SPARTANBURG CO., S.C. (WSPA) – January is National Stalking Awareness Month. It’s a crime that’s more common and more serious than a lot of people may realize.
According to a recent study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15% of women and 6% of men experience stalking in their lifetime.
About one in four victims reported some form of cyber-stalking, and more than 60% of victims reported that they feared harm to themselves or a loved one.
7 News spoke with experts about what to look out for and how to protect yourself.
“In our culture, we kind of make a joke out of it sometimes. There are even songs about people being stalked, and it’s kind of viewed as ‘Awe, it’s romantic. They’re in love so they’re stalking them.’ But, in real life, that’s not the case,” Jamie Hughes said. “In real life, it can be very dangerous.”
Jamie Hughes works at Safe Homes-Rape Crisis Coalition in Spartanburg where he’s met a lot of victims of stalking.
“A big red flag is if someone is going out of their way to get in touch with you,” he said. “You have someone out there in the world that is taking their time and energy and effort to hunt you down. You don’t know where they’re going to show up or what they’re going to do.”
Usually, Hughes said, the offender is someone you know.
At Safe Homes last year, they worked with more than 6,000 domestic violence victims, and Hughes told 7 News at least 75% of those victims were stalked at some point.
“About 3/4ths of all murders related to domestic violence involved stalking,” Hughes said.
Hughes said the crime is all about repetition and patterns.
“Two or more incidents after you’ve told someone I don’t want to hear from you again, I don’t want to speak to you again,” he said.
It comes in many different forms, whether it be messages or unwanted comments on social media, or someone physically following you around, it’s those actions that make you worry about your safety and the safety of those around you.
“A perceived threat of death, assault, sexual assault,” Hughes said.
If you feel like you’re being stalked, law enforcement recommends keeping notes and, of course, reporting it to them.
“If you’ve got text messages, save them. Early documentation is the key,” Lt. Kevin Bobo, with the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, said. “Let us approach the suspect. We’re usually pretty good at conveying a message.”
The most important piece of advice: always stay aware of your surroundings, and try to be as private as possible on social media.
“There are going to be some people out there who don’t stop until they get what they want,” Hughes said. “And, often, it’s not the love and affection that they’re proposing. It’s that power and control.”
According to deputies, only 15 cases of stalking have been reported in Spartanburg County since 2016; but they say that doesn’t mean there haven’t been more. They told 7 News a lot of cases likely go unreported.
For South Carolina’s laws on stalking, click here.