MASON COUNTY — With several television shows portraying criminal acts in New York City and other major metropolitan areas, it’s easy to forget those same crimes can and do happen in small areas like Mason County.
The month of January is National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM) and Victim Advocate Paula Gregory with the Mason County branch of CONTACT of Huntington, a 24-hour rape crisis center, is working to spread this awareness and also the other services that are available locally for victims.
Gregory discussed her efforts so far on educating the community on CONTACT’s services, saying she has been networking at community events and attending meetings for various community organizations including the Family Resource Network and the Anti-Drug Coalition, in addition to speaking with the Point Pleasant Register.
Gregory said during her travels across the county, she has encountered instances where citizens were not aware these services were available locally and several had thought stalking and rape were not an issue in Mason County. According to Gregory, many incidents of stalking and rape go unreported due to a level of embarrassment from the victims as well the victims not knowing what their options are.
“We still think of ourselves as a small isolated community where these things don’t happen,” Gregory said.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) and the Stalking Resource Center (SRC), the definition of “stalking” can vary from one jurisdiction to the other, but a good working definition is “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”
Gregory also discussed the stereotype that these criminal acts are only performed by an unknown person, saying like on television, most think if they’re going to be a victim of stalking it’s going to be by a stranger who just comes out of the bushes. According to the NCVC and the SRC, 66 percent of female victims and 41 percent of male victims are stalked by a current or former intimate partner.
Gregory also mentioned something new that CONTACT is offering assistance with called Personal Safety Orders (PSO). A PSO is like a restraining order, but according to Gregory, in order to obtain a PSO the victim isn’t required to have had a relationship of some kind with their attacker. Gregory said CONTACT will help with the required paperwork for PSOs.
Gregory also discussed CONTACT’s 24-hour rape crises hotline, at 1-866-399-7273, which victims of stalking and rape may call to get in touch with Gregory or another victim advocate. Gregory added if a victim wishes to contact her, to call the hotline and to identify they are from Mason County. Gregory also has an office located at the Christ Episcopal Church education building on Main Street and will meet with victims. Gregory added that victims should make appointments, via the hotline, to ensure she is there since she is often out working to spread information on CONTACT’s services.
For more on NSAM, visit www.stalkingawarenessmonth.org. For more information on CONTACT, visit www.contacthuntington.com.