URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Its something that can completely change someone’s way life and that is stalking.

January is “Stalking Awareness Month.” Tonight, we’re sharing a few ways experts say you can protect yourself.

The University of Illinois Police and Courage Connection in Urbana offer a variety of resources to help if you are dealing with this. They also say not to take stalking lightly and that it can escalate quickly.

“Its a serious crime and it scares a lot of people,” Lt. Gene Moore, with University of Illinois Police, said. “I mean that’s the key to it. Its the fear.”

That’s why people are trying to bring awareness to stalking this month.

“There’s no reason to take it lightly,” Bryce Decker, with Courage Connection, said. “Everybody should take it seriously.”

Courage Connection in Urbana says they see stalking involved with 90% of domestic violence cases. While, University of Illinois Police said they respond to nearly 60 stalking cases in a normal year.

“Statistically it happens between people 18 to 22, 23, 24 years old,” Lt. Moore said. “That’s your college campus age and it happens to men and women. Its an equal opportunity crime.”

That’s why experts, like Decker, are raising awareness. He says stalking can completely uproot a person’s life.

“It destabilizes their whole entire life and it can make them very distrustful about everything going on around them,” Decker said.

Decker says there are some characteristics to look for.

“If somebody is always wanting to know where you’re at,” Decker said. “They want you to let them know where you’re going or something as crazy as send me a picture of where you’re at right now or whose with you. That could easily escalate to them following you.”

He says stalking varies for each person.

“If its an ex boyfriend, a former spouse, that might be a bit different than if its a stranger or a neighbor,
Decker said. “See really people have to figure out what their individual circumstances are and then try to assess their safety.”

Both places encourage you to call 9-1-1 if you feel threatened or the non-emergency number. They can get you connected to the right resources.

“We can workout safety plans, specified to you,” Lt. Moore said. “What routes you take to work, where do you lay your head at night, what things you need to be looking for based on what you do normally in your daily life.”

Both places have different methods to help you. They can help find a safe plan for you to live your life, get you someone to talk to and more. In some circumstances, it may require more action, such as filing a police report, getting a no-contact order or something else.

Courage Connection: https://courageconnection.org/get-help/legal-advocacy-program/

Women’s Resource Center UIUC: https://oiir.illinois.edu/womens-center

University of Illinois Police Department: https://police.illinois.edu/crime-reporting/report-a-crime-or-submit-a-tip/