Stalking on Campus: Ensuring Security with Rights and Liberties

By Campbell, Julie; Longo, Peter J. | College Student Journal, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Stalking on Campus: Ensuring Security with Rights and Liberties


Campbell, Julie, Longo, Peter J., College Student Journal


College campuses are often perceived as idyllic communities. While there is much truth in such perceptions, not surprisingly there are many complicated issues on college campuses. Stalking is one such problem that seems to persist and thrive in the cloistered college setting. Campus safety efforts must temper security practices with civil rights and liberties of individual students. This paper will establish the dimensions of the college campus stalking problem, analyze law enforcement practices aimed to diminish stalking, evaluate directive court cases, and offer a framework in which security issues can and should be balanced with constitutional considerations.

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Since stalking was criminalized in 1990, it has rapidly become one of the most commonly recognized examples of interpersonal violence. For a variety of reasons, stalking is particularly prevalent among young adults in the campus setting (Fremouw et al., 1997; Fisher, Cullen & Turner, 2002). Unfortunately, addressing stalking in the university environment presents a number of challenges, including identifying stalking behaviors when they occur, initiating the criminal justice process, and balancing the safety of the university community against the privacy and civil liberties of individual students. While colleges and universities are beginning to formulate a response to stalking as it occurs in the campus setting, the response presented on most campuses may at best be minimal (Tburman & Mustaine, 2009). The purpose of this article is to evaluate the impact of case law on strategies that university policymakers may employ to ensure the safety of students victimized by stalking.

The Nature and Extent of Stalking on College Campuses

Among the general population of the United States, Tjaden and Thoennes' (1998b) sample of 8,000 women and 8,000 men yielded a stalking victimization rate of 8% and 2% respectively. It was estimated that nearly eight of ten stalking victims are women, and more than half are under the age of 30. Per the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Crime Statistics Act, colleges and universities are not required to include data on stalking incidents and arrests in their official annual crime statistics. However, the prevalence of stalking on campus has been assessed by a number of researchers, and stalking is thought to occur more frequently among college students than in the general population. Mustaine and Tewksbury (1999) reported that 11% of their college sample had been stalked, while a 1997 survey of 4,446 college women at 223 colleges and universities found that more than 13% of the sample had been stalked during the previous academic term (Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2002). That same year Fremouw et al, (1997) reported that by their estimates stalking victimization on college and university campuses was as high as 24%, and two studies have placed undergraduate victimization closer to 27% (Logan, Leukefeld & Walker, 2000; Spitzberg, Nicastro & Cousins, 1998)

There are a number of possible explanations for the intensified rate of stalking on college and university campuses. Most stalking occurs within the context of an intimate relationship (Zona, Sharma & Lane, 1993), and university campuses present numerous social outlets for young people who are seeking romantic partners (Emer, 2001). In fact, some researchers have suggested that stalking is in fact part of the continuum of normal courtship, and that most people have committed at least one stalking behavior in an effort to initiate or sustain a romantic relationship (Emerson, Ferris & Gardner, 1998; Langinrichsin-Rohling, Palarea, Cohen & Roling, 2000; Sinclair & Frieze, 2000). While age, marital status, race, sexual orientation, social class and the presence of others in the household are not significant predictors of stalking victimization among undergraduate student populations (Mustaine & Tewksbury, 1999), Hall (1998) suggests that women who are stalked have more education than the general public. …

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