OCO’s SAF Program launches annual Stalking Awareness Month campaign

In this photo from last year's pre-COVID National Stalking Awareness Month, SAF staff are pictured in the accompanying photo. Seated from left are SAF Advocate / Educators Kate Salmonsen, Sara Carmichael, and Katelind Petro. Standing from left are SAF Community Response Coordinator Stacie France and SAF Advocate/Educators Samantha Dolan, Taylor Hart and Mel Thomas.

FULTON — January 2021 marks the 17th National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM), an annual call to action to recognize and respond to the serious crime of stalking.

The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, & Resource Center (SPARC) defines stalking as, “A pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” Some of these behaviors might include unwanted contact via phone calls, text messages, and social media, as well as unwanted gifts, showing up unannounced or approaching an individual’s family/friends, monitoring, surveillance, property damage, and threats.

The theme for NSAM is “Know It. Name It. Stop It.,” and this year, SPARC is asking individuals to learn, teach, share, and reflect on stalking in their own communities in an effort to combat harmful stereotypes surrounding stalking through education.

Despite the fact 6-7.5 million people are stalked each year in the United States, according to SPARC, this issue and misconceptions surrounding it persist. While the media may lead us to believe stalking is something that is perpetuated by a stranger, such as a “secret admirer,” the truth is the majority of stalking victims are stalked by someone they know. Oftentimes, the stalker is a current or former intimate partner, and in fact, there is a significant and sobering connection between stalking and intimate partner violence.

Intimate partner stalking makes up the majority of all stalking cases, and is often a sign that other forms of violence are occurring. Seventyfour percent of persons stalked by a former intimate partner reported violence and control during their relationship, something that is a defining marker of domestic violence, and that Oswego County Opportunities, Inc. (OCO) Service to Aid Families (SAF) program sees daily.

“There is a real and frighteningly significant connection between stalking and intimate partner violence,” said SAF Community Response Coordinator Stacie France. “Many abusers use stalking to intimidate and control their victims. We see many cases where a partner or ex-partner tracks, monitors, follows, watches, spreads rumors, shows up unannounced, threatens, or otherwise scares the victim. And it can occur before, during, or after a relationship.”

While programs like SAF are vital in responding to and preventing stalking in our community, the reality is most stalking victims will tell a friend or family member before going to authorities.

“We need to believe survivors and become familiar with the local resources available to them,” France said. “When in doubt, call our Crisis Hotline where a trained professional is available to help 24/7.”

Victims and survivors of stalking are strongly encouraged to document the incidents, regardless of how insignificant they may seem. Keep a record of every interaction, whether it’s in-person intimidation or cyber intimidation, and save text messages, emails, or other messages when possible. There is a Stalking Incident and Behavior Log available on the SPARC website as well as other useful resources for victims and their family/friends.

Community members looking to assist victims and survivors can also consider donating pre-paid minute cards to the SAF Program.

“Some victims and survivors we serve may not have access to a phone or it may not be safe for them to use their phone because it is being monitored or tracked” said France. “Donations of pre-paid minute cards or pre-paid cell phones are incredibly generous and very much appreciated by the survivors we serve, and can have a positive impact on their safety.”

The SAF program has been serving victims and survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking for more than 40 years. Last year, SAF served more than 600 victims and survivors and answered more than 6,000 calls on its Crisis Hotline from those individuals.

If you or someone you know is a victim or survivor of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual violence or stalking, call OCO’s Crisis Hotline at 315-342-1600. The hotline is available 24 hours a day and is free and confidential.

Individuals looking to donate to the SAF program should also contact SAF through the Crisis Hotline. SAF is the domestic violence and rape crisis program for Oswego County and provides crisis, supportive, advocacy and educational services throughout Oswego County.

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