Seminar discusses stalkers, support

Daria Vinning’s ex-husband stalked her for seven years, calling her from different phones and following her incessantly, she told a group of women at an LSU workshop Saturday.

Vinning had to change her social patterns and even cut off her work phone so he wouldn’t bother her, she said. She eventually approached the Capital Area Family Violence Intervention Center for assistance.

While gracious and kind, Vinning said, the officials at the center were more prepared to counsel her about domestic violence than stalking.

Vinning said that’s when she realized she wanted to become an advocate for stalking victims and raise awareness about the issue.

Vinning’s stalking awareness organization, the Lend Ah Hand Stalking Support Group, did just that Saturday in hosting the Baton Rouge Community Stalking Workshop in the LSU Student Union’s International Room.

“It was an indescribable feeling that I was going through,” Vinning said of her experiences. “At times, I would cry because I was terrified.”

A group of about 10 people gathered to hear Vinning, law enforcement representatives and counselors speak at the workshop about what defines stalking and how stalking victims can seek help.

The LSU Women’s Center co-hosted the event. January is National Stalking Awareness Month.

Summer Steib, director of the LSU Women’s Center, said her organization wanted to co-host the workshop because it addressed an issue that greatly affects women.

“We’re hoping more people will learn about the warning signs” of stalking, Steib said.

Vinning said she talked about her experiences with her ex-husband, who, she said, slashed her car’s tires and bought a home in her neighborhood to be near her. She had filed several restraining orders against him, but he ignored them.

Neighbors finally approached both Vinning and her ex-husband out of fear for Vinning’s safety, she said. Vinning’s ex-husband finally was arrested and booked with stalking in April, she said.

Vinning said it’s difficult for victims to escape their stalkers for a variety of reasons, including shared custody of children or a lack of support from family members.

“It really becomes very unbearable,” she said. “So then you take that chance to try to leave, but then at the same time, you’re fearful for your life.”

Southeastern Louisiana University Police Department Lt. Patrick Gipson, a rape crisis counselor with the 21st Judicial District, which includes Tangipahoa, Livingston and St. Helena parishes, said most people don’t fully understand what constitutes stalking or the effects it has on a victim.

Gipson said the Stalking Resource Center at the National Center for Victims of Crime defines stalking as “a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”

Gipson said the Stalking Resource Center reports that 3.4 million people are stalked annually and women are three times more likely to be stalked than men.

He said that in 30 percent of stalking cases, the victim is being stalked by a former intimate partner. Only 10 percent of the time is a stranger involved, he said.

In many of the cases, Gipson said, the suspected stalker has no criminal background.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if they all walked around with a stamp on their head that says, ‘I’m a criminal?’” Gipson asked. “In actuality, stalkers come in all shapes and sizes.”

Cpl. Charles Dotson, a member of the Baton Rouge Police Department’s Major Assaults Division, said stalking and domestic abuse cases are difficult to manage because victims sometimes choose to drop all charges because they want to reconcile their relationship.

Dotson told the group how to file for temporary restraining orders in both Baton Rouge City Court and the 19th Judicial District Court.

Dotson advised people in the audience to bring as much personal information about alleged stalkers as possible when filing for those orders.

“That makes their job (in court) that much easier,” he said.