Undoubtedly we have all heard the phrase “Facebook stalking” and maybe used it jokingly. Unfortunately, stalking is not such a lighthearted matter. In fact, phrases such as this propagate a casual attitude about what is actually a serious problem that affects many people of all genders, according to Devlin O'Donnell, Coordinator of Crime and Sexual Assault Support Services (CASAS).

According to the Stalking Resource Center, a division of the National Center for Victims of Crime, more than one million women and 400,000 men are stalked annually in the United States. Two-thirds of stalkers pursue their victims at least once a week. The average duration of stalking is 1.3 years.

“It's a serious problem, no matter what,” Devlin said. She added that many cases go unreported.

There are many causes of stalking, but one of the most common cases are the result of a breakup, Devlin said.

“The ex will show up and try to find them… [and] harass them to try to get them back,” she said. “I see a lot of people doing stalking on Facebook or Myspace.”

Though there is little a person can do to prevent stalking completely, Devlin suggested some precautions to take. Don't put your address or even your phone number on Facebook or Myspace and any statements that indicate where you are going or who you will be with are safer when sent as a message instead of displayed on the wall.

If you find yourself being stalked, Devlin advises holding your ground.

“Say, ‘if you don't leave me alone, I'm going to call the police,” she said. University Police and CASAS are excellent resources for confronting this problem, she said.

“[CASAS] is a safe place where people can come and talk,” Devlin said. “People start to feel like they know they have options [after visiting or calling CASAS].”

CASAS has a 24-hour student help line and offers legal assistance (such as filing police reports), professional counseling, information and assistance with orders of protection (such as restraining orders) and many other services. Information about CASAS is located through the Prevention and Wellness Services Web site, which is linked on the Western homepage. The 24-hour CASAS hotline number is 360-650-3700.

Joshua O'Donnell, the Men's Violence Prevention Project Coordinator, said that part of the reason stalking happens in the first place is because of gender roles and expectations.

Sometimes men stalking women has been portrayed as romantic, establishing a norm that is hard to change.

“What's really tough about gender roles and cultural beliefs [is that] people uphold those beliefs and don't get involved,” Joshua said. Because of this, stalking is normalized, he said.

“Until we start taking it seriously…then people know it's not okay and it's not a big deal,” Devlin said.