Editor's Note: This column was co-authored by Debbie Riddle.
January 2022 marks the 18th Annual National Stalking Awareness Month. We have this awareness month due to one of the authors of this opinion piece, Debbie Riddle. Debbie’s youngest sister, Peggy Klinke, was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend/stalker on January 18, 2003. Peggy’s stalker killed himself immediately afterward. Less than six months later, Debbie – in collaboration with other national stakeholders – successfully launched National Stalking Awareness Month.
The second author of this opinion piece is Nikki Goeser. Nikki’s husband, Ben, was murdered in front of her by her stalker on April 2, 2009. Nikki’s stalker has been incarcerated since then, but he has continued over many years to stalk her from prison via twisted love letters to her. Unfortunately, her stalker is currently set to be released from prison early in 2028. In addition, Nikki helped get a Lifetime Order of Protection Law established in her state of Tennessee in 2021 for victims of violent crime.
So what exactly is stalking? Stalking is a pattern of repeated, unwanted behavior toward a specific person, which would cause any reasonable person to feel fearful, intimidated, or harassed.
It’s important that victims of stalking end all contact, document every incident, tell family and friends about the stalker, connect with a victim advocate and develop a safety plan. It’s also important to get law enforcement involved once there is documentation and evidence of unwanted behavior patterns that cause fear.
An order of protection may be necessary, and victims should consider that if they feel it is right for them. Nikki and Debbie both believe it is also time for a convicted stalker registry all across the nation. However, we think that law enforcement needs additional training on the seriousness of stalking and the potential for extremely harmful and deadly outcomes if they do not act. This mindset of “call us when something bad happens” has got to go.
A victim’s safety plan may include moving, address confidentiality program, name change, career change, protection order, security cameras, extra door locks, taking different routes to your job, making sure everyone in your inner circle knows about the stalker, not being alone, self-defense training and situational awareness training.
Not every victim will choose the same safety plan. It is an individual decision, but it is essential to know all of your options to make the decision you feel is right for you.
Nikki now has a lifetime order of protection against her stalker. She also chooses to carry a legally concealed firearm to defend herself and loved ones, and has taken firearms training classes that include laws on justifiable use of force.
Laws against stalking have improved over the past several decades, but even with these improvements, the victim should understand that ultimately they are their own first responder.
As a college student, Debbie was stalked by an ex, beginning the moment she ended the relationship. The tactics he used were annoying- following her to work, calling her office and home around the clock, and leaving graphic drawings at her apartment. At the time, Debbie did not realize her ex was stalking her. She didn’t know it was a crime. She didn’t know there was something she could do to stop it. She eventually got an order of protection, and he never contacted her again.
Ten years later, when Debbie’s sister became a stalking victim after leaving an abusive relationship, Debbie told her that if the behavior kept up, all she needed to do was get an order of protection. Debbie says she was "so wrong."
The man who stalked Peggy had a history of abuse. Several police reports sat in a filing cabinet, unnoticed, while Peggy was running and hiding from this relentless stalker. Peggy endured a full year of stalking under the watchful eye of the criminal justice system. Every incident she reported, she hit a roadblock- “that’s not serious enough, come back when something happens to you.”
When arson was involved, law enforcement still did not connect the dots that the reason there was arson was because of the stalker. Peggy kept records of everything. Finally, Peggy got an order of protection. Peggy moved over 1,000 miles away to hide from her stalker while she awaited trial. Even the District Attorney never took her case seriously. When Peggy called him one morning, he laughed, saying “Oh my God, you’re still alive?”
Peggy’s response was, “will it take a bullet to my head for you to understand how serious this is?” And on January 18, 2003, that is exactly what happened. After months of searching, her stalker hired a private investigator, found her and fatally shot her in the head and then killed himself.
How many victims are out there like Peggy, doing the right thing, following the proper channels and yet, still end up dying at the hands of their stalker? How many victims like Nikki, have already been through horrific violence at the hands of their stalker, only to see the criminal justice system release the proven deadly stalker to terrorize her again?
Educate the public. Train the criminal justice system. Provide tools to help empower victims. Hold offenders accountable.
Nikki Goeser is Executive Director of the Crime Prevention Research Center and author of "Stalked and Defenseless."
Debbie Riddle is one of the country's leading speakers on stalking and victimization.