January 2023 marks the nineteenth annual National Stalking Awareness Month. As a victim of a very serious and violent case of stalking, I wanted to share my own experience and bring awareness to what stalking is, how it can lead to extreme violence that can have lifelong devastating effects on victims, and how to protect yourself.
With one in three women, and one in six men potentially being stalked in their lifetime, this an important topic to cover.
If you ever question whether you are being stalked, ask yourself if what is happening is scary/distressing, not the first incident, and targets the same person (you.)
Stalking is commonly defined as a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear for the person’s safety or the safety of others; or suffer substantial emotional distress.
Thirteen years ago, my husband Ben was murdered in front of me by a man who was stalking me. My husband and I owned a mobile Karaoke business in Nashville, Tennessee, and my stalker was a karaoke customer who became somewhat of a regular singer on karaoke nights. He sent me inappropriate messages over social media until I deleted/blocked him, and my husband ended up asking him to leave me alone. There were no threats, but the messages he sent were what most women would describe as creepy and flirtatious.
So how does something creepy and flirtatious escalate to something as severe as murder? Obsession, jealousy and mental illness. That’s how.
I hardly knew my stalker at all. He was merely an acquaintance, and I only knew his first name. I did not realize I was being stalked until the very night he murdered my husband. It wasn’t until the murder trial that I learned he was delusional and an erotomaniac.
My stalker continued to stalk me, even from prison. He sent twisted love letters to me for years from behind bars that were meant to torment and terrify me. I then worked with legislators in my state of Tennessee to establish a new lifetime order of protection law for victims of the most serious violent crimes.
Why? Because in my state and all across our nation, violent offenders like my stalker are released from prison. My stalker is currently set to be released in less than 10 years.
Regardless, whether the victim knows their stalker or not, it can be terrifying not knowing what their next move will be and if they will become violent. Fear of leaving your house, or traveling to your job, to school, or any errand because your stalker may be watching and following you. Tracking devices such as Apple AirTags have made headlines in the news because stalkers have used them to easily track down and find the object of their obsession.
Stalking resource experts advise victims to change their lives dramatically for safety. Seventy-eight percent of stalking victims take some protective action. For some victims, that action may be calling the police, changing their name, a job change, moving, or obtaining an order of protection, etc.
But one piece of advice is consistently ignored or minimized by these so-called "experts." The basic human right of self-defense. It is my own opinion that getting professional firearms training, situational awareness training and carrying a gun for self-defense is the best security measure a person can make, especially for women. Research has suggested that carrying a gun benefits women 3 to 4 times more than it does for men.
Women, in general, are just not as physically strong as men. Most men could easily overpower a woman physically with their bare hands. The point of carrying a gun for self-defense is to be situationally aware and adequately trained to keep an attacker far enough away from you, that they cannot get their hands on you.
A gun is a great equalizer, putting a female on equal footing against a male attacker. Your job is not to go and apprehend the person who is a threat. Your job is to keep that threat away from you and protect yourself if necessary.
That said, it is essential to understand the laws in your state regarding justifiable use of force and when it is actually legal to use a gun in self-defense. Carrying a gun does not guarantee your safety. But it does give you a fighting chance when you may need it. Because when seconds count, the police are likely minutes away.
Even police know they cannot be anywhere and everywhere at any time.
Nobody is going to protect you as you can. At the end of the day, you are your own first responder.