[Hill] Tragedies Yet to Come

Latasha Norman was a promising, attractive young Jackson State University student who was stalked and killed late last year. The man arrested for her murder, Stanley Cole, was a fellow JSU student whom Norman had dated and broken up with. But he allegedly refused to take no for an answer, and continued to harass her for months after their break-up, even after she filed an assault charge against him in October 2007.

Ole Miss student Carnesha Nelson was also harassed for months by a stalker, a man whom she had not dated, who ultimately killed her in 2003.

Death threats, harassment, unexpected menacing appearances and the breaking of restraining orders—let alone the infliction of injury—are behaviors that can, and should, strike fear into the heart of its victim. Being stalked is, by definition, a harrowing experience.

Mississippi now has legislation against stalking, which went into effect last July. Perhaps Norman could have been helped had she filed a stalking complaint and had the court decided that imprisonment was warranted. In Mississippi, misdemeanor stalking is punishable by imprisonment of not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than $1,000, or both.

The U.S Department of Justice reports that 76 percent of women killed by an intimate partner had been stalked, and 54 percent had reported this to police. The lives of many of these women could and should have been saved. Perhaps the belief that her stalker would ignore any protective order she got was why Norman did not report the stalking to JSU or the police. Even when a victim receives a protective order from the courts, 69 percent of the time that protective order is violated.

The failure of universities and the broader community to offer effective protection from stalkers is one reason it is not reported more often. In 2000, a Justice Department study found that 13 percent of college women were stalked during the nine-month study period, but only 7 percent of those women reported the stalking to the college or the police. Stalkers of these college women, however, harmed or threatened harm to their victims in 15 percent of these cases.

Look around at your next community gathering: Odds are that two out of every 10 women present have been a victim of intimate partner violence, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And if the woman is no longer in that abusive relationship, she was most likely stalked after she left it. Protecting stalkers should not be a higher priority than protecting their victims. But that has, in effect, been the reality.

Women's safety would increase dramatically with stronger anti-stalking measures and enforcement. Think of Norman or other recent homicides where the alleged perpetrator was an intimate partner. Stalkers have a face and a name; they have friends who find it hard to believe that the stalker would kill. Very often, when a victim expresses fear of her stalker, the reaction is to downplay the danger. And if the stalker were to be sent to prison for years, the likely reaction would be negative. This needs to change.

It is time to recognize the dangers that stalkers present to our young women, and fund the education and interventions necessary. This would represent a major step forward in protecting women from violence, which has been named at or near the top of public health risks for women in U.S. Surgeons General reports since the 1980s.

Our legal system should prioritize protection for women whose only crime is choosing the wrong partner, or, in some cases, simply becoming someone's obsession. Police should be encouraged to arrest stalkers, and judges should appropriately punish the stalker who has harmed, or clearly intends to harm, his victim. Without such protection, the lives of too many women—and men—will continue to be lost to violence, and the lives of others damaged and unalterably changed.

Marianne Hill is an economist and a founder of the Mississippi Coalition for Women.

Previous Comments


Very informative article. Stalkers have a face and a name; they have friends who find it hard to believe that the stalker would kill. Very often, when a victim expresses fear of her stalker, the reaction is to downplay the danger. I've seen this happen. One guy I knew of would jump from one female to the next, often returning to certain ones several times, and people would just say, "Aw, he wouldn't hurt anyone." How do you really know?



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