College stalking cases can be hard to identify

The Main Building on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin (KXAN Photo/Eric Janzen)
(KXAN Photo/Eric Janzen)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Universities across the country are now required to include stalking cases in their annual security report. However, it could prove a difficult task since stalking comes in many forms and fashions and its very definition could vary from student to student.

“My definition of stalking is someone who will not give you enough personal space,” said University of Texas student Vanessa Rodriguez.

The Clery Act, enacted in 1990, calls for higher education institutions to document crime on campus each year on October 1st. This year is the first for stalking cases to be included since national statistics estimate 12% of all college students will be stalked at some point during their college experience.

But some may experience it without knowing it right away.

“The problem is, particularly on college campuses, it is hard to identify,” said Jane Bost, the associate director at the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center. The CMHC tries to define stalking and other crimes on their website and also has a program called “Voices Against Violence” which aims to educate students about when certain actions cross the line into a crime.

Bost said stalking is defined as a person who experiences repeated and threatening behavior from someone that instills a sense of fear for safety. Such behavior can happen physically, online, or even come in the most unsuspecting actions.

“Without the context, they can appear harmless,” said Bost. “It can be things like sending roses. It can be things where people say ‘oh, that is no big deal.’”

Social media has provided an avenue for more frequent forms of stalking according to Bost who said students are encouraged to listen to their instincts and report behaviors that make them feel uncomfortable.

In their annual security report, UT reported 36 cases of stalking for the 2013 year. Any complaint or outcry made on campus was included in the reported number. However, Bost said the Clery Act can sometimes offer misleading information on how big a problem any given crime might be on campus. Only crimes that occur on or near campus are required to be included for Clery Act reporting. If a crime involving students or staff happens away from campus, it does not have to be documented in the annual security report.

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