Violence and Casa de Esperanza’s Latin@ Network.