January is Stalking Awareness Month

December 31, 2007

January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and victim advocates across the country are using this month as an opportunity to educate the public about the pervasive crime that affects nearly 1.4 million Americans a year.

I became involved in changing the current stalking laws when a close family friend was killed last year. Her story is detailed below.

Jodi Sanderholm was 19 years old, valedictorian of her high school, dance instructor, and a college student when on January 5, 2007 she disappeared in broad daylight. Within hours Arkansas City, KS police department had her accused murderer & rapist in custody. Unfortunately, it was too late for Jodi. Jodi’s caring, intelligent and beautiful outlook on life exemplifies everything I hope my own daughter will grow up to become.

These stories happen all too often in our society, however, you never think they will happen to someone close to you. I moved in next door to Jodi when she was almost two years old. Jodi and her sister were my own 11-year-old daughter’s babysitters until recently when we moved to New Mexico. This story happened in a town of approximately 12,000 on a Friday afternoon. Jodi left her dance practice, called her mother to cancel a planned lunch, and disappeared.

Her accused murderer was well known to her dance team and the police department. The police have called him a “groupie” of the team. By the early hours of Saturday morning the police were looking for Justin Thurber. He was taken into custody on unrelated charges on Saturday, January 6th. However, Jodi was not found until Tuesday, January 9th. It was an excruciating long wait for all of Jodi’s friends and family. In the end, her murderer stands charged with aggravated kidnapping, rape, aggravated sodomy, and murder. Jodi was killed within hours of her last contact with her mother. The cause of death is listed as blunt force trauma and strangulation. It breaks my heart to think what her last hours were like and the fear she must have felt. After enduring all of this Jodi’s body was left in the woods, while her killer sank her car into a nearby lake and went on about his normal day, including going to the local VFW with his parents to play bingo.

Looking back there were many aspects that led to Jodi’s murder. Justin Thurber had been taken into custody earlier that same week and released when he complained of chest pains. The police released him with the thought that they would pick him up and press the charges later. They had not picked him up on January 5th and it is now too late for Jodi. Justin Thurber was the object of multiple restraining orders placed by other young women and just the day before Jodi’s murder is accused of following another dance team member for miles until she went to the police department for safety. However, there were no laws in Kansas (or New Mexico) that would allow the police to arrest him for stalking.

The law I am proposing will come too late for Jodi, but it will come because of Jodi. Strengthening the legal definition of stalking while increasing punishment would allow law enforcement agencies everywhere to better protect our citizens. It is my belief that this law should be changed on a national level. Due to the fact that Internet stalking can currently occur from many states away. Uniformity and definition is the key to making sure our young women are safe from stalkers.

Stalking—typically defined as a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear—is a criminal offense under the laws of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government. Although its prevalence is high, public awareness that stalking is a crime remains dangerously low. One in 12 women and one in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetime, for an average duration of almost two years[i]. Seventy-six percent of female homicide victims were also stalked prior to their death, and more than half of these victims reported stalking to the police before being murdered by their stalkers[ii].

Facts about Stalking in America[iii]
1,006,970 women and 370,990 men are stalked annually in the United States.
77 percent of female and 64 percent of male victims know their stalker.
87 percent of stalkers are men.
59 percent of female victims and 30 percent of male victims are stalked by an intimate partner.
81 percent of women stalked by a current or former intimate partner are also physically assaulted by that partner.
31 percent of women stalked by a current or former intimate partner are also sexually assaulted by that partner.
73 percent of intimate partner stalkers verbally threatened the victims with physical violence, and almost 46 percent of victims experienced one or more violent incidents by the stalker.
The average duration of stalking is 1.8 years.
When stalking involves intimate partners, the average duration of stalking increases to 2.2 years.
61 percent of stalkers made unwanted phone calls; 33 percent sent or left unwanted letters or items; 29 percent vandalized property; and 9 percent killed or threatened to kill a family pet.
28 percent of female victims and 10 percent of male victims obtained a protective order. Of those, 69 percent of female victims and 81 percent of male victims had the protection order violated.

[1] Tjaden & Thoennes. (1998). “Stalking in America,” National Institute of Justice, Washington, DC, U.S. Department of Justice.
[1] ibid.
[1] ibid.