UT students walk alone all the time, whether it’s to and from class, visiting a friend at their dorm or heading to a party in west campus. Programs such as SURE Walk aim to address the dangers associated with walking across campus unaccompanied, and the number of SURE Walk users increased significantly after the tragedy of UT freshman Haruka Weiser’s death befell campus last semester.
Stalking is a major issue facing college students today and a problem that SURE Walk administrators aim to address through their program. The number of SURE Walk users has decreased since last semester but remain much higher than in previous years, averaging at around 100 walks per week, according to Isaiah Carter, SG chief of staff.
“When I was a freshman, I volunteered for the majority of the semester, and I got one phone call,” government sophomore Carter said. “We’re steadily rising.”
Stalking acutely affects college students, according to a 2015 study conducted by the Crime Victims’ Institute at Sam Houston State University, which claimed college students are more likely to be stalked yet less likely to report it. Stalking is a particularly difficult crime to pin down because of the lack of evidence of threats made by the stalker or proof of unwanted repeated contact.
“The biggest tool is for anyone to have the documentation,” UTPD detective Vivian Benavides said. “Take notes, jot them down in a Word document or Excel spreadsheet, because when it comes time to make a report with any law enforcement agency, that’s what they’re going to be looking for.”
Most stalking cases occur between couples who were formerly intimate, according to the John Carroll University Violence Prevention and Action Center. Walking around west campus and being randomly targeted is a less likely scenario, but nevertheless possible, Benavides said. Regardless of the circumstances, reaching out to law enforcement needs to be a priority, Benavides said.
“I’ve had situations where someone has talked someone into talking to us after the fact,” Benavides said. “That’s kind of hard to go back in time a day before, a day after, a week after … so see something, say something.”
Mexican-American studies junior Minerva Lederety shared the story of a friend who dealt with being stalked and said having the extra stress of a stalker is particularly difficult while in college.
“I know it really took a toll on her mental health, and she ended up suffering academically because of it,” Lederety said. “I think, especially in college, it can be a pretty big distraction … there’s more of a workload … it’s kinda like the real, big game.”
Lederety said she encourages anyone encountering a stalker to contact authorities, a sentiment strongly echoed by both Carter and Benavides. They specifically urged students to call 911, even in non-emergency but potentially unsafe situations.
“The timing it takes for any individual to post on social media websites is probably the same amount of time to have law enforcement officers … heading that way to start looking to see if they can catch the situation,” Benavides said.
SURE Walk aims to collaborate with UTPD to create safe walking zones by spring of next year, although Carter said problems such as stalking are difficult to prevent.
“We live in the middle of a city, so crime in some ways is unpredictable,” Carter said. “We can do everything we can to offer students as many tools as possible, but things … are still going to happen.”