Stalking is a violent crime that is not often the subject of public conversation, despite being frequently sensationalized in popular culture. This was put on display most recently by Netflix's new hit series, "You."
The show, based on a novel written by Caroline Kepnes, is about a bookstore manager who becomes obsessed with an aspiring writer.
He begins to stalk her, convinced she is leaving him clues to encourage his frightening pursuit.
In the series, the stalker is portrayed as both charming and romantic to such an extent that it seems as though the audience is expected to forget or forgive his killing and abuse.
Despite the plot's twists and turns, "You" follows a general premise that many romantic comedies are based upon: stalking.
At one point, this is even acknowledged by the stalker after he breaks into his victim's apartment and she unexpectedly returns home. At the prospect of being caught, he thinks to himself: "I'm not worried, I've seen enough romantic comedies to know guys like me are always getting into jams like this."
The claim that stalking is a normal, uneventful and even expected aspect of romantic interest is a dangerous and false belief that rom-coms create and nurture.
Stalking is a crime formally known as criminal harassment. It's defined as the repeated and unwanted attention that causes a person to fear for their safety or the safety of someone they know.
Many abusers are not prosecuted until they commit a more violent crime.
In Canada, 1.9 million people reported being the victim of stalking between 2009 to 2014.
The most common forms of stalking or harassing behaviour reported by victims were threats or intimidation against a loved one, such as a child or a family member, followed by repeated silent or obscene phone calls and unwanted emails, texts and social media messages that caused a victim to fear for their life.
Similar to other forms of gender-based violence, women and girls were overrepresented and accounted for 62 per cent of stalking victims despite representing approximately 50 per cent of the Canadian population. In 74 per cent of all cases, a male was reported by the victim as being the stalker.
The "Stalking in Canada, 2014 report found that people who have been stalked are 10 times more likely to become a victim of sexual violence. Women have an 85 per cent greater chance of becoming a victim than men.
Forty per cent of stalking victims report the abuse to police, but unfortunately, even with enough documentation, justice is not guaranteed. Many abusers are not prosecuted until they commit a more violent crime.
Of the cases reported to police, only a quarter of victims said that a court had issued a protective or restraining order against their stalker. These orders were violated 41 per cent of the time.
Police need to believe victims and be proactive when crimes are reported. Courts need to hand out stricter sentences and recognize restraining and protective orders aren't working. With such a high rate of non-compliance the criminal justice system is failing victims and putting their lives at risk.
A lack of compliance and due diligence is why a man in Edmonton was able to stab and kill his six-month-old daughter and her three-year-old sister this past December in Edmonton. At the time of the murder, he should have been serving his 20-day sentence for violating the condition of his probation that forbade him from having contact with the mother of both children, who was also assaulted in the attack.
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Edmonton Police called the death of the two children senseless. It's more than that; it's tragic and preventable.
In 2018, 148 women and girls in Canada were killed, most of them murdered by men. Let's not make this another deadly year.
The Assaulted Women's Helpline offers a 24-hour telephone and TTY crisis line to all women who have experienced abuse. They provide counselling, emotional support, information and referrals and can be reached at 1-866-863-0511 or TTY 1-866-863-7868.
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