13.5M people are stalked annually. Experts tout raised awareness

Crime

(NewsNation) — Recent revelations about the horrific University of Idaho stabbing incident raise questions about staying safe on campus.

January is Stalking Awareness Month, and now that college students are back on campuses across the country, safety experts say a heightened awareness is always a good idea.

Cellular data and surveillance images placed Idaho suspect Bryan Kohberger’s phone and his white Elantra near the Moscow rental home multiple times, months before Ethan Chapin, Xana Kernodle, Kaylee Goncalves and Maddie Mogen were found stabbed to death in November.

Due to the gag order in the case, we may not know the exact details of any connections the suspect may have had to the victims until such time as there is a trial. But from the beginning, police have said that the victims were targeted.

“My first thought when I heard of these four college students being murdered was that it was targeted, and second, that there might be a stalking-related connection, that one or more of the people that were targeted may have had a stalker,” said Kris Mohandie, a veteran police psychologist and expert on stalking.

Kaylee Goncalves told friends and relatives that she was worried about a stalker.

Her sister, Alivea, spoke exclusively to NewsNation after Kohberger’s arrest, saying, “I had no idea that true evil was genuinely watching them.”

According to the Stalking Prevention, Awareness & Research Center, about 13.5 million people are stalked every year, up dramatically from a decade ago.

Stalking survivor Lenora Claire talked to NewsNation about her experience with a stalker.

According to Claire, she met Justin Massler in 2011 when he sought her out and showed up at her art gallery.

“It felt, you know, that there was a very likely chance that one or several of the girls had been stalked by this individual,” Claire said. “I spoke to him for a moment, he looked me in the eyes and he said, ‘well, you look like Jessica Rabbit and I’m going to stalk you.”

Claire said, “very quickly it escalated to incredibly graphic death, kidnap and sexual assault threats, and I absolutely began to fear for my life at that point.”

Massler was convicted in 2018 and sentenced to four years. But he served only two.

“If we’re sitting at a restaurant, you better believe I’m the one facing out. Um, but it’s that hypervigilance that’s kept me alive all these years,” Claire said.

The stalking awareness research points mainly to social media for the escalation of stalking.

“I do believe that social media and the internet and the virtual world has caused or contributed to an escalation in the prevalence of stalking, as well as given offenders an environment they can exploit for their advantages,” Mohandie said.

While the majority of stalkers are partners or acquaintances, nearly one in five are strangers.

“If you are getting threats or communication that makes you feel uncomfortable on social media, absolutely catalog all of it, save all of it, and don’t block that individual,” Claire said.

Mohandie agreed, saying “when in doubt, check it out and make a report and have something on the record. And whatever you do, don’t throw away the evidence you might have whether it’s a card, a note, something that’s captured on a security camera. All that can be important down the road.”

For the past two decades, the company Girls Fight Back has been working to educate young women and others about self-defense when they find themselves in a potentially dangerous situation.

In an interview with NewsNation, Girls Fight Back CEO Nicole Snell offered practical advice on how students can defend themselves on campus and elsewhere.

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