Sharing your ordeal with other victims provides a way to inure yourself to the emotional impact of being stalked. So consider joining a support group to bolster you through the ordeal. A support group will give you a safe place to vent to people who truly understand what you’re up against. It can provide an educational forum in which to learn more about the issue and how to better protect yourself. And group members can uphold each other at court hearings, and help put pressure on recalcitrant legal or law enforcement entities.
To find a support group in your area, begin by either calling or visiting your local library’s reference desk. Ask for the Social Services Directory, which lists local support organizations, and look up headings such as Stalking, Domestic Violence, or Adult Abuse. Even if you don’t find resources specific to stalking, you will often find numbers for local domestic violence shelters and their walk-in centers. Walk-in centers are more likely to have information relating to support groups, so start there.
You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. Though a national support group for stalking victims doesn’t exist — except here at our online chat room — many resources are available to stalking victims through domestic violence organizations.
Many victims’ organizations will also provide information, advice, and referrals to other local support services. Try the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) at 1-800-879-6682 or 1-202-232-6682, or the National Center for Victims of Crime at 1-800-FYI-CALL (1-800-394-2255).
If, after your search, you find that the resources in your area don’t meet your needs, don’t just give up: start your own support group. For if you haven’t been able to find what you need in terms of emotional support, there are almost certainly other victims out there who could benefit from a support group as much as you. Here are some basics to keep in mind when starting up.
Find one to five other people to join you as founding members of this group. After all, a support group is just that: a group. Begin the cooperative effort with its very founding, and you will model the attitude that you want all your members to embrace. Search for members by posting flyers in women’s shelters, their walk-in clinics, and anywhere else that you thought to look when you wanted to join a support group. You might also try victims’ advocates.
When your group decides on a suitable meeting place, consider that churches, libraries, and community centers usually offer low-cost or free use of their facilities. Though a member’s house is also free, her privacy and safety might be jeopardized. Publicize the first meeting in any of the places victims might seek support—probably the same places where you found your core team. Bring coffee and treats, and make sure your new members feel welcome!
Once you and your founders have done the legwork, follow these tips as you make your group a success:
- Meet consistently, such as every Thursday evening, or the 1st and 3rd Monday of each month. Note that most people will be available on weekday evenings. The frequency of your meetings will be determined by how often members can attend, and what’s deemed most beneficial.
- Allow every member an opportunity to speak at each meeting. Go around the room and give each person a turn to share what’s on his or her mind. Or, if you have a previously set agenda, set aside a block of time at the end of the meeting for open discussion.
- Educate yourselves. Poll members about which issues concern them the most, and learn about those together. Invite guest speakers — psychologists, police officers, or other experts. Or assign each person a small outside research project and compare notes at the next meeting. Empower yourselves with knowledge. Ideally, each meeting should have a theme, topic, and/or direction.
- Create a support network that exists outside of meetings. This will strengthen you as individuals and as a group.
- Welcome new members. As your group matures and older members begin the healing process, their wisdom and their triumph are invaluable to those who are just embarking on the road to recovery.
- Be aware that groups, like people, go through highs and lows. Let the energy of the others support you if your enthusiasm starts to wane, and be there for your co-members when they, in turn, need your dedication and enthusiasm to carry them through. Don’t let the group coast on the efforts of one or two people — everyone should and must participate. And finally, always strive for an open and nonjudgmental atmosphere in your support group as you initiate your healing process.