2014 has been the year of the stalker, wouldn’t you say?
Let me count the ways.
In May this year, college student, men’s rights enthusiast and “involuntary celibate” Elliot Rodger shot dead three students at the Isla Vista campus of the University of California and murdered three more in his apartment before turning the gun on himself in an attack meant to target “blonde sluts” who wouldn’t sleep with him. We know this because of the video and written manifestos he left bemoaning his virgin status, fixating particularly on girls from his past who rebuffed him. (This is a frightening trend we can see in the stabbing death of a high school girl who said no to a prom invitation and the shooting killing of a Detroit woman who wouldn’t give her assailant her phone number. And for all you MRAs out there, male entitlement to women’s bodies doesn’t just hurt women: a man was stabbed nine times for defending his girlfriend against street harassment.)
In the fictional world, Orange is the New Black’s second season revealed the extent of inmate Lorna Morello’s crimes, including the stalking of her oft-discussed “fiancé” “Chris-tuh-phuh”, with whom Morello only went on one date in reality. This revelation was one of the more shocking storylines on the show, but on the whole it painted the perpetrator in a sympathetic light as opposed to a potentially dangerous criminal.
Robin Thicke presented a good case for being named the biggest sexist of 2013, and this year he solidified that title by producing an entire album dedicated to the stalking of his estranged wife, Paula Patton. The album failed at “Get[ting] Her Back”, the title of the lead track, and it also failed to make a dent in the charts, selling just 54 copies in Australia alone.
The young adult book blogging community didn’t escape unscathed, either, with author Kathleen Hale thinking she could publish an account of her stalking of a book blogger who gave her a bad review and not see ramifications.
And back to reality: gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian had to cancel a talk at Utah State University earlier this year when organisers wouldn’t do anything about the bomb threat she was sent should her seminar go ahead. Just today, she posted this snapshot of a cyber threat she received on Twitter.
Anti-street harassment organization Hollacback! attempted to shine a light on just what women go through every day while going about their lives in public. While many of the 108 incidences of harassment caught on camera over a 10-hour period of walking alone in New York City couldn’t be classified as stalking, one of the men did follow volunteer Shoshana Roberts for several minutes despite her giving him no indication that she was into it.
But stalking is nothing new: the focus on it in the media this year doesn’t mean it’s a novel phenomenon. Victims of intimate partner abuse, sexual assault and murder are a testament to that (As of 12th November, 2014, 61 women had been murdered by their intimate partners in Australia this year. The murder-suicide of an estranged Deer Park couple yesterday only adds to that unacceptable number.) It is interesting that 2014 has been smattered with high-profile (albeit sometimes fictional) cases of stalking.
In Australia, one in ten people will be stalked, with women making up 75% of victims. As with sexual and physical violence, most stalking is likely perpetrated by a person known to the victim, with 76% of women in the U.S. who die by the hands of their intimate partners having also been stalked by them. Still in the U.S., according to Colorado State University, those who identify as LGBTQ* were twice as likely to experience cyberstalking and harassment on campus, while non-white women also experienced a higher likelihood of stalking in general. And people with disabilities also experience a higher likelihood of victimisation across the board. While Hollaback!’s video was an important one, it failed at showing marginalised women’s experiences as evidenced in the statistics (which is why this video about the harassment experienced by women of colour in New York City is an important next step).
I don’t think the up-tick of stalking in news stories and fictional representations (Gone Girl’s Desi Collings is another example of this) is indicative of an increase in violence against women, I think it’s more representative of the fact that we’re finally starting to give a shit about violence against women. The deluge of allegations against Bill Cosby (though the general public’s response has left much to be desired, with the majority of people willing to believe one man in power over dozens of women with scarily similar stories and not a whole lot to gain) and the ousting of “dating coach” Julian Blanc from many countries, including Australia, on his tour of pick up artistry are evidence of this. We’ve still got a long way to go, baby, especially when it comes to non-white, middle class women, but respect for and recognition of women is gaining strides baby steps in 2014.
So 2014 is the year of the stalker not because stalking is becoming more prevalent but because police reports, news stories and fictional representations are moving into focus.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit http://www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
Related: Gone Girls & Nice Guys.