This January marks National Stalking Awareness Month. The act of stalking is something that is a problem across the country. Unfortunately, the act of stalking is never quite defined the same way from one jurisdiction to another. Different jurisdictions have differing legal definitions of what stalking is for the purpose of criminal charges, but the Stalking Resource Center defines the act of stalking to be “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”
Stalking is an act that is designed to create fear for the victim and elicit a sense of control for the perpetrator. According to The National Center for Victims of Crime and the Stalking Resource Center, 7.5 million people are victims of stalking each year in the United States alone. Men and women are both likely to be stalked and the majority of stalking perpetrators are someone that the victim knows—either a romantic partner (current or past) or an acquaintance. Perpetrators often engage in behaviors that seek to intimidate the victim into complying with them or living in some kind of fear.
Identifying the behaviors of stalking is the most important thing that can help to stop the problem from escalating into violence. While every stalking event is unique to its own situation, there are common behaviors that tend to show up in most stalking events. Those behaviors include:
-Showing up where the victim does not expect or does not want them to be
-Making contact through phone calls, text messages, emails, or letters and packages
-Watching or following the victim either closely or from afar
-Using technology such as GPS, listening devices, or cameras to follow or keep “tabs” on the victim and their movements
It is important to document and report any instances of stalking. Particularly in the case of female victims, escalation of stalking behaviors can lead to violence and homicide. According to the Stalking Resource Center, 76% of women who were victims of intimate partner homicide were stalked by the partner prior to the escalation of violence. In 20% of cases (or 1 in 5) of stalking regardless of gender, a weapon of some kind is used either as a threat or to harm the victim. Intimate partner stalking is more likely to escalate into violence quickly.
Although there are laws in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territories against stalking, it is defined differently in each area. It is commonly a misdemeanor upon the first offense. It is often only categorized as a felony when it is a secondary or tertiary incidence of stalking or if the act was exacerbated by the use of a weapon or other aggravating factors. Unfortunately, acts of stalking are either difficult to prove or require a very specific intent from the perpetrator. While protective orders can be put in place, they are often only enforceable when they have been violated.
For more information about Stalking Awareness Month, visit http://www.stalkingawarenessmonth.org