UHCL criminology prof shares expertise on Netflix series, 'I Am a Stalker'
When Assistant Professor of Criminology Hae Rim (Helen) Jin received an email from someone named Edmond Buckley saying he was producing a documentary to be shown on Netflix, she wasn’t quite sure if it was a scam or not. After doing a bit of searching online, she found that Buckley was in fact, producing a true-crime documentary series entitled, “I Am a Stalker,” and was looking for experts in criminology to offer context and insights to the episodes, which examine stalking from the perspectives of both the perpetrator and the victims.
Jin’s area of research focuses on intimate partner violence, and she said IPV perpetrators will often demonstrate stalking behavior—both are rooted in an obsessive need for power and control in a relationship and a lack of understanding of healthy behaviors.
“My research is aligned with stalking behavior, so I responded to his inquiry, and found out that Netflix wanted to produce a new series focusing on stalking after the success of two seasons of a previous crime series titled, ‘I Am a Killer,’” she said. “I learned that the producers were examining the bios of criminology professors and other experts in Texas. The were interested in my areas of expertise, and since there are many professors of criminology and experts in Texas, I was privileged and honored to be the one selected to speak as in this particular episode.”
Jin offers her insights in episode 3 of the series, released on Oct. 28. She said each episode focuses on a stalking incident, but every story has a unique element ranging from both female and male stalkers, targeting both victim and its extended family members, and victim and perpetrator who continues to have some presence in each other’s lives due to their shared child custody.
Her episode is called “A Family Stalked,” which tells the story of Ruben Jaramillo. For two years, he stalked his ex-girlfriend with threatening visits and hundreds of letters filled with threats to kidnap her and her daughter; then ultimately, confronted her parents in their home with handcuffs and a stun gun.
“Research has consistently demonstrated that in IPV and stalking, there is a prior relationship of some kind between the people involved, regardless of gender,” she said. “The problem arises when one person in the relationship wants to end it, but that is unacceptable from the perpetrator’s point of view, especially if he or she is unable to understand they no longer have control over the relationship.”
In her episode, Jin related that the perpetrator repeatedly showed up at his ex-girlfriend’s job. The implications of this for a victim of stalking is something Jin discusses in detail in her classroom.
“I talk with my students about gender-based violence,” she said. “We talk about physical and emotional violence, but we don’t talk about the ways this impacts the financial stability of the victim,” she said. “A victim’s employer might become upset about someone’s repeated, unwelcome visits to the employee’s workplace, and could tell her she can’t remain employed if he keeps coming around and causing trouble.”
Jin noted in the episode that Jaramillo kept coming to his victim’s workplace and stood waiting for her by her car, reiterating that he knew where she was going and she could not get rid of him.
“I reviewed the letters he’d written to her, and he understood that she did not want him around anymore, but refused to let go. He was not deterred by law enforcement,” she said.
Jaramillo’s victim spoke in shadow and under the pseudonym “Maria” in the episode, to protect her identity. He is currently serving a 45-year sentence in Jefferson County, Texas for the attack on her parents, and is not eligible for parole.
Since the series has been released, Jin said she has been pleased to receive contacts from colleagues and advocates in the field of criminology who wish to collaborate with her on research or other projects.
“Until now, I have been doing research, teaching and going to conferences, mainly speaking to people in my field,” she said. “With this series, I am using my work to speak to a larger audience. This has taught me to use layperson’s terms and deliver the information to an audience I have not had experience with before.”
She said she’d also heard from stalking victims who are reaching out to her for her thoughts on their case. “I can’t give legal advice, but I can offer insights based on my research,” she said.
“This is a different chapter in my life,” she continued. “As an instructor, a lot of my students have informed me that it’s inspiring for them to see me doing something they think is ‘cool.’ But more importantly, they are excited about their own future knowing that the information they learn in our class will actually be used and be helpful in their careers."
She said she believed it is important be a great teacher and an active researcher. " I think is equally important to bridge the gap between academia and our community—and I am appreciative that this experience has allowed me to accomplish that. It has certainly been very gratifying.”
For more information about UHCL’s Criminal Justice and Criminology program, go online.