Stalking: A crime against bodily security

by Dan Colton
for The Beacon

Experts say it’s a crime caused by the desire to intimidate, control and coerce.

It can happen over the internet, at work, out in public or at home after obsessive behavior triggers frightening episodes of stalking, spying and threat making. For victims, the daily fear of their stalker becomes a debilitating specter they’re unable to escape.

“Their motivation is really to accomplish a form of power control, usually to force the person to do what they want to do,” said Dr. Darald Hanusa, University of Wisconsin professor and psychotherapist who specializes in treatment of abusive behavior.

Stalking – defined as a crime against bodily security in Wisconsin – often comes in tandem with situations of domestic abuse. In these cases, victims often feel little or no hope of escaping their abuser. Their daily lives are spent in constant fear of surveillance and physical harm. The obvious solution is to cut out and avoid the offender, but according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the risk for stalking is highest after a separation or divorce.

 “Typically stalking doesn’t come out of the blue,” Hanusa said.

The BJS said about 14 in 1,000 people over 18 experience stalking during a 12-month survey period. That statistic rises to 34 per 1,000 divorced or separated people.

The most common forms of stalking take the shape of unwanted phone calls, unsolicited emails or letters, leaving unwanted gifts and showing up or “staking out” areas where the victim is known to frequent.

But spying on a victim isn’t the most dire consequence of a stalker’s obsessive patterns.

According to Hanusa, stalking is a major indicator of a potentially deadly situation. That’s why it’s important, Hanusa said, to reform abusers and stalkers before their behavior can evolve into something much worse.

Hanusa works with the state-certified Alternatives and Treatment for Abusive Men program. He said he spends a year working with abusive men in an attempt to discover and treat root causes of their harmful behavior.

Often, Hanusa said, abusers were abused themselves. Emotional control and conflict resolution are often at issue.

“It’s no amazement to me that these men end up confusing love and violence, because that’s what they’ve seen,” Hanusa said. Cultural stereotypes of typical male aggression also exacerbates the problem.

But that doesn’t mean abusive or controlling men believe they’re in the right, even if they resist the instinct of wrongdoing. It’s a matter of equipping people with the necessary emotional tools to resist those violent or harmful urges.

“At some level, (abusers) always know it’s wrong,” Hanusa said. “There’s a lot of denial going on to rationalize their behavior. So when the men come into the program it’s a matter of teaching them resolution skills that are not physical,” Hanusa said. “… It’s a matter of talking to them about socialization … that’s not based on power and control.”

He said the program has had its share of success stories.

“I see, day in and day out, men transform and move mountains,” Hanusa said. “They come in, they’re angry, sometimes they’re court ordered to come… and at the end of a year, I hear them say, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever done,’ or, ‘This  saved my life and … I will be a better man, a better partner and a better father to my kids.’ So it’s just something to behold.”

Sue Moehn is a legal advocate at Safe Harbor in Sheboygan. Safe Harbor assists victims of domestic abuse situations, including both men and women. She, like Hanusa, said stalking is a broad term for many types of behaviors under its umbrella.

She also warned that the severance of a relationship is often the catalyst for a stalker’s campaign of control and terror.

 “They want to impress that they are powerful,” Moehn added. “That they can find you.”

It’s often difficult for a victim to escape the abuser because of the amount of scrutiny and observation they’re subjected to. And once an abuser or stalker senses their victim is planning to escape or take their concerns to authorities, the situation becomes increasingly dangerous. That’s when “he knows something is up,” Moehn said. Help is available for victims and perpetrators.

Individuals who suspect or know they’re victims of stalking should immediately go to local authorities, experts said. Filing a restraining order is often the first line of defense. An injunction hearing is then scheduled through the court system, typically within a few weeks.

Moehn said victims should rely on their gut to determine if they’re in danger and in need of a restraining order or injunction.

“Trust yourself,” Moehn said. “Better to be overly cautious.”

 Area establishments such as Safe Harbor also offer a number of services to help victims of abuse and stalking. The agency is located at 929 Niagara Avenue in Sheboygan and can be reached at (920) 452-8611.

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