Florida Recognizes January As Stalking Awareness Month

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The Florida Department of Health (DOH) recognizes January as National Stalking Awareness Month and joins agencies nationwide to inform the public about this serious crime. Despite the attention given to celebrity cases, the vast majority of stalking victims are private citizens. Over one million women and 400,000 men are stalked each year in the United States. One in 12 women and one in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetime for an average time of almost two years.

Stalking is the ongoing harassment or threatening of a person to the point of fear. Stalkers follow their victims, appear at their homes or place of business, make harassing phone calls, leave written messages or objects, or even destroy a person's property. Most stalkers know their victim from a former relationship, although sometimes the stalker and victim have never met. Stalkers and stalking victims may be of any age, gender or race.

Stalking can be carried out in person or through electronic items, such as phones, fax machines, GPS (Global Positioning Systems) or cameras. "Cyber stalkers" may use computer spy ware, emails, instant messaging, discussion boards and chat rooms to stalk victims.

"Stalking can produce harmful health effects for victims and families," said Annette Phelps, A.R.N.P., M.S.N., DOH Division Director of Family Health Services. "As a result of being stalked, victims may suffer from fatigue, poor concentration, panic attacks or suicidal thoughts. It is important for everyone in the community to work together to help prevent stalking and to protect those most in danger."

If you or a loved one is being stalked, here are some steps that may help:

* If someone is following you, do not go home. Call 911 or go to the police station.

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* Tell security at your workplace or school that you are being stalked.

* Tell friends, family and neighbors that you are being stalked. If you have a picture of the stalker, give a copy to people you know.

* Keep a log of incidents including date, time, what happened and names of witnesses.

* Get a restraining order and make several copies. Carry a copy with you at all times.

* Save packages, letters, messages or gifts from the stalker.

* Keep your address confidential. Get a post office box and use it on all correspondence.

* Use an answering machine to screen calls, and save all messages from the stalker.

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