As part of Stalking Awareness Month, the University of Indianapolis hosted a lecture by guest speaker Debbie Riddle on Jan. 29. Riddle has worked with the National Center for Victims of Crime and the Stalking Resource Center, Erin Brockovich and Lifetime Television, and stalking expert Mark Wynn over the past 12 years. Riddle testified at a briefing with United States Congress to recognize January as Stalking Awareness Month in honor of her late sister’s memory.
At the conference for the 10-year anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, Riddle was asked to speak, along with former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah.
According to Riddle’s presentation, stalking is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.
Riddle said that most cases of stalking happen between the ages of 18 and 24 and frequently involve past intimate partners, such as an ex-boyfriend or husband.
She also said that the advancement in technology has become a major tool for stalkers to gather information about those they stalk. Riddle said three out of four females murdered were stalked prior to their deaths.
“7.5 million people are stalked each year,” Riddle said. “This number is low. For as large as the number is, there is a whole pool of cases going unreported for multiple reasons. We find most of the stalking behavior today is happening on college campuses, [to] 18 to 24 year olds. Women are more likely to experience stalking, and most of the stalkers are men. However, there are cases where women stalk women and men stalk men and women stalk men.”
Riddle said that the problem in trying to educate about stalking is that in today’s society, stalking tends to be romanticized, such as in popular movies like “The Boy Next Door,” or pop music like “Every Breath You Take” by The Police.
She said that romanticizing the seriousness of stalking leaves people uneducated and makes coming to terms with stalking difficult.
Another problem, Riddle said, is that 72 percent of victims of stalking do not believe it is serious enough to report it.
“Stalking is a crime in all 50 states. It is illegal,” Riddle said. “However, it is difficult to report, because people don’t know what to report. They feel like they lack evidence and worry about the repercussions of reporting it.”
Later in her presentation, Riddle talked about the reason she got involved in raising awareness about stalking on college campuses: her sister.
Riddle’s youngest sister, Peggy Klinke, was the victim of stalking when she was a college student.
According to Riddle, Klinke and her stalker, Patrick Kennedy, dated for about three years prior to her death.
Riddle said that the relationship between her sister and Kennedy was emotionally and psychologically abusive, which led to their split. Riddle said that after almost a year after their split, Klinke’s family documented several incidents, including Kennedy setting fire to the back of Klinke’s current boyfriend’s house and spray painted vulgar language on their garage door.
After filing multiple police reports and filing stalking charges, Klinke moved to California to hide from Kennedy, but he persisted. Kennedy found Klinke on Jan. 18, 2003, killed her and then killed himself.
“When the police officers showed up at my mother’s doorstep, I knew my sister was dead,” Riddle said. “…One of my hopes is to train law enforcement, to have better reaction and interaction with stalking victims. Working with Mark Wynn, he said we could take this information [about stalking] and couple it with Peggy’s story and make a good training tool for officers. And we did.”
Senior social work major Payton Beaver said that she was not fully prepared for Riddle’s story and how violent stalking can be.
“It was very emotional. I knew going in that she was going to share the story of her sister, but I wasn’t prepared for how emotional it was and how violent everything got, from sending letters to burning down a house,” Beaver said. “I wasn’t prepared for how crazy it was going to get. When I think of stalking, I think of following other people, and I know in some cases it can lead to that, but I just wasn’t prepared.”
Beaver said that having additional events on campus similar to this would be beneficial for students, for them to become better educated and prepared for situations such as Klinke’s.
“I think it is really helpful [to have more events like this] especially since most of it [stalking] happens on college campuses. I think it is important for UIndy to have events like this and have more information about this [stalking] to help protect students.”
Students can visit Anne Moelk, director of student support and Title IX coordinator, for additional information regarding stalking or visit the National Center for Victims of Crime and the Stalking Resource Center. More information about Riddle and her sister’s story is available at stalkingmuststop.org.