Laura Rogers: Well we know that many sexual assaults don’t just start with the sexual assault. We know that it starts with stalking.
Host: From the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., this is Justice Beat.
Host: Welcome to the Justice Beat where we sit down with top leadership to discuss Department’s mission, activities, and priorities. In today’s episode we talk with Laura Rogers, the Acting Director of the Office on Violence Against Women. We discuss what stalking is and what the Department of Justice is doing to combat this terrible crime. Bob Davis, the Chief Communications Officer for the Office on Violence Against Women, leads the discussion. Here’s Bob.
Bob Davis: In movies, we like to laugh at the guy who chases a women. In reality, however, stalking often leads to violence. Real victims of assault are often stalked before they are attacked. That is why stalking is a crime that law enforcement takes very seriously. The Department of Justice works to reduce violent crime, so DOJ is raising awareness about stalking to protect people from getting hurt. Today we will hear what steps you can take to intervene.
I’m Bob Davis, Communications Officer at OVW. With us today is Laura Rogers, who heads the Office on Violence Against Women here in the Department of Justice. Laura is a former prosecutor, who has dedicated her life to protecting people from violent crime.
Laura Rogers: It’s a pleasure to be here Bob. Thank you.
Bob Davis: Before we jump in take just a minute to tell us your role at DOJ and what is the Office on Violence Against Women?
Laura Rogers: Well, currently I am the Acting Director at the Office on Violence Against Women. The Office on Violence Against Women provides federal leadership in developing national capacity to reduce violence against women. We administer justice for and strengthen services to victims of domestic violence, or victims of dating violence, and sexual assault, and stalking. We don’t provide any services directly to victims. We serve in the capacity to provide resources for nonprofits and different type of organizations like that, who do provide direct services.
Bob Davis: How does understanding stalking help prevent violent crime?
Laura Rogers: I think for a long time people overlooked stalking and didn’t think that it was an integral part to domestic violence or to sexual assault, but we realize now that stalking is often the basis for many of the crimes that we deal with at the Office on Violence Against Women. We realize that stalking is often the first indication that something is amiss. Often times, people who are going to engage in sexual assault or some type of violence will stalk their victims first – sometimes for a short time, sometimes for a long time. Sometimes the traditional type of stalking that you often see in movies or in TV shows where they’re hiding behind the corner of a building or behind bushes, but often times also cyber stalking, through email, through the internet. They often will stalk friends or associates of the person that they’re really interested in. There’s a whole plethora of types of stalking that people might engage in.
Bob Davis: You mentioned the internet, these days everyone is connected and, you know, watching what each other is doing, we’re sharing a lot of information with other people. What distinguishes normal behavior these days from stalking?
Laura Rogers: Well any type of unwanted emails, cyber stalking where somebody breaks into your account, follows your movements through your smartphone or your iPhone where they’re tracking your movements, any type of that unwanted attention that you’re getting through the internet or through any type of cyber movement, it can be considered stalking when it’s unwanted. That of course is something of the recent years, that when you and I were growing up we didn’t have to worry about. We were just looking for people who were following us, either walking down the street, or in our cars, or coming to our work place, but the ability for someone to stalk us has really grown with the creation of the internet and other types of computerized capacity.
Bob Davis: You mentioned unwanted is part of the aspect, so it sounds like it’s really important for someone to recognize how they’re feeling about the contact. Is that part of the awareness here that people need to realize when they’re nervous or feel strongly about attention they’re getting?
Laura Rogers: Well absolutely, but I think one of the issues about stalking is often times people may not realize that they are being stalked. You can be watched by someone, either physically, by someone following you and not realize that that’s going on. One of your associates may notice something and notice that you’re being watched and may not say something. So, it’s the old adage of, “See something say something.” If someone realizes that a coworker is being stalked at work, or at school, they should say something. If you’re being stalked through the internet, if you’re getting unwanted emails, then that is something that you can consider being stalked through your emails and you can do something about that. So yes, that feeling of unwanted, uneasiness, would constitute stalking but often times again, unless you’re receiving those emails you may not necessarily know that you’re being stalked, if someone has hacked into your account and is watching where you’re going or what you’re receiving or who you’re communicating with, you may not necessarily realize that that is going on.
