DIXON – Stylist Chelsey Raines’ nightmare began a year and a half ago, when a man whose hair she cut became her stalker.
Their encounters were harmless at first. The two would talk about things such as bird-watching or their plans for the day.
Soon, he started leaving her larger tips, and gifts – like a laptop computer, an expensive coat, and gifts for her son. He sent flowers, and called her cellphone constantly.
In May, Raines, 23, told the 61-year-old that the contact had to stop, and that she no longer would cut his hair. The calls and letters continued.
She filed several police reports in Sterling and Dixon, but that didn’t stop things.
Although he’s never threatened or harmed her, Raines says, she fears for her life. She’s stressed out, depressed, and afraid to answer her phone or leave the house.
In June, she took out a stalking no-contact order, which forbade the man from coming within 300 feet of her Dixon home or her Sterling salon.
In August, he was arrested for violating that order, but then-State’s Attorney Henry Dixon declined to file charges.
Raines said she is frustrated, and thinks the courts and police are not acting quickly enough to charge the man or make the stalking stop.
Her mother, Rosemary Buckley, says the system is failing her daughter. She wants police to be “proactive, not reactive.”
Buckley also says police haven’t communicated enough about where they are in the investigation.
Dixon and Sterling police say their officers have investigated the allegations and have forwarded their findings on to prosecutors.
Sauk Valley Media interviewed the man, but will not name him in this article because he has not been charged.
He said the whole situation has been a misunderstanding, and that he continued to reach out to Raines just to apologize. He said he never intended to harm or scare her.
January was National Stalking Awareness Month, which aims to educate people on the dangers of stalking and what they can do to stay safe.
Raines hopes her story will do just that. She also hopes it encourages other victims to report incidents to police.
“I just want people to understand the fact that, and not even so much about my case, but this is in the area,” Raines said. “Just because you’re not getting hurt physically, your emotions are going crazy.”
Stalking no-contact orders, which took effect in January 2010, are scarcely seen in the area. In Lee County, only three such orders are active, Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss said.
Still, that doesn’t mean that they should not be taken seriously, Langloss said.
“This case is good to bring awareness to stalking and the stalking no-contact orders, because ... the provisions have been there for years, we’ve had very few of these orders,” Langloss said.
Stalking is defined as a series of actions directed at a specific person that makes a reasonable person afraid. The actions can include damaging a victim’s home or property, following him or her around, threatening harm, or sending unwanted gifts, letters, cards, or emails.
According to a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice study, 3.4 million people are stalked in the United States each year.
Before 2010, stalking victims in Illinois could not get an order of protection, or restraining order, unless they had a prior relationship with the stalker.
The no-contact order changed that and made it easier for stalking victims to get a restraining order to keep their stalker away, said Stacie Hoffman-Rosalez, a caseworker for the sexual assault program at the YWCA of the Sauk Valley, who helps people apply for no-contact orders.
“It is a serious situation, and it does happen on local and national levels,” Hoffman-Rosalez said. “I know a lot of people, when they think of stalking, they think of celebrities or famous people having this situation, but clearly it’s happening here.”
Newly elected Lee County State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller said stalking can be difficult to identify and prosecute because there must be an established pattern of conduct, rather than one particular act committed.
“We have to have a number of different things to happen before we can actually call it stalking,” she said.
That can be frustrating for victims to hear, Hoffman-Rosalez said.
Raines said that she contacted Sterling and Dixon police several times, before and after she got the order, when the man continued to contact her. Several times, police told him he would be arrested if he didn’t stop.
Even after his arrest in August for violating the order, he drove past her workplace again in December. She reported the incident to police, but no charges have been filed.
Raines said she felt “horrible” because it seemed the police weren’t taking her seriously and she didn’t know much about the stalking no-contact orders or how to enforce them.
“I felt like they thought I was screaming wolf, or crying wolf,” she said. “Yes, they tell me they talked to him. But, after talking to the same man over and over again, when is it enough?”
Langloss acknowledges flaws in the system.
When Raines’ no-contact order was entered into the statewide system, it did not specify whether police had the authority to make an arrest if the order is violated or whether sanctions had to come from a judge.
Langloss since learned that all stalking no-contact orders are enforceable by police and has shared that information with law enforcement in several other counties.
Another factor that complicates Raines’ case, Langloss said, is that the supposed stalking happened in two different jurisdictions.
“While we’re following up and working with the family on this, Sterling can’t make a decision based on what happened here,” he said. “We can’t make a decision based on what happened there.”
Sacco-Miller said she did not know why her predecessor didn’t charge the man with violating the order after his August arrest.
She has since forwarded the case to the state appellate prosecutor’s office. She did so, she said, because one of her assistant state’s attorneys represented the man in the stalking no-contact order before he worked for her.
In Sterling, the officer investigating Raines’ complaint sent his findings to Whiteside County State’s Attorney Trish Joyce on Jan. 9, Police Chief Ron Potthoff said.
It takes time to develop a case, and he understands Raines’ frustration, Pothoff said.
“Crime is personal to the victim, whether it’s regarding a burglary or a sex assault,” Potthoff said. “Stalking is very personal to the victim.”
Both chiefs said the YWCA does training sessions with officers once or twice a year to get them up to speed on new laws on stalking and other crimes.
Both Langloss and Sacco-Miller encourage people to learn about stalking and the resources available to them.
“If you feel like you’re being stalked, even if it seems trivial, reach out and talk to us here in Dixon, talk to the YWCA,” Langloss said. “The longer it’s allowed to go on, the harder it is to stop.”
Raines advice to others in a similar situation: Don’t give up.
“Go right to the police,” she said. “Even if you think it’s embarrassing or you think it’s just a crazy ex-girlfriend or a crazy old man. It doesn’t matter what the situation is.
“If they are bothering you, let [police] know. Keep on it, because obviously it takes more than telling them one or twice.”
If you feel you are a victim of stalking:
– Contact local police and file a report.
– Keep a log of all stalking behaviors, including emails and phone messages.
– Report all suspicious activity immediately to police.
– Be aware of how you use technology, such as Facebook. Limit personal information, such as photographs and posts about your location.
– Establish open communication with people you trust, such as close friends and family.
– The YWCA of the Sauk Valley (which has offices in Sterling and Dixon) provides support services, information on how to fill out a stalking no-contact order, and services to help victims of stalking come up with a stalking safety plan. Advocates also are available to attend court hearings at the request of victims.
In Dixon, call 815-288-1071. In Sterling, call 815-625-0333. The YWCA also has 24-hour crisis lines at 815-288-1011 and 815-626-7277.