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Wesleyan Killing Puts New Focus On Crime Of Stalking
It doesn't matter how many locks you have on the door, how much counseling you get or even whether the criminal justice system works.
If you have been a stalking victim, "the fear never leaves," said Sherri, who changed her name because of the experience and doesn't want it published. "It's like being a prisoner of war or having your own personal terrorist. You can go somewhere where you think you are safe, but you live with the psychological damage forever."
Every year, about 3.4 million people 18 and older are stalked in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, with women three times more likely to be victimized than men. Nearly three in four stalking victims know their offender in some way.
Although it frequently goes unreported and even unrecognized, stalking is often an element in physical assault, rape and domestic violence cases, and also in murder cases such as the recent slaying of Johanna Justin-Jinich, a Wesleyan University student.
Sherri's stalker was her former husband. Although he spent time in prison for stalking and harassing her and many years have passed since he last stalked her, she still fears that what happened to Justin-Jinich could happen to her.
Two weeks ago, Justin-Jinich was gunned down at the off-campus bookstore in Middletown where she worked. The suspect, Stephen P. Morgan, who has been arrested and charged with murder, took the same course as Justin-Jinich at New York University during the summer of 2007.
While at NYU, Justin-Jinich filed a harassment complaint after she said she received repeated phone calls and insulting e-mails from Morgan. According to the police report, one of those e-mails said, "You're going to have a lot more problems down the road if you can't take any [expletive] criticism, Johanna."
Both Justin-Jinich and Morgan were interviewed by police, but Morgan apparently left town and Justin-Jinich decided not to press charges.
The public doesn't know yet whether Justin-Jinich lived in fear of Morgan or if she had any idea he was tracking her down, but Sherri said she speaks out on stalking because people need to hear the message that "these guys are dangerous ... I feel fortunate to be alive."
Under Connecticut laws passed in the early 1990s, a person is guilty of stalking if he or she "repeatedly follows or lies in wait," causing a person to reasonably fear for his physical safety.
According to a federal survey, stalking behaviors include unwanted phone calls, letters, e-mails, or gifts; spying on a victim; showing up at places without a legitimate reason; waiting at places for the victim; posting information or spreading rumors about a victim on the Internet, in a public place or by word of mouth.
Eighty-seven percent of stalkers are men. About 40 percent of men and women victims report stalking to the police. Thirty-seven percent of victims said the stalker was motivated by retaliation, anger or spite; 33 percent said it was a desire to control the victim.
And, according to the Stalking Resource Center of the National Center for Victims of Crime, stalking is often linked to violence: Eighty-one percent of women stalked by a current or former partner are also physically assaulted by that partner; 31 percent are also sexually assaulted by that partner.
In some cases, stalking has also been linked to mass killings. The suspect in the Justin-Jinich case had written in a journal of his plans to kill Justin-Jinich and then go on a "killing spree" at Wesleyan. In the Virginia Tech case, Seung-Hui Cho was accused of stalking two women before killing 32 people two years ago.
At the University of Connecticut, Kathy Fischer, assistant director of the Women's Center, said that several times a year students come in who are concerned about being stalked. Often, Fischer said, it's electronic stalking — instant messaging, texting and Facebook.
Robert L. Trestman, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, said that there are many kinds of stalkers — from those who stalk celebrities to rejected ex-lovers and stalkers who believe that someone did them wrong, such as an ex-boss, a police officer or a judge.
In many cases, Trestman said, the stalking goes back "to the old issue: if I can't have her, nobody can. ... Jealousy runs deep in a lot of people. Control can be a big, big piece of this and a sense that people might feel empowered by being this way to others."
Often, people don't identify what is happening to them as stalking, according to Michelle Garcia of the Stalking Resource Center in Washington.
This is because the behavior itself might not be illegal, Garcia said. She said that victims will say, "Yeah, they were calling me dozens of times a day, sending me unwanted gifts, but I didn't realize it was a crime."
Stalking, Garcia said, has become "normalized" with movies and songs that romanticize it.
"Most of the messages out there are: This is rather fun, romantic, it's not a big deal," said Garcia, instead of: "This is something dangerous, something that could be lethal."