ISU student learns from experience with stalker



Leah De Graaf

It took a breakup from her boyfriend of 12 months for Cassidy to realize the toll a certain friendship was taking on her life.

Cassidy first made contact with her male stalker, this “friend,” on a social networking site designed to bring together artists with similar interests. Both individuals, ISU students within the same college and major, met soon after and formed a friendship.

After going through a bad breakup, Cassidy sought counseling. It was here that she began to reevaluate the other relationships in her life. It became clear to Cassidy what she thought was just a casual friendship actually meant more to her male friend. Soon, she began to notice warning signs that things were going too far.

“No one ever really believed me that this was going on, because he had this other side to him,” Cassidy said.

This behavior continued for two more years with a climax after she separated from her boyfriend in fall 2010. Her stalker jumped at the opportunity to be with Cassidy and began showing up unannounced. There were disturbing letters posted on her door, shrine-type artwork and confessions that led the relationship beyond just friends. Cassidy described the behavior as “over-the-line.”

Other students who knew the two dismissed these early signs as personal expression.

“One of the weirdest was an email where he told me he was dreaming about watching me sleep,” Cassidy said, “and the bizarre text messages where he said he would hurt himself if he didn’t see me.”

January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and according to the Stalking Fact Sheet released by the Stalking Resource Center and the National Center for Victims of Crime, since 2004 communities across the nation have been raising awareness about a crime that affects 3.4 million adults in the United States a year. Assisted by these organizations, citizens are becoming equipped to “know, name and stop” stalking.

As defined by the Stalking Resource Center, stalking is “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”

Capt. Carrie Jacobs of the ISU Police Department said she handles one to two stalking cases a year, but believes the actual number of potential cases is much greater.

“I think stalking is occurring a lot more,” said Jacobs, who is a member of the Threat Assessment and Management division. “It is simply not being reported.”

Identifying a stalker is not always easy. There is no specific profile that law enforcement officials use to identify these individuals.

Jacobs said the only way to identify an individual as a stalker is to pay close attention to their behavioral traits. Some warning signs include an aggressive and possessive nature and extreme changes in behavior, including increased conflicts, desperation, paranoia, needing constant contact, monitoring phone calls and substance abuse.

A person needs to possess three or four of these traits to be identified as a stalker, as was the case with Cassidy’s stalker.

It was only after her rough breakup and seeking guidance from the university’s counseling services that Cassidy began to identify these negative and harmful qualities. Her friend was dealing with anxiety, depression and lack of self-worth. Cassidy found herself feeling responsible for his actions.

“He had a lot of mental issues too that we had talked about,” Cassidy said. Her counselor helped her realize her “follower” was bringing her down and making it even harder to recover from her own mental breakdown.

“I started thinking about me more because after the whole relationship I kept thinking, ‘What is best for him?'” Cassidy said. “I don’t want him to hurt himself. I wasn’t thinking about, ‘Oh … he’s peeking in my windows.'”

One night, it all exploded and Cassidy decided this was enough.

“We were texting and I just realized, ‘Hey, this is done,’ and he ended up coming over,” she said. “It was scary that time; I was afraid. I wouldn’t let him into my apartment because I was like, ‘This is too much for the both of us, our friendship needs to end,’ and it was really hard … there was no contact after that.”

All it took was the help of a stranger for her to realize the pain being caused in her life could end. One night, Cassidy found herself saying, “I can’t do this anymore. I am not good for you, even though I am trying to protect you, and you are definitely not good for me.”

Jacobs said her first step when a stalking victim contacts her is to run them through their options.

“My position at that point is to advocate for them and to let them know what I feel would be the best course of action,” Jacobs said. “The decision at the end of the day is still their’s.”

Jacobs said the only case where a police officer would take action into their own hands would be if they felt the victim was in imminent danger.

“Our ultimate goal is not to necessarily arrest the stalker or the offender, but to make sure that victim is as safe as possible,” Jacobs said.

“Story County is absolutely tenacious in prosecuting stalking here in Iowa … A lot of counties kind of shy away from actually charging the stalker. They prefer to add on another harassment charge.”

For many victims of stalking, contacting the police may seem like a radical step. Iowa State and Story County have multiple other resources for individuals seeking help.

One on campus resource for victims of stalking is the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center. Individuals can seek out a quiet place to study or find someone to talk with.

For National Stalking Awareness Month, the Sloss House is putting together the second annual Stalking Awareness Panel titled, “Don’t Follow Me this isn’t Twitter #StalkingAwarenessPanel.”

During the panel, scheduled for 5:30 to 7 p.m. Jan. 26 in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union, panelists from the Department of Public Safety, Judicial Affairs and Student Assistance will discuss how stalking is defined, the policies Iowa State has in place and approaches to handling stalking.

“Hopefully, students who come to the panel will learn that they are not alone, that they have resources, and what stalking is,” said Chris Fowler, interim director of the Women’s Center.

Cassidy said the biggest thing she learned from her own experience was how important it is to share struggles and emotions with others.

“Don’t keep it to yourself,” she said. “Make sure your friends know or your family knows that you have this friendship that is kind of interesting. Don’t be embarrassed if you are caring about someone that has problems.”