By Jordan Unger
The Youngstown State University Police Department recorded eight cases of stalking on campus in 2017, continuing the gradual rise in reports over the past few years.
There were seven stalking incidents in 2016 and three stalking incidents in 2015, according to the 2017 Annual Campus Safety and Fire Report.
Cynthia Kravitz, Title IX Coordinator at YSU, said the increase is due to greater awareness of the problem. She said most stalking cases come from unhealthy relationships.
“A lot of times it’s a first-time long-term relationship. It’s the first time you’re in an environment with other people your age without a lot of restrictions,” Kravitz said. “Stalking is common, period, but I think there is a concentration in the [college] age group that typically experiences stalking and engages in stalking.”
Kravitz said adults between the ages of 18 and 24 experience the highest stalking rates.
Title IX works closely with YSUPD and Student Counseling Services to resolve these cases on campus.
YSU Police Chief Shawn Varso said stalking is different from most crimes.
“You have to show that there’s a pattern of activity that’s occurring,” Varso said. “Everything that happens has to be documented independently. Once we show that there’s a pattern going on, we can pursue charges for menacing by stalking.”
He said menacing by stalking is a first-degree misdemeanor, but can become a felony for previous offenders.
Six resolutions, formal and informal, were documented for the offense at YSU in 2017.
In a formal resolution, if the incident likely occurred, an investigation is conducted and a referral is sent to the Office of Student Conduct. In an informal resolution, the person accused of stalking might be brought in for counseling or education.
“A lot of them maybe don’t accept that the relationship is over and that this person doesn’t necessarily want to be with them,” Kravitz said. “After a meeting, if it’s informal, usually they understand.”
If they do not want to do a formal or informal resolution, students can come to Kravitz with inquiries to gather information on what options are available.
“Depending what the student wants, [I may work with] Student Conduct and we get a no-contact order,” she said.
Two inquiries were recorded at YSU in 2017.
Students should keep an eye out for signs of stalking, Varso said. These signs include constant text messages, unwanted gifts and appearances at the victim’s workplace or home.
“When you start seeing the pattern where they’re trying more and more to insinuate themselves in the person’s life, there’s essentially a problem there,” Varso said.
He said it is essential to ensure students feel safe and that their academics aren’t disrupted. He said there is a misconception that stalking is not a police matter.
“They wait until it gets worse. They wait until it’s a constant [occurrence] where it’s affecting their psychological health,” Varso said. “Even if it’s a nuisance matter, come to us and make a report because that’s the only way that you’re going to start documenting the pattern activity.”
Incoming students, including freshmen, transfers, graduate students and international students, will be required to take online training modules on the subject in the fall.
The online training will address stalking, sexual violence, harassment and consent. Kravitz said the training should have a positive impact on incoming students, but it is also the responsibility of parents and schools to teach kids about these issues.
“You can’t just suddenly learn what consent is and what healthy relationships are at 18, 19 or 20,” Kravitz said. “You should already know at 10, 11 or 12 what [it means to have a] healthy friendship.”
Kravitz said the use of social media continues have an impact on younger generations’ communication, which could potentially lead to unhealthy relationships as well.
“You might’ve known someone for two to three months. You’ve Snapchatted with them and exchanged text messages, but you really don’t know them,” Kravitz said. “You haven’t sat down and talked with them and I think that can lead to these issues.”
At the same time, social media has brought issues such as stalking and sexual assault into the light. Ann Jaronski, Director of Student Counseling Services, said this has been the case through the #MeToo campaign.
“When we see somebody that we know or we think we know, as in a celebrity, speak about something like [sexual assault], it will often make us stop, think and reflect,” Jaronski said. “I think that reflection can also encourage people to come forward.”
Jaronski said this applies to stalking as well.
According to Kravitz, the number of reports will likely continue to increase on campus.
“I think people are becoming more aware of what is and is not acceptable behavior. I also think witnesses or people just seeing that kind of stalking behavior or friends of someone who is stalking or being stalked are stepping in more than they used to,” she said.
She said students should participate in this semester’s Campus Climate Survey, which will help track stalking incidents haven’t yet been reported.
“That helps us know if our training is effective, what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong [and] where these issues might be more prevalent,” Kravitz said.