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Susanna Gibson: Stalking Has Been Referred to as Murder in Slow Motion, Which I Can Personally Attest Is True”

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by Susanna Gibson, a Democratic candidate for House of Delegates in the competitive/”purple” 57th district (Henrico/Goochland).

Stalking has been referred to as murder in slow motion, which I can personally attest is true. January is National Stalking Awareness Month. According to The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1:3 women and 1:6 men will experience stalking victimization at some point in their lifetimes. I am one of those women.  

In 2015, I was stalked for months by a man I did not know in what became somewhat of a nationally known case. However, I have never spoken publicly or written about this until now. While reliving and writing about my trauma has been challenging to say the least, I felt it was important to show we are more than a statistic. I also want to point out that this is an issue that disproportionately impacts Native American women, nearly half of whom were found to experience stalking.    

This all started 8 years ago when my husband, son, and I were living in Henrico, and I was pregnant with my daughter.  I caught the interest of a man who I had never met. He began to watch me. Watching my house and observing my schedule as I worked making house calls as a Nurse Practitioner for VCU.

 This man then began to break into my home and steal personal items of mine. There is a feeling when you walk into your home and you just know that someone else had been there. Your arms and legs tingle.  A sinking sensation develops in the pit of your stomach.  I was scared to be alone in my home, even during daylight hours. Fearful of this faceless person who was violating my space. My safety. Terrified that any person walking down the street could be him.  

I was not prepared for the additional trauma endured when a woman decides to come forward, as I did, and is not believed or taken seriously. While I feared for my life due to an active threat that felt ever present, my husband simply could not comprehend what was going on, and while the police agreed that I was being watched, they expressed that there was little they could do to protect me, suggesting that I purchase a firearm to protect myself. This left me feeling isolated, adrift, and scared without anyone or anything safe to grasp onto. It made me question my own sanity.

After several months and multiple calls, a Special Victims Unit Detective was sent to my home. A GPS tracker was going to be placed in a pair of my shoes that they were hoping he would steal from my porch. I was in the hospital in labor with my daughter when I received a call from the detective telling me they were placing the shoes at my house that day. The next morning, as I held my 12 hour old baby girl I received a text: “call me before you leave the hospital.” They had finally caught him.

I am lucky. A study of female murder victims found that 76 percent of women experienced stalking in the year preceding their murder. That is why in a month meant to raise awareness, I want to share my story for the first time and ask that the crime of stalking is treated for what it is: deadly.  

That currently is far from true in our Commonwealth, where stalking is a Class I Misdemeanor. Stealing an item worth $1,000 or more is treated far more harshly as a Felony. Individuals convicted of a misdemeanor remain free to purchase guns. Meaning, criminals indicted in our justice system can still go out and buy a weapon despite having already posed a threat to another person’s life. 

The time for change is now. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, 19 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws prohibiting individuals from buying or possessing guns following stalking conviction, whether it be a felony or a misdemeanor.  Virginia is not one of them. Virginia law also does not prohibit people convicted of dating violence or stalking from possessing firearms.  

Our current laws are at odds with what we know to be true: the biggest predictor of future gun violence is a history of violent behavior, including stalking. As January comes to a close, I encourage all Virginians to call on our elected officials as they begin this next term to demand that politics be put aside and protections for victims of stalking be put into place.  

References: 

http://ncdsv.org/images/HomicideStudies_StalkingAndIntimatePartnerFemicide_11-1999.pdf

https://www.ywca.org/wp-content/uploads/B365-STALKING_BRIEFING_PAPER.pdf

https://everytownresearch.org/rankings/state/virginia/

https://www.americanprogress.org/article/stalking-risk-factor-future-gun-violence/

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