What was your favorite toy when you were a child? Maybe it seemed magical and miraculous? Perhaps it was something ordinary and orthodox, pedestrian and practical? Was it fantastic and unforgettable? Me, I liked to play with sticks. Simple enough, but I also remember the comforting light of my glow worm during bedtime, frolicking with my favorite stuffed fella, Alf, and the joy of a toy that you can still buy today – the Lite-Brite.
Named one of the top 100 toys of all time by TIME Magazine, the Lite-Brite worked with an uncomplicated concept: putting pegs in a pattern that when plugged in, illuminated to reveal a design. In the Lite Brite, every peg mattered. The Lite-Brite connected the literal dots of every peg piece to shine a light on the bigger picture. The same simple concept can be applied to stalking.
A crime under the laws of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Territories, and the federal government, stalking criminalizes behaviors that may otherwise seem normal. For instance, driving down the street may not seem strange, sending someone gifts may not physically hurt anyone, but given context, those behaviors could be a crime. American writer and cultural critic Michael Ventura said, “Without context, a piece of information is just a dot…knowledge is information in context…connecting the dots.”
Maybe the green peg or the yellow peg or the red peg don’t look so scary, but when you see the pegs together, a different picture emerges. That’s how stalking escalates. Weapons are used to harm or threaten victims in 20% of stalking cases, 46% of stalking victims experience at least one unwanted contact per week, and 76% of intimate partner femicide victims were stalked before they were killed, according to the Stalking Resource Center. Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward…” Like a Lite-Brite, each peg creates context that, when looked at as a whole, puts everything in perspective.
January is National Stalking Awareness Month. I hope we all pay a little more attention to behaviors that may seem ordinary and orthodox. I hope we learn to connect the dots and better recognize that what we may consider a simple act, followed by a simple act, followed by a simple act, could be a crime that’s escalating, a pattern that isn’t practical or pedestrian, but potentially lethal. I hope we can all take a second to step back and see the context of this crime. We all may be individual pegs, but we are all part of the bigger picture when it comes to keeping our communities safe. Shine on!
The Stalking Resource Center is an initiative of the National Center for Victims of Crime, with initial funding from the Violence Against Women Office of the U.S. Department of Justice.