Bob Davis: So others might be aware of stalking before you are. I may have a friend and I recognize that he’s acting a little inappropriately in his interest in someone who does not return that interest.
Laura Rogers: Absolutely, so I mentioned that you may see somebody stalking one of your friends but you just mentioned that you may have a guy friend that you notice is having unusual interest in a girl but not doing anything about it, and you may think that’s a little bit unusual. So, friends may notice that a friend is doing something a little unusual and they should do something about that too.
Bob Davis: A lot of people think it’s funny or Hollywood has used it as a dramatic tool for movies. We’ve often times made light of stalking, but in your experience as prosecutor, tell me what you’ve seen in terms of the reality of the danger of stalking.
Laura Rogers: Well we know that many sexual assaults don’t just start with the sexual assault. We know that it starts with stalking and I think for too many years we haven’t recognized that the stalking was the beginning of what culminated in a sexual assault and if we really paid more attention, if the victim had known that they were being stalked, if somebody had said something about it, whether it was a friend or colleague, whether it was the victim of the sexual assault themselves had noticed it, if there had been a report to the police, if the police had been trained appropriately to recognize and take reports with respect to stalking, if the courts had been trained and educated to take stalking more seriously, if we had had better laws with respect to stalking and we could have put a stop to all of this before it culminated into sexual assault then we could have stopped something much more egregious from happening. Recognizing the statistics of how often stalking happens before sexual assault, we can now know that it is a precursor to sexual assault.
Bob Davis: That must be why with all of this knowledge, it is one of the pillars of VAWA. It is one of the crimes that is called out as seriously as sexual assault because it is something that we can take action on. Your office was created to implement VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act, the federal law that seeks to protect women. And it sounds like one of the things that OVW does is provide teaching, guidance, best practices, to law enforcement, the criminal justice system about issues like stalking. Is that right?
Laura Rogers: Right, the Office on Violence Against Women was created as a result of the VAWA Act and VAWA addresses four crimes: domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. All four crimes are equally as important, the order doesn’t matter whatsoever. And we provide the federal capacity for organizations, such as nonprofits, victim advocacy services, law enforcement, universities, campuses, etc. to establish what best practices are for all four crimes.
Bob Davis: How is it that an office here at DOJ in Washington, can help people across the country take stalking more seriously?
Laura Rogers: One of the priorities at the Office on Violence Against Women, in fact, one of my priorities is to focus on stalking because I think it is under-recognized and it’s under-served. And so one of my priorities in the last grant cycle was to focus on stalking. And so we provide funding to organizations who focus on the prevention of stalking. So any organization that comes in that wants to provide training, to establish best practices, to help other organizations, assist victims who have been the victims of stalking, and consequently perhaps were a victim a sexual assault, etc. We will provide funding through a grant process if they come in for funding based on an application for stalking.
Bob Davis: You know firsthand the importance of this as a former prosecutor, but you’ve also had some experience as a person who has been stalked.
Laura Rogers: That’s correct. As a young prosecutor, it just so happened I was a prosecutor at the time too. Someone I was dating started stalking me and it was a very terrifying experience. I never knew when I was going to come out of my front door and the person was going to be there or be at my parked car. There were times when I would arrive at my office, and there were just dozens and dozens and dozens of roses filling my office which people might think, “Oh that’s just so nice,” but it’s really not nice when day after day after day you have flowers being delivered to your office. It’s rather scary and then at night you have somebody knocking on your door the second you walk in, and you wonder how long that person has been hanging there outside your door waiting for you to come home, and if they’re angry because you haven’t been home even though you had no obligation to be home. And you don’t know what they’re thinking and you know they might be carrying a weapon in their car because you’ve seen it there before. It’s a very scary experience and as a single women with no protection, it’s very intimidating.
