January 2024 marks the twentieth annual National Stalking Awareness Month. This month is recognized as a call to action to help educate the public about what stalking is, the seriousness and dangers of stalking, and how to protect yourself.
So, what exactly is stalking?
Stalking is a pattern of repeated, unwanted behavior which would cause a reasonable person to feel fearful, intimidated, or harassed.
According to the CDC, one in three women and one in six men experience stalking at some point in their lifetimes. With statistics like that, our criminal justice system, lawmakers, and the general public should be very concerned.
I am a survivor of a violent and traumatic stalking crime. My husband Ben was brutally murdered in front of me by a man who was stalking me. When the police searched his vehicle at the crime scene, they found two guns, ammunition, a baseball bat, binoculars, gloves, rope, and a knife.
My stalker continued to stalk me from prison by sending me twisted love letters through the USPS for many years. No, the prison didn’t inspect outgoing mail. The prison even stamps the back of each envelope stating, “Has neither inspected, nor censored and is not responsible for the contents.” Despite these serious crimes, the prison is releasing my stalker early for good behavior. That is the cruel reality of how the criminal justice system re-victimizes victims, and legislatures allow it.
Unfortunately, for many victims of stalking, there are still people who do not take them seriously when they desperately need understanding and help. I remember telling the criminal prosecutor who was working on Ben’s murder case about being stalked by the murderer. I tried explaining what I dealt with, but he stopped me and said, “Oh Nikki, he wasn’t stalking you, he is just crazy!” When a victim cannot even be taken seriously by a criminal prosecutor, that victim is left feeling hopeless. Not only hopeless, but also vulnerable to continued stalking behavior. This is exactly what ended up happening in my case, and the additional charge of stalking was never even considered during the murder trial.
This made me determined to fight for victims’ rights in my home state of Tennessee. I inspired a Lifetime Order of Protection for victims of violent crime and testified before the Tennessee Legislature in favor of the bill. The bill passed unanimously in 2021, and I was the first Tennessean granted the lifetime order of protection. Other victims in my state have now successfully petitioned the court for the same protection.
Unfortunately, orders of protection are only pieces of paper. For victims/survivors of violent crime out there, I highly recommend having a backup plan. I cannot stress this enough: “YOU are your own first responder.” Even the police know they cannot be anywhere and everywhere at any time. When seconds count, you may have to rely on yourself. It would help if you plan accordingly.
The criminal justice system is just a system. It is a flawed system that allows dangerous offenders back into society to re-offend. Recidivism is very real, and rehabilitation is not a given.
So much of the advice given by stalking awareness and victims’ rights groups is about telling victims to run and hide. Examples are: move, change jobs, change your name, don’t travel the same way to your job every day, don’t be alone, get security cameras, get extra locks, get a dog, get an order of protection, etc. Some of this advice may indeed be helpful, but why should a victim have to change their entire life structure and hide away as a hermit? These groups rarely ever balance their advice and mention a victim’s basic human right of self-defense.
I choose to carry a handgun for my self-defense, and it makes me feel safer against a larger, stronger and potentially faster male assailant. A firearm represents a huge change in a woman’s ability to defend herself.
Firearms training is important if you carry. It’s important to have situational awareness and an understanding of the laws on justifiable use of force. I believe in the basic human right of self-defense, but along with that right comes a great deal of personal responsibility.
The one glaring negative I see for victims who want the ability to protect themselves by legally carrying a gun is gun-free zones. For a stalking victim like myself, these gun-free zones are exactly where a victim is most vulnerable and unable to defend themself. What better place for a stalker to harm their intended victim? Those with evil intent can and often are brilliant in their evil plans. I have seen it spelled out clearly in mass public shooter manifestos. They look for gun-free zones to harm innocent people, knowing the intended victims cannot fight back.
Unfortunately, states like California and New York have passed laws in the past year that make almost their entire state gun-free zones.
So, on this National Stalking Awareness Month, I am standing up for victims’ fundamental human right to self-defense. I hope you will as well.