Concerns of stalking at University of Illinois increase as it appears many incidents go unreported

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A session at the Women's Resources Center Career Institute in 2019.

Concerned about the number of stalking cases on campus, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign held a Stalking Prevention and Response Summit this past April to make the community more aware of the issue.

Kasey Umland, director of the Women’s Resources Center at the University of Illinois, said it was the first year the Coordinated Community Response team had held such a summit. Umland said, overall, the University had noted that stalking case numbers had been rising over the years and felt that a summit on stalking was the most appropriate topic for the time.

A review of the University’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report and crime logs shows:

  • 67 reports in 2018
  • 68 reports in 2019
  • 37 reports in 2020
  • 53 reports in 2021
  • 55 reports in 2022

By early April this year, there had already been 19 reports. While the numbers were lower than before the pandemic, officials said they see the decline as low reporting rather than lower number of incidents.

Stalking on college campuses is common and data shows there has only been an increase in reported cases in the past few years. Whether this is due to the increase in reporting or an actual growth in stalking due to technology and social media is unknown, but experts say more awareness and support is needed on college campuses. 

Umland said it is difficult to measure the growth or decline of stalking as it is heavily dependent on reporting.

“During the pandemic, people didn’t just stop stalking people. It did seem that reporting went way down during the pandemic,” Umland said. “Across the board of sexual misconduct, there was a lack of reporting as well as a delay in reporting due to the pandemic.”

The lack and delay of reports can be attributed to several factors. Whether it be the lack of students on campus or other priorities that were put ahead of reporting during the pandemic, Umland stresses that stalking didn’t cease. 

Indeed, while there was substantial decrease in stalking complaints in 2020, the numbers have been increasing since.

Although the number of on-campus stalking reports are now slightly increasing each year, Umland says this could be seen as a positive trend.

“We’ve seen more students reporting stalking behavior as well as an increase in awareness,” Umland said. “Seeing numbers rise doesn’t necessarily mean there’s more and more stalking.”

But it appears stalking continues to be significantly unreported.

A 2021 survey conducted by the university’s School of Social Work asked students if they had ever experienced stalking behavior. The results were obtained by CU-CitizenAccess in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Out of 561 students who responded to the survey, 308 students said they had experienced at least one act of stalking before, making up 55%. The survey also found that 31% of students who experienced stalking behavior did not believe it was stalking, while 18% of students were unsure.

Types of stalking behavior reported ranged from receiving unwanted letters and gifts to being followed or spied on by an individual. 

The 10-page survey results can be read below.

Illinois law passed in 2019 improved protections online

Technology and social media has made it easier for stalkers to surveil one or more individuals. This includes tracking one’s location, leaving unwanted voicemails and texts and stalking on social media platforms. 

Along with the university’s efforts, on January 1, 2019, the state of Illinois passed a law that strengthened protections against unwanted social media contact as a form of stalking.

The killing of four college students in Idaho last December brought attention to the role of social media when it was discovered their killer had been tracking at least one of the women online.

The national Stalking Prevention, Awareness, & Resource Center (SPARC) describes stalking as:

“A pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for the person’s safety or the safety of others; or suffer substantial emotional distress.” 

SPARC From the SPARC Stalking Fact Sheet.

Like the number of stalking cases reported at the university, college campuses around the nation saw an abrupt decline in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many factors caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have affected this number. The decline in stalking cases reported was affected by the lack of students on campus, but points to a greater issue: a lack of reporting.

Umland said rather than seeing the 2020 decrease in the data as a “low stalking” year, it should be seen as a “low reporting” year.

According to the U.S. Department of Education Campus Security and Safety, stalking falls under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

The VAWA amendments under the Clery Act were implemented to help expand rights to campus survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. 

College students or people 18 to 24 years old are more likely to be stalked than any other age group. According to SPARC, about 1 in 10 undergraduate women and 1 in 33 undergraduate men are victims of stalking. 

The University of Illinois has several resources for those who are or think they are being stalked. For more information on how to recognize the signs of stalking or if you need help, view, visit or call one of the following resources:

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