Bob Davis: I appreciate you sharing that as I’m sure there are a lot of people who will hear this who may be in a similar situation, and feel alone and isolated. It sounds like those are exactly the people you want to reach out to seek help.
Laura Rogers: Absolutely, and you know it’s one thing when I think back to when this was happening to me. Here I was, a prosecutor, out of law school, I had resources, I was around police officers and judges all day. I was in a locked facility, you know, I was in a court house where I was safe all day. Seemingly I had every resource around me to be safe but yet as soon as I walked out of the court house, I was scared. And so I think about the people who don’t have those resources and don’t have police officers to talk to and don’t have police officers as friends. You know, what do they do? Who do they talk to? Who do they turn to? It can be very difficult. So, stalking is a very scary experience, a very scary situation, especially when you have a person on the other end who has violent tendencies and you don’t know who to turn to and you’re not comfortable talking to police officers. It’s a different world for a lot of people. For me, it wasn’t. So, it can be a very difficult idea to make that first phone call.
Bob Davis: I just want to take a second and take a breath because that was great.
Laura Rogers: Thanks.
Bob Davis: And intense, so thank you.
Bob Davis: So if I see something and I want to say something, I’m more aware now that stalking can lead to a serious crime. Tell me how I do that. Do I call the police? And how do I help the police? This seems like a difficult thing, it’s not as simple as a burglary.
Laura Rogers: That’s correct, and I think as a private citizen if you notice something that is going on, I think like you would do for any crime that you might witness, the thing to do is to be alert to do the details – to notice if a person is in a car, what does the car look like, if you can get a picture of the license plate, if you can note what the person is looking like. We all have our cameras and our phones with us now, click a picture if it’s not going to put you in danger. Note the time and the date. If you see the same person several times at the office and you know that they’re always watching the same person, talk to the person who they are following. But what you never want to do is to put yourself in danger and to put the other person in danger. I think the thing always to do is involve law enforcement and to make that call to law enforcement and let them know what’s going on and give them the information, and let them do the investigation. I never would support the idea of going and doing that investigation yourself because you don’t have the tools, you don’t have the training, and you never know the person that you are looking at, what their state of mind is, how dangerous they are, and what you’re getting yourself into.
Bob Davis: That would all be very important to share with someone who is perhaps being stalked and reluctant to call the police. “I like this person, I don’t want to embarrass this person. Maybe I don’t take this very seriously.” It sounds like what you’re saying is we should take this seriously.
Laura Rogers: Absolutely. Maybe the person who you go up to and say, “Hey I notice that there’s this person that is always following you. Are you familiar with them? Do you know them?” and the person says, “Aw, don’t worry about it.” Well, maybe that’s the case, but maybe they’re hiding something too. Maybe they don’t want to talk about the fact that there’s some violence going on or that they really are scared. You might want to go on the internet and find out that there’s some resources available in the community, maybe there’s resources at work or the school if you’re a college student, and say “Hey there’s some resources available. I’d be willing to go with you if you need a friend.” Make an offer like that, or “I’d be willing to go to the police department and make a report with you because I’ve seen this person following you a few times.” Offer some support in that way.
Bob Davis: We are so connected these days and sharing so much information about ourselves through social media, pictures, all of that. What advise do you give to your children, to friends, family, about how to enjoy the connectivity and still be cognizant of your own personal safety?
