CLEVELAND — Unwanted telephone calls, someone keeping tabs on you from a distance, maybe even showing up on your doorstep — all of them are forms of stalking.
Statistics show one in six women and one in 17 men are victimized at some point in their lifetime.
Stalking is defined as a pattern of behavior that causes someone to feel fear, and typically it surfaces after someone breaks free from an abusive relationship.
Digna Marrero said her relationship was "physically, verbally and mentally" abusive.
Eventually, it all nearly led to Marrero's demise.
"I tried to take my life because I didn't know a way out," said Marrero.
The mother of four withstood the abuse for more than two decades.
"I stayed because of my kids. My kids are my world," said Marrero.
When she finally had the courage to call it quits, Marrero found herself facing a different threat.
"He would come near the house when he wasn't supposed to. It's a fear that you never know what's going to happen next," said Marrero.
Her ex was not only showing up outside her home.
Marrero said he would also "show up at work. I lost a couple of jobs because of that."
To protect herself and her children, Digna stayed with family.
"I knew he'd get inside my house," said Marrero.
She even went into hiding at a shelter for three months.
"My body starts trembling, shaking because of the fear he planted in me," said Marrero.
When she finally returned home, the domestic violence survivor prepared for the worst, as the stalking continued for five years.
"I have a machete next to the door. I would have knives underneath my pillows. It's like a chess game, you have to know the next move before it happens," said Marrero.
It's estimated more than 6 million Americans find themselves stalked each year.
"Stalking is not really that much on society's radar" because it's often under reported, said Victoria Grant, a domestic violence advocate.
"They know how to push the envelope just enough where it does not become a crime," said Grant.
Grant's advice to victims is keep track of tactics used to incite fear.
"Because your interpretation of stalking might not be my interpretation of stalking and that's where the problem is," said Grant.
Grant also encourages clients to change up the way they drive to work, get a new cell phone and change all passwords.
"Modern technology has made it so easy for stalkers now," said Grant.
Sitting outside your home or job, unwanted calls, texts and gifts are among the most often used tactics.
"Under Ohio law, two or more patterns of the same behavior is considered stalking," said Grant.
Now legally divorced, Marrero is sharing her ordeal to raise awareness about stalking and hopefully inspire other women to find the courage to escape.
"Because there's somebody that believes in you that gives you the strength. I'm stronger today than ever," said Marrero.
If you or someone you know is being stalked, you can contact the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center in Cleveland at 216-391-HELP (4357).
Advocates can help victims obtain protection orders.
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