Beyond the show ‘You’: How stalking presents in real life

Between girls on Twitter begging the fictional stalker Joe Goldberg to kidnap them to the (uncomfortably) funny memes surfacing after season two, Netflix’s “You” is doing exactly what pop culture is supposed to — creating a big buzz.

Under the surface, however, the show is sparking conversations about stalking, and forces critical viewers to go beyond their screens to consider how true-to-life Joe’s character really is.

These conversations can be hard because the very definition of stalking is not clear cut. However, Prevention Education and Advocacy Center Coordinator Samantha Dickens said there are a few commonalities among the various definitions: it’s unwanted and causes what is considered a reasonable person to fear.

“Something to that effect is pretty typical because with this definition it takes into context that some people who have been through trauma or who are mentally ill might be more prone to paranoia, hallucinations and delusions [so] they might believe they’re being stalked and they’re not,” Dickens said. “Or, they might think they’re being stalked but [they] are taking what is actually appropriate behavior and because they have experience with trauma or they’re mentally ill they misconstrue it.”

Further complicating discussions surrounding stalking, there is not much known about the issue.

“There’s not a lot known about stalking because there’s not a lot of evi-dence and many stalkers are never arrested,” Dickens said.

From what is known, the show can be considered a fairly accurate — although extreme — representation of stalking, according to Dickens.

“Most stalkers don’t abduct people, they don’t kill people, but [Joe’s] thoughts around all of that and his willingness to harm other people for what he claims to be a good intention, that’s pretty accurate,” Dickens said. “Stalkers get really obsessed, they want to have a lot of control over the person they’re obsessed with and they’re willing to make sure other people get cut out of that person’s life to have control over them. So again, Joe’s kind of an extreme example, but fairly accurate.”

Throughout both seasons of the show, Joe victimizes multiple women — Beck, Candace and Love — as well as their loved ones. Dickens said having multiple targets is also commonly seen with stalkers.

“Just like with sexual assault, just like with domestic violence, most stalking offenders are serial offenders, they’ll go on to stalk another person,” Dickens said. “We didn’t get to see a lot of Joe’s behaviors with Candace, but there definitely seemed to be an element of stalking there, and then he did it with Beck, then he did it with Love.”

In this way, the show can be informative, but it may present some drawbacks. Director for Title IX Coordination Jamie Ball said while she has not watched the show, she has kept up with conversations surrounding it, and fears Joe’s behavior coupled with his handsomeness can be misconstrued. The show is largely narrated by Joe, also adding to possible mixed messages.

“There’s still the potential for there to be a romanticized notion for that kind of obsessive behavior, that it’s somehow ‘he must really love her if he’s willing to go to such extremes,’” Ball said. “I think, especially for an immature audience … it could be mistaken for a very devoted form of love.” 

Ball said this mistake can easily translate into real life as well. 

“The thing that we all need to be respectful of is sometimes what ultimately evolves into a stalking situation might begin as some sort of polite interaction,” Ball said. 

According to Dickens, stalking occurs the most frequently in younger populations. 

“Most stalkers start young,” Dickens said. “The majority of stalking victims are 18-24; over 50 percent of people who had been stalked were stalked in that age range, and typically your stalker happens to be in a similar age range.” 

Even though most college students fit within this age range, Dickens said about 13 percent of college women reported being stalked while in school, but within the larger population, about 15 percent of women and 6 percent of men reported being stalked. 

Dickens is familiar with surveys sent out by Trish Oberweis, a professor in the department of sociology and criminal justice studies. Dickens said the number of students who reported on the 2018 survey as having experienced stalking behaviors was slightly higher than that of 2016. Dickens also said the results showed slightly higher incidents of stalking reported than at the national level for college campuses. 

“Now some of that is probably just our students having a better understanding of what stalking is, but some of that is also probably a genuine rise in stalking,” Dickens said. 

 Ball said she hypothesized these higher numbers to be a byproduct of the MeToo movement, which made people more willing to recognize and speak about their experiences. 

Throughout her time in SIUE’s Title IX office, which has been roughly two years, Ball said she has seen approximately 12 incidents of concerns of stalking, and some of these cases may have been cross-reported with the police. 

Between Ball’s office and the police, concerns of stalking-like behaviors typically fit into one of two categories: two people knew each other well but the other doesn’t want to continue being contacted, commonly seen in break-up scenarios, or two people do not know each other well but one devotes a lot of attention to the other person.

Ball said she finds the first scenario to be the most common, while Police Chief Kevin Schmoll said he has seen more of the second scenario. 

“It’s usually an acquaintance-type thing and they’re classmates somewhere and usually the person just wants to get to know them better, maybe have a relationship with them, and just kind of follow them around trying to find the opportune time to talk to them, but the other person doesn’t want anything to do with them,” Schmoll said. “So it’s really not stalking, it’s just them trying to establish some type of relationship with the other person.” 

While strict requirements must be met to press charges and the Title IX office also defines stalking as more than one instance, a situation does not have to meet this criteria in order for law enforcement, Title IX or the office of Student Conduct to help. 

“Say somebody follows someone one time and it doesn’t meet the two times [definition], we can still step in at anytime and talk to that person, and like I said before, we do have some of those from time to time and usually, 99 percent of the time, it stops and there’s no more recurrence of that type of behavior,” Schmoll said. 

In addition to talking to the person exhibiting concerning behavior, the police can also escort students to and from classes, their vehicles and, if they live on campus, their residences. 

Ball said her office, the police and the Office of Student Conduct can also issue no contact directives without a formal investigation and finding of responsibility. 

“If the idea is we want all of the contact that’s being attempted to stop, [a no contact directive] is one way to get that to happen and the communication would be really specific about the type of contact that’s prohibited,” Ball said. 

Ball also said the directive can help students navigate situations where contact is unavoidable. 

“Sometimes when we’re developing a no-contact approach with two students, we’ll even get into how their paths might be crossing on campus,” Ball said. “So if they share classes or they’re using the same facilities at the same time, we’ll figure out how they’re going to do that in a way so they can both use the spaces they need to use but avoid interaction as much as possible.” 

Those concerned about stalking or who have further questions may contact SIUE Police on their non-emergency number 618-650-3324 or the EOA & Title IX Coordination office at 618-650-2333.

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