A concerning trend was brought to light Feb. 21 by research conducted by Michele Cascardi of the psychology department: a large portion of adolescents aged 13-17 said they engaged in relationship behaviors that often escalate to stalking.
The study, which surveyed a population diverse in sexuality, gender and race found that about 40 percent of the teens monitored their partner’s posts on social media and asked to see their text messages.
“We really have to start [teaching about stalking] early,” said Cascardi of her findings.
Cascardi shared her research as part of a discussion titled,”Are YOU Guilty of Stalking?” led by Campus Victim Services coordinator Theresa Bivaletz, where students were educated about what stalking is, its warning signs and what to do about it.
Stalking discussions are not new — but integral to this discussion was its setting in today’s advanced digital age and how it can be prevented.
“There are a lot of positives that come with new technology, but unfortunately there are always people who will use that to do something negative,” Bivaletz said. “I’ve worked with victims who’ve had stalkers break into their iCloud accounts.”
Through a Google search of their victims’ names, stalkers can easily find information that once was not so easily accessible, such as where their victims live — and it is very easy to be unaware.
To illustrate this point, Bivaletz showed a scene from Netflix’s You, a drama series about a bookstore manager named Joe who stalks and dates Beck, an aspiring young writer, released in September 2018. In the scene, Joe uses location features on Beck’s social media accounts to track her whereabouts and find her apartment.
“When you’re posting on Instagram, certain [landmarks] in our posts may reveal your location,” warned N.J. Brown, a graduate student and Lambda Tau Omega sister. “Keep track of where you’re logging into social media and whether geo-location features are turned on.”
Theresa Bivaletz continued to use You to show how Joe’s behavior progressed into extreme manipulation of Beck’s life and physical harm. This escalation of behavior is common in real stalkers, so it is important to identify concerning relationship behaviors as early as possible.
“One of the most important things to ask these folks is, ‘why are you doing this?'” said Dr. Cascardi.
In her study, 40 percent of the teens who engaged in unhealthy behaviors said they did so “to show care” and 33 percent cited mistrust in their partners. The same teens said they would feel “sad,” “angry,” and “like leaving the relationship” if their partner engaged in those behaviors.
The negative impact of toxic behaviors increases the older the relationship is — and yet those surveyed were in 3-6 month relationships, suggesting that they were not escaping.
All three presenters at the discussion noted it was important to recognize the difference between showing affection and controlling a partner’s life, a manipulative and abusive pattern of behavior. The confusion between the two is shared — and therefore spread — on social media.
Bivaletz showed students screenshots of tweets and Instagram posts from users making jokes about their love for Joe despite his toxic behavior, or blaming Beck for what happened to her. Among these was a post from Millie Bobby Brown.
The 15-year-old Stranger Things star had just started watching the show and expressed confusion at people’s dislike of the character Joe. Joe, like real stalkers and many of the teens who participated in Dr. Cascardi’s study, insisted his actions were out of love.
“So I just started that new show You… He’s not creepy, he’s in love with her and it’s okay,” Brown wrote. “By the way, I know everybody is gonna say ‘Ahhh, he’s a stalker, why would you support that?!’ But like, he’s in love with her… just watch the show and don’t judge me on my opinion.”
Bivaletz used the post as a way to highlight the importance of educating those who make light or misunderstand stalking as opposed to jumping to criticize them.
“People were attacking this poor girl instead of teaching her why Joe’s behavior was a problem,” she said.
The takeaway from the discussion was that people in relationships need to consider whether their actions in relationships are harming their partners. Instead of making jokes about how endearing someone like Joe might be, we should consider why we think that way. It is essential to rethink actions once accepted as normal, affectionate parts of relationships and change them where necessary.