MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) — It took nearly a decade for Dawn Topp to escape from what she calls an abusive relationship. Despite moving from state to state, trying to keep her whereabouts a secret, unwanted contact would soon follow.
“You never feel comfortable. You always feel like you have to watch your back. He has reached out on my Instagram. He has reached out to both Facebooks. This is a new Facebook under a different last name,” Topp says.
Unfortunately, her story isn’t unique.
“Most stalkers do know their victims, even cyberstalkers,” says Alix Rogers, an attorney for Legal Aid Society, a local non-profit that offers free legal services to all victims in Tennessee.
“Abuse. Stalking. Crimes like that. It’s all about power and control,” explains Rogers.
She says what starts as harassment can quickly escalate. “Tennessee law says, stalking is two or more unwanted contacts that cause a person to feel harassed or fearful and that a reasonable person would feel that way too. The same law covers cyberstalking, in-person stalking, and other forms of domestic abuse.”
The crime is often all-consuming
“They know your intimate personal information,” says Topp, “Your social security number, your date of birth. They know your parents, your birthplace, your children. Everything is used against you.”
Rogers says it’s important to state in writing, if safely possible, that the contact is unwanted.
“If you say no I’m not interested, and they keep on, that’s stalking,” says Rogers.
Are there ways to protect yourself?
“Orders of protection can be powerful, they can help,” Rogers says, “They can get your abuser arrested, but they’re not perfect.”
And neither are the laws, she admits. “There’s a lot of resources to help victims. There’s a lot of laws that help victims, but there’s a lot of gaps too. The law is slow. Some states have updated specific cyberstalking statutes, and Tennessee doesn’t.”
That’s why resources like Legal Aid Society, the YWCA, and the Jean Crowe Advocacy Center in Davidson County should be the first stops for victims looking for a plan of protection.