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Speaker shares personal experience, raises awareness of stalking behavior

| Thursday, January 25, 2018

To raise stalking awareness during January, National Stalking Awareness Month, the Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO) at Saint Mary’s welcomed advocate Debbie Riddle to speak about her own experience with a stalking incident affecting a loved one, which led to the death of her sister.

When it comes to stalking, which Riddle defined as “a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear,” context is everything, she said. One can define noncriminal activity as stalking after looking at the bigger picture and the context of the behavior, Riddle said.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Activist Debbie Riddle shared the story of her sister Peggy Klinke’s experience with a stalker, which ended with her sister’s death, Wednesday at Saint Mary’s.

Peggy Klinke, Riddle’s sister, met a man with whom Klinke began a relationship while she was at college in the ’90s, Riddle said. During one Christmas break, the man visited Riddle and Klinke’s home uninvited to surprise Klinke, and Riddle said she could tell by her sister’s face that the man was not treating her well. The man seemed controlling and made Riddle feel uneasy, she said, something she realizes was an early warning sign.

“Trust your gut,” she said. “If you feel something isn’t right, more than likely, it isn’t right.”

Riddle said the man emotionally abused Klinke, calling her derogatory names, but he would then send her flowers to apologize.

“The relationship was based on power and control,” Riddle said.

Klinke stayed in the relationship for three years despite the abuse, something Riddle said is commonplace in abusive relationships.

“[Victims] are scared to leave,” she said. “Peggy was terrified. She’d say, ‘If I choose to leave, what will he do to me?’”

Although Klinke eventually did leave this man and dated someone else, Riddle said, her ex-boyfriend continued to stalk her and her new boyfriend.

Riddle said because the stalker felt angry about his lack of control over Klinke, he wrote explicit accusations on a photo of her, made photocopies of it and posted them around her town.

Klinke’s family filed many police reports, Riddle said, but someone burned Klinke’s new boyfriend’s house, and Klinke knew it was her stalker. The stalker, however, told police Klinke was an alcoholic and lying, Riddle said.

At a Thanksgiving celebration, the stalker called Klinke’s household and said he knew where Klinke was staying and planned on killing her. Riddle said she called the police after this, and the officer found her sister and her sister’s boyfriend safe. After this, Riddle said, Klinke could not eat, sleep, stand near windows or doors and was afraid every time the phone rang.

The stalker eventually broke into Klinke’s home, where he pushed her to the floor and pushed a gun to her head, Riddle said. A friend hiding in the closet called 911, she said, and police officers arrived at the scene and stayed outside the room.

Riddle said Klinke told the officers to tell Riddle, who was pregnant at the time, to name her daughter after Klinke.

The stalker then shot Klinke before shooting himself, Riddle said.

After she started telling her sister’s story, Riddle said, she realized it felt therapeutic to tell it.

“When these things happen to us, we are giving a choice,” she said. “You could be hateful and bitter and see the worst in the world … or you can do something. Something better.”

Riddle said she wanted to honor her sister and make the world a safe place, and she was invited to be on a show on Lifetime Television — “Final Justice with Erin Brockovich,” which is about stories of female courage — to share Klinke’s story in 2003. Lifetime Television also partnered with stalking prevention nonprofits, government representatives and the Riddle family to advocate for stalking education and awareness in Washington, D.C., Riddle said.

Riddle testified at a Congressional briefing in Washington, and as a result, January was declared National Stalking Awareness Month in July of 2003, with the first National Stalking Awareness Month launched in 2004.

Riddle also helped develop a video about stalking that is now used to train law enforcement groups across the country. She now works to empower and educate people across the country about stalking and the violence it brings.

“I have three girls, a mother and another sister,” Riddle said. “What could I do to change the world? I realized people could learn from my sister’s story.”

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