Junior Tara Trahey was running on Campus Drive from West Campus to East Campus this past Spring, when a man started following her in his car.
A middle-aged pudgy man with sunglasses and a hat in a gold Suburban approached her. It was the first warm day of the year and many people were out walking. Because it was Blue Devil Days, Trahey assumed this man was a parent with a harmless question, so she stopped and let him pull up next to her. But instead of a question, he made a derogatory comment about her. He continued following her up and down Campus Drive until she ran to hide by the Freeman Center and attempted to contact the police.
Women who are stalked are two to three times more likely to experience poor mental health than those never stalked or assaulted, according to results published recently in the Social Science Quarterly. The research found that 7.7 percent of women are stalked by the time they are 45 years old.
The findings showed that women between the ages of 18 and 22 years who are stalked but not sexually assaulted are 113 percent more likely to experience their first instance of psychological distress than women in the same age range who were not stalked.
“Because the experience of being stalked has such long-term harmful effects on victims, both in terms of their emotional well-being and their earnings capacity, it is imperative that victims receive ready access to immediate and sustained therapy and monetary compensation for their trauma," said William Darity, a collaborator on the study, Arts and Sciences Professor of public policy in the Sanford School of Public Policy.
A present danger
On average, the Duke Office of Student Conduct files eight reports of stalking each year, wrote Stephen Bryan, director of the OSC, in an email Sunday.
The OSC defines stalking as when an individual repeatedly follows or sends unwanted communication to a person and puts them in reasonable fear for his or her safe or causes a reasonable person emotional distress.
“Any report is one too many, as stalking by definition creates an environment of fear for the victim," Bryan wrote. "I suspect there are more instances of stalking than are reported to the Office of Student Conduct."
The Women’s Center received 12 reports last year, Ada Gregory, director of the Women's Center, wrote in an email Sunday.
Students who report stalking are offered counseling and informed of their options of pursuing university disciplinary action or filing a criminal report against their stalker, Gregory said.
She noted that stalking can be a particularly difficult offense to work with.
"The unique challenge with stalking is that often it can be difficult because a stalking behavior in isolation may be perfectly legal," Gregory said.
Isolated incidents such as sending an email or knocking on a door, are legal, but only when they become a part of a larger pattern can a legal case be made. Single incidents may be minimized or seen as resolved by friends and family members of victims, but actually be escalating into a larger problem for the victim.
“[Victims'] fear is not without merit. We know that stalking is frequently a predictor of very real and sometimes lethal violence later," Gregory said. "With that in mind, it's not really surprising that stalking would cause incredible stress and trauma in those who are targeted by those behaviors.”
Although Trahey has not seen the man in the Suburban since the time he followed her up and down Campus Dr and said she has not experienced psychological distress, she has become more conscious of her surroundings. Trahey has not gone running outside on the University's campus since the incident.
“You become more paranoid because you know that things happen in the daylight," Trahey said.
Before calling the Duke Police Department after being followed, Trahey first called her friend that lived nearby and then called Durham police, who did not assist her and suggested calling the Duke University Police Department. She said the DUPD officer who responded to her call was “incredibly nice,” but no Duke Alert was sent to notify others of the incident.
DUPD representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Trahey noted that while emergency precautions such as the blue light help phone system exist, she feels there is a need for greater security measures on-campus including more surveillance. She added that though the number of officers on campus has been increased, she is still weary of certain activities such as walking back from the parking lot by herself.
“You have a blue button, but if someone jumps out of the bushes and grabs me, I’m sorry but my arm’s not that long," she said.
Breaking new ground
The study was conducted by Timothy Diette, associate professor of economics at Washington and Lee University, and several colleagues including Darity; Arthur Goldsmith, the Jackson T. Stephens professor of economics at W&L; Darrick Hamilton, associate professor of economics and urban policy at The New School for Public Engagement and Katherine McFarland, a recent W&L graduate.
The research on stalking expanded on previously published research by accounting for the age at which victims were initially stalked, their mental status prior to being stalked and exposure to other forms of traumatizing victimization.
Darity explained that the study was the first to isolate stalking's impact on mental health, from other factors such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorders.
"I suspect that future studies will follow our approach,” Darity said.