More than a third of Alaska women have been stalked, according to statistics drawn from a 2015 survey. The survey's authors say those numbers may have fallen from even higher rates in previous years.
Results of the Alaska Victimization Survey were released this week by the state Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault as well as the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center.
They indicate around 80,800 Alaska women have been stalked in their lifetimes. Of them, the survey's authors estimate, more than 15,000 were stalked in the year before they took the survey.
The most recent survey is based on a sample of just over 3,000 women.
Half of Alaska women who have experienced violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence in their lifetime had also been stalked, the survey indicates. That's more than 66,800 women, and more than 5,800 reported the stalking had occurred within the past year.
Dr. André Rosay, UAA Justice Center director, said the new data comes from the latest version of the survey, a statewide phone poll in 2010 and 2015 that gathered information on sexual assaults and domestic violence. The center has also conducted regional surveys annually from 2011 through 2014.
"They're new numbers that we just finished computing," Rosay said. "We (initially) focused on other estimates on domestic violence, sexual violence, so we're just releasing stalking — statistically, they're all very high."
Jayne Andreen, the state council's interim director, said she wasn't surprised by the new statistics. Discussing them with Rosay reminded her of how stalking has affected survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault she previously assisted.
"I started thinking about all these cases in the '80s and '90s that I worked, where we recognized that this was a trigger," Andreen said. "But it was hard to get people to focus enough in on it, not just psychologically but also as a precursor to further violence."
The 2015 victimization survey was the first in Alaska to ask specific questions about stalking, Rosay said, so there's no comparative data yet to assess changes in stalking rates over time or how often stalking occurs in different parts of the state.
Rosay said stalking rates likely fell in line with rates of violence tracked by the 2015 survey, which were relatively similar statewide and trending downward from 2010 results.
"If we looked at our intimate-partner violence, sexual-partner violence from 2010 to 2014, we did see some declines," Rosay said.
The survey asked respondents if they had been spied on, physically approached or had been left messages, presents or other signs in their homes, workplaces or cars against their will. The questions excluded contacts with bill collectors and salespeople.
"Respondents experienced stalking if they experienced these nonconsensual contacts multiple times and expressed fear," researchers wrote.
The women surveyed were asked about eight categories of stalking behavior. About 85 percent of women who reported being stalked said they had received unwanted phone calls, the most common complaint.
That was followed closely by unwanted voice or text messages, which 76.6 percent of respondents said they'd received, and being approached at home, work or school, reported by 75.8 percent of respondents. Twenty-six percent reported the rarest form of stalking, finding strange or threatening items.
Rosay emphasized the survey's definition of stalking, created by the National Institute of Justice and endorsed by the National Center for Victims of Crime's Stalking Resource Center, requires at least two nonconsensual contacts with the same individual, both of which caused fear.
"It's a course of conduct, it's multiple behaviors," Rosay said. "People might think 'somebody's being annoying, they're not being nice, they're being mean' – but really, they're being criminal."
A nationwide survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on 2011 data, found 18.3 million American women, or 15.2 percent, have experienced stalking in their lifetimes.
Rosay said that data couldn't be compared directly to the Alaska results, however, because CDC used a stricter definition of stalking than Alaska's survey did.
"The main difference is looking at the level of fear that's required," Rosay said. "CDC uses a very high level of fear — you basically have to be afraid that you might die, or the perpetrator might kill someone."
The researchers hope to produce stalking statistics focused solely on Anchorage later this month, according to Rosay.
Rosay said the UAA staff tried to include stalking in the 2010 victimization survey, but it didn't work out due to the difference between the stalking definitions.
He also mentioned an anecdote about one person not involved in the survey who had described stalking behavior to him, but didn't recognize it as such.
"They said every time they move, an old boyfriend sends them a 'Welcome to your neighborhood' postcard, and this was a boyfriend from 50 years ago," Rosay said. "They didn't think it was stalking — but if it's causing fear it's stalking, and that's a crime."
Sexual assaults and associated crimes tend to be under-reported; the CDC-supported National Sexual Violence Resource Center says nearly two-thirds of rapes aren't reported to police. Rosay said cases of stalking are no exception in Alaska.
"I think it's vastly underreported, especially if you look at law enforcement statistics — stalking is underrecognized and underreported," Rosay said. "It's not just that they're not being reported, but that they're not being recognized as a crime."
Ideally, Rosay said, the new statistics will raise awareness of stalking statewide, particularly in the law-enforcement community.
"I hope there'll be more recognition that in sexual-assault cases stalking has probably occurred, so in addition to sexual-assault charges we should also have stalking charges in those cases," Rosay said. "That goes all the way from charging into the trial, so if investigators are looking into sexual assaults, they should also be asking whether victims have experienced these stalking behaviors."
She said the change in leadership shouldn't have any effect on future victimization surveys. Instead, their fate is far more likely to be determined by the state's continuing budget crunch.
"I think at this point, everything that is dependent on state funding is going to be challenged over the next few years," Andreen said. "I know the council is committed to keeping this data collection going forward, because it's so important to what we're doing."
The council hasn't made any immediate recommendations regarding the stalking statistics but will formally meet again in February.
"(Making recommendations) is certainly something that I'll suggest they take a look at," Andreen said.
"I do hope in five years or so, we can do another statewide survey," Rosay said. "I think it's valuable to have those numbers, so we can know how things are going."