Laura Rogers: You know Bob, that’s a great question. I have three teenagers in my house right now with one more soon to be teenager, and I constantly talk to them about not having the location apps on their phone, not that all of them have a phone. I think that’s one of the most important things, is not giving your kids phones too early, but my one daughter, the importance of not having her location app on any of her apps. You’d be surprised how many apps have some kind of a location feature on them that you’re not even aware of. You know most people who are victims of stalking are stalked by someone who they know and so, we think about stalkers as some person who we don’t know who’s hiding behind a bush or something but that’s not the case. It’s someone that we know. So it’s someone who probably has our phone number, someone who maybe has texted with us or emailed with us before, and so we’re in their contacts, and they have the ability to track us by phone. And so, I’m constantly going through my daughter’s phone and making sure she doesn’t have an app in there that has a location feature on it because she doesn’t understand the importance of not having that turned on, or not having an app that embeds that somewhere in there that she’s not even aware of. The importance of not texting about where you’re going to be all the time and what you’re going to be doing, and putting that on any of those social media apps so that somebody can be following you. You know, it’s not the victim’s fault that they’re being stalked but in the end, we don’t want to make it easier to be stalked either because the person being stalked isn’t the person that has the issue. It’s the person who’s doing the stalking and they’re the ones who take advantage of what we’re posting and how much our phones make it easier for the stalker to harass the person who’s being stalked. They already know where we live and they have the ability to come and leave little gifts on your porch, or send those emails, or go to your work, or go to your school, or do whatever they’re going to do, and so by not giving them that extra ability to follow you wherever you’re going because of what you’re posting. Take that advantage away from them. Make it a little bit harder, and that’s some of the tips I would give to both the people who are being stalked or to help parents prevent their kids from being stalked.
Bob Davis: And you’ve mentioned your daughter but it’s men too, right? There’s no gender, I mean you’re the Office on Violence Against Women, but I often hear you speak about vulnerable men also. And I assume that case can lead to violence just as easily? We forget sometimes that men are also victims of sexual assault.
Laura Rogers: We may forget that, but it happens rather frequently. It’s very common for men to be stalked also. We know that both men and women are stalked primarily by people who they have been intimate with, and so the fact that women are stalked by someone they’ve been in an intimate or dating relationship with fairs no differently from men. They too, are stalked by someone that they have been in an intimate or dating relationship with also. And it’s important to recognize that the grants that we provide are grants for men, women, we provide grants for youth and children, depending on what the programs are. We don’t discriminate. Our appropriations that we get for our grants are given out by Congress and so when we have the ability to put out money for men, children, youth, women, we provide money for everybody.
Bob Davis: I read somewhere that the office has distributed more than 8 billion dollars since it was created under VAWA. VAWA provides federal grants to help women at local, state, and national levels. Is some of that earmarked for stalking or is that in a little bit of all that you do or how would you describe how much support is gone for stalking?
Laura Rogers: So, we have 19 different grant programs and the different grant programs are identified for different types of activities, whether it’s for transitional housing programs, for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. Some programs are identified for culturally specific groups, some are for rural groups, some are for all of the four VAWA crimes, some are for legal assistant for victims of the four VAWA crimes. Every program is a little bit different. We try to cover all the bases for a whole variety of different types of victims, but they all go towards some type of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or dating violence.
Bob Davis: A lot of people listening to this may want to find more information. Where would you point them online to get more information on stalking?
Laura Rogers: I would, of course, recommend that they go to the Office on Violence Against Women’s website. We have a wonderful page dedicated to stalking resources. I would refer them to our partners, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who has a wonderful page on stalking resources; the National Center for Victims of Crimes has a great page dedicated to stalking; StalkingAwareness.Org which is a website that Office on Violence Against Women funds, I would recommend that website also.
Host: Thank you all for listening today. Find more information about this topic at Justice.gov/OVW. Thanks for listening and please stay tuned. You can subscribe for updates at Justice.gov/podcast.
Host: The Justice Beat is produced by the Justice Department’s Office of Public Affairs. Find out more about the Justice Department at justice.gov.
Bob Davis: Hi, I am Bob Davis the host of Patchwork- a podcast on the Office on Violence Against Women. We’re part of the movement to end violence against women. OVW targets domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. We support local efforts with training and funding. Patchwork gives voice to those on the frontline. It shares tips about how to get a grant and celebrates the many ways our funding helps. I hope you will join our conversation. Look for Patchwork on podcast apps or online at justice.gov/OVW.