Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Syracuse woman aims to shine a brighter light on stalking

Woman pointing to screen hanging on a wall
Natasha Senjanovic
Stefania Ianno during a Breaking Stalking presentation

Stalking is considered one of the biggest red flags for physical violence or murder – especially when it comes to women. Yet there aren’t enough resources for victims, and prosecution rates are still low, says Syracuse native Stefania Ianno, so she started an organization to change that.

Breaking Stalking was inspired by Ianno’s own experience of being stalked in 2011, by someone she says she thought was a friend. The man was eventually arrested, says Ianno, but throughout the long ordeal – which she says escalated from endless, anonymous phone calls to social media posts about guns and a GPS tracker on her car – she didn’t find any police officers or victim advocates specifically trained to help her.

Unfortunately, not much has changed, she says. Victims are often still left with more questions – and homework – than actual support. They start where she herself did, said Ianno, asking themselves, “’What are the resources and what can I do? And what do I have to do to help myself?’

“A lot of that is put on the victim,” she adds. "They have to keep all their documentation. They have to make sure they're recording things. They have to try to get the camera to catch [a stalker] on film.”

Breaking Stalking, which Ianno launched in January, consists of educational training sessions that help people recognize what stalking is and how best to document or report it. Ianno also teaches people to understand victims, and not downplay their fears, even if they call their stalker in the middle of the night, as one woman did.

Police hear that and think the victim isn't scared, said Ianno. "When in reality she wanted to make sure that she knew that [her stalker] was in bed. So he wouldn't come to her house again, at 2:30 in the morning, break a window and wake her kids up.”

Ianno has big plans for Breaking Stalking. She wants to reach high school and college students (including sororities and fraternities), victim advocates, therapists — and especially the criminal justice system. All in an effort to create a coordinated community response that begins as soon as someone reports they’re being stalked, or just reaches out for expert help.

“We really want victim service providers and advocates to recognize stalking as a unique victimization and respond urgently,” said Ianno. “We also want law enforcement to recognize stalking, charge it appropriately and help victims when they need help and connect the victims with the right resources.

Ianno also wants prosecutors to pick up more stalking cases and pursue them effectively. "And, of course, we want probation to hold offenders accountable and keep victims safe,” she said.

Ianno’s mother were at a Breaking Stalking community training session in January and shared the fears and frustrations of what victims’ loved ones also go through.

Marie Ianno says even after they got a restraining order against her daughter’s stalker, some police officers were rude and treated her like a criminal, all because Stefania initially said she wasn’t afraid of her stalker – because they were in the same circle of friends, and before she knew the extent of his violent fixation.

She also says there was so much information that the family never knew, which could have helped alleviate some of the stress. For instance, when Stefania fled her home, fearing for her safety, and wasn’t informed of her tenant rights.

“When you have a stalker and they are arrested, you can leave the house and be let out of your lease and not owe the rent. And we did not know that,” said Marie Ianno. “That little, teeny tiny piece of information could have been so beneficial at that time.”

In New York state, that also applies to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, crimes that overlap with stalking. National data shows that most stalkers are current or former intimate partners of their victims, many of whom suffer from PTSD, and may remain terrorized, for years.

Even though it’s been more than a decade, said Marie Ianno, “I still have a fear that he can pop up at any time.”

Natasha Senjanovic teaches radio broadcasting at the Newhouse School while overseeing student journalists at WAER and creating original reporting for the station. She can also be heard hosting All Things Considered some weekday afternoons.