Editor’s Note: This story contains language that describes stalking and violence. A list of reporting options and on-campus resources can be found on the our Lady, Sainte Marie and the holy cross websites.
Activist Debbie Riddle made a singular point in her virtual chat Tuesday night: “Take harassment seriously. “
Riddle defines criminal harassment as “a pattern of behavior directed against a particular person that will cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”
Liz Coulston, Director of the Office of Belles Against Violence and Belles supporting the beautiful coordinator, said Riddle had been visiting Saint Mary’s for years to teach students about stalking and to share the story of Peggy Klinke, Riddle’s younger sister who was attacked and killed by a stalker in 2003.
College students understand the signs and dangers of stalking, Riddle said, as the majority of stalking victims are between the ages of 18 and 24.
Riddle began to tell his sister’s story by explaining the origins of Klinke’s stalker. In 1998, Klinke began his medical studies and started dating a man. This relationship lasted until 2002. Riddle recounted several instances of emotional abuse, invasion of privacy, possessiveness, and isolation during Klinke’s relationship.
In particular, she recalled the moment when Klinke’s boyfriend spontaneously showed up at the family home on New Year’s Eve uninvited. At this part of the discussion, Riddle interrupted his story to issue a warning.
“Trust your gut,” she said. “If that sounds weird, it’s probably because it’s weird.”
Overall, 78% of stalkers use more than one mode to stalk – call, text, use social media, or physically track and harass their victim – and the majority of victims know their stalker, Riddle said.
After Klinke ended the relationship, the harassment began.
“The most dangerous time in the life of a victim of stalking is when [the victim] decides to leave because they don’t know what’s going to happen next, ”said Riddle.
Klinke’s ex-boyfriend started calling and texting her over 50 times a day, leaving coercive messages and threatening violence.
When Klinke didn’t react, the stalker tried a new tactic. He printed accusatory flyers that included his phone number and distributed them throughout the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they both lived. Klinke took the flyers to the police, but they offered little help, Riddle said.
Despite her best efforts to remain hidden from her stalker, Klinke was discovered and attacked six days before her harassment trial. Police arrived at the scene and tried to negotiate with the stalker, but could not stop him from killing Klinke and then himself.
Riddle reminded the public that guns are used in about 20% of stalking cases, with knives being used the most. In addition, women are more likely to be harassed than men.
Klinke’s experience and his untimely death reminds us to take harassment seriously, Riddle pointed out.
“Harassment is not based on love, these behaviors are really based on power and control,” she said. “They usually fall out of rejection, stalkers seek attention.”
Some victims will have questions, Riddle said, wondering if they were jumping to conclusions or exaggerating. To avoid this, victims need allies and support, she added.
“Trust the instincts of the victims,” Riddle said. “Believe what they say.”
Liz Coulston is a confidential resource on the Saint Mary’s campus and the coordinator of Belles Supporting Belles. She can be reached either by phone at 574-284-4081 or by email at [email protected]