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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Stalking Isn’t Funny

Stop Stalking
Stop Stalking

 

 

 

The following article was submitted by a student in “Women and Society,” a freshman class in women’s studies taught by department chair Christina Bobel. Students in Bobel’s class were required to submit their papers for publication in a local newspaper.

“Are you following me?” she laughs playfully. “You’re such a stalker!” She uses the word casually, waving it off as if she would invite a real stalker to tea. I am not offended at the remark, nor am I astonished that she uses it in this context.

But shouldn’t I be?

To call someone a ‘stalker’ is actually a serious accusation. To stalk is not just to follow or spy on someone. According to the state of Massachusetts, a stalker “willfully and maliciously engages in a knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts over a period of time directed at a specific person which seriously alarms or annoys that person and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and makes a threat with the intent to place the person in imminent fear of death or bodily injury.” Stalking is punishable by up to five years of jail time in Massachusetts for a first offense, and ten for a second.

Stalking is not only a crime, but dangerous as well. Who is to say that unwanted attention the victims receive will not escalate to something more violent?

So yes, her statement should shock me. Instead, I play along with teasing — the nagging sensation in the back of my mind that there is something off. “You got me!” I respond jokingly, and we chatter about how odd it is to run into each other once again.

My friend and I are not the only ones to use this term carelessly. Take the idea of being a “Facebook stalker,” which, despite the name, is not a stalker at all. The phrase refers to a person who spends a lot of time on the site looking at other people’s profiles. It is not unheard of for an individual on my campus to playfully call another a “Facebook stalker,” or to say he or she was “Facebook stalking” last night. And people who say “Facebook stalk” mean no harm and are not trying to scare or cause distress. It’s the equivalent of “following” someone on Twitter.

But is it okay to joke about something like stalking? Is it okay to take it so lightly?

No.

Our society as a whole appears not to take stalking seriously. We treat it as harmless, we ridicule it. We create bastardizations of its meaning, even though approximately three million people in the United States who are real victims of stalking every year fear for their lives and safety.

Our lighthearted attitude towards stalking has consequences.

By treating stalking as a harmless action and making jokes about it, we are condoning the behavior, instead of treating it as a crime.  As if we are saying, “Hey! It’s actually okay to be a stalker! Go ahead!” And that is a big problem.

It appears the punishment for stalking does not fit the crime. Five years seems like a harsh sentence for “simply” scaring someone. Perhaps stalkers are more easily forgiven. “Just don’t do it again,” the judges will say. This lack of justice communicates the idea that it is okay to trespass on someone’s safety.

Joking about stalking trivializes the plight of the millions of victims. Stalking is a traumatic experience. When our society makes light of stalking, it compounds the problem. Not only may the victim be traumatized by the stalker, he or she may be traumatized by the society that allows stalking behaviors.

So, although I laugh with my friend over a coincidental meeting, and I might believe that I am doing no harm by playing along with my friend’s lighthearted jokes, I am contributing to a society where stalking is okay. But it is not okay.

 

 

Email Sarah DeStefano.