It is many New Yorkers’ worst fear — a stranger climbing up the fire escape to creep into their apartment.
But imagine this has happened multiple times before, by either the same stranger or ex-partner who refuses to leave someone alone.
This is just one scenario that comes up in cases at the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, which has recently amped up prosecution of stalkers.
“We see things like people climbing up fire escapes and opening windows and climbing into bedrooms, we see things like people showing up at victims’ work places,” said Wanda Lucibello, chief of the special victims division for the Brooklyn District Attorney.
She added that in about 75 percent of intimate femicides, where a murdered woman knew the attacker, stalking preceded the homicide.
According to Lucibello, the office has prosecuted an average of 50 stalking cases each month in criminal court so far this year, compared to 40 each month last year.
“We’re coaxing it upwards,” Lucibello said. “Every time we get some uptick in numbers, we are sort of happy, because it shows that we know it’s out there, so we want people to do something about it.”
In October, the D.A. hosted a “Stalking: Who’s Watching You?” conference at the Brooklyn Law School to educate students and officials. One of the challenges, Lucibello said, is how available social media has made people’s whereabouts. A college student may write on Facebook or Twitter that she is headed to the gym, where a stalker could simply show up.
“It actually in many ways increases the amount of information that the batterer still will have well beyond the ending of a relationship,” Lucibello said.
‘He didn’t want to take no for an answer’
A Brooklyn woman in her 20s told Metro about being stalked by a stranger in her neighborhood. The man, who she saw frequently, kept calling out to her, trying to get her attention.
“He didn’t want to take no for an answer,” she remembered. One time he even pulled up in a van and told her to get in. She tried “to be polite and ignore” him, she said, but, “it kept happening.”
She continued, “I would start to tell him very clearly, ‘Leave me alone.’ I would start to cross the street and this would provoke him further. He would shout across the street, ‘I can say hello to whoever I want to, I’m being neighborly.'”
She went the local police precinct, which was in an upstate town where she was living at the time, and tried to make a report. “It was a really really difficult process,” she said. “They didn’t take it too seriously… they were just like, ‘Well, did he approach you? Did he assault you?’ … So then they said. ‘Well, there’s nothing we can do.’ I knew better.” When she went back and pressed for action, they eventually took a report.
What should you do if you find yourself in a situation you find uncomfortable?
Lucibello advises having a plan for if you are with someone who becomes combative, such as an app like Circle of 6, a discreet contacting system. “In those situations, you’d like to pull out your phone and call 911, but sometimes it’s just not possible or you don’t want to raise the tension or the dangerousness of the situation,” she said.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice suggests saving and documenting all contacts, messages or injuries involving a stalker. They also caution against changing a phone number, instead advising this could escalate the stalking and any messages should be saved.