When stalking hits close to home

This year, there have been almost 200 stalking incidents reported in the city of Kingston

A 2004 Statistics Canada report found that nine per cent of women under the age of 25 were victims of stalking. This is higher than the 25-35 age group at six per cent.
A 2004 Statistics Canada report found that nine per cent of women under the age of 25 were victims of stalking. This is higher than the 25-35 age group at six per cent.

Kingston has one of the highest rates for stalking in Canada, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an unsafe city, according to Kingston Police.

Steven Koopman, Constable and Media Relations Officer, said last year there were 145 incidents of reported stalking in Kingston.

This year, there have been 197 incidents reported to date in the city, which has a population of approximately 123,000. The Canadian average is 59 reported stalkers per 100,000 people, according to 2011 figures from Statistics Canada.

Koopman said Kingston Police Force (KPF) was unable to confirm any reasons for the rise in numbers of incidents for this year although he believes the city is safe for students as stranger-on-stranger stalking is rare.

In 2011, there were only four instances of reported stranger-to-stranger stalking in the city. This is a decrease from 2010 when there were 11 and 2009 when there were 30.

“The statistics may also be indicating that our officers are well-educated on the issue, can properly identify and categorize a call as criminal harassment and take proper action, rather than simply dismissing it as a domestic incident or suspicious activity, he told the Journal via email.

He did note though that with the increasing internet usage, cyberstalking can sometimes develop into personal stalking outside of the online realm because of the expansion of social media.

“Most social media sites state they are free, but we pay for this freedom with our personal information,” he said.

He added that geo-location based social media, like Foursquare, can help to determine a pattern of behaviour in a potential victim, like which coffee shops, bars or restaurants they like to frequent.

“I’ve seen on Foursquare [people who have] actually created at home addresses as a location that they can check into. Why would you make your address a place you can check into?” he said. “You are now telling every single person where you live.”

Stalking, also known as criminal harassment, is defined by Section 264 of the Criminal Code as repeatedly following, communicating or watching another person in a way to make them fear for their safety.

In 2004, Statistics Canada published a report that found that nine per cent of women under 25 were victims of criminal harassment. For the 25-35 age group, this percentage is lower at six per cent.

One fourth-year Queen’s student in a small faculty, who wished to remain anonymous, has been experiencing stalking for the past two months but hasn’t reported it to the police.

Her stalker is an ex-boyfriend who’s also a fourth-year Queen’s student in the same faculty as her. Ever since their mutual break-up in August, he’s been continually attempting to get in touch with her and track her whereabouts.

“It’s been better in the last week but it got pretty extreme … constant text messaging, constant phone calls, which I wouldn’t pick up,” she said. “He would write me a letter every single day in the mail and he gave me a pile of letters. He would talk to a lot to my friends … and ask them out for coffee. He would try to track where I was.” He’s also visited her houses in Kingston and Toronto without notice. This behaviour has been constant since the break-up and has only waned in the past week.

The female student said she didn’t realize she was being stalked until a friend alerted her. She had told very little people in Kingston the extent of her situation.

“I was still really hesitant to share all of the conversation or everything that’s happened just because I think I was more concerned about him than I was about myself,” she said.

“I didn’t realize how severe it was until someone [told me].”

Although she’s chosen not to press criminal charges against him, she sees no prospect of remaining in contact with her ex.

Her case isn’t unique. Stalking among young people can take many forms — both online and in-person.

Kaleigh Gorka and two of her female friends were cyberstalked for over a year in high school via Facebook. Someone had created fake profiles of the three and was updating them actively.

Gorka, now a student at Ryerson, said the perpetrator’s profiles had photos of the three taken from their real profiles.

“We found this whole world, this parallel universe of somebody living our cyber life using our photos,” she said. “It wasn’t just a couple profile pictures. It was albums.”

Although she felt the information posted about her wasn’t harmful to her image, she said she was disturbed. Her and her friends contacted her parents, who then phoned the police.

It took more than a year from the time Gorka first found the profile to when the perpetrator was caught.

Like most criminal harassment victims, it turns out she had met her stalker before. Gorka had a gut instinct that turned out to be correct — the girl who had made the profile was at the same dance school as her. Although they were acquaintances, the two weren’t close.

She admitted to the police what she had done but Gorka believes the perpetrator was never formally charged with criminal harassment.

Although she deleted the girl as a Facebook friend after the incident, Gorka continued seeing her at the dance studio.

“It was really scary,” she said. “The life you’ve lived out truthfully has been stolen and made something completely different. You feel exploited.”

The incident has made Gorka rethink what she puts online. Although there are measures that can be taken to avoid being stalked, she believes she could have done little to prevent her case from happening, as she was already connected online with her stalker.

“The profile is one thing, but who knows where that could have gone. The Internet offers a fake reality. What happens for her if it actually becomes a reality?” she said.

Jim Neill, city councillor for Williamsville, said cyberstalking might never include a physical threat, but it can be a frightening experience nonetheless.

In the physical sphere, Neill said stalking is an issue within a broader context of campus and city security.

“I really applaud the campus for the Walkhome programs and some of the other programs that are supported by the AMS and the University,” he said. “I think people should more willingly avail themselves to those opportunities.”

After an audit of the Queen’s area in the 1990s, better lighting was installed in parks and bushes that could hide potential predators were removed. Neill said that the audits were done by a consultant who then made specific recommendations to Queen’s and the City. He added that City Park was a focus of this audit, as well as side streets.

A similar AMS audit of the Student Ghetto has recently been scheduled to take place in the coming year.

Neill said the younger post-secondary demographic could make the area more susceptible to incidents of stalking.

“We do have a younger population with the colleges and universities here in town so I think there may be a higher level of awareness,” he said. “Hopefully [there’s] a greater willingness to report strangers who are following them.”

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