While I have never been stalked, at least I don't think I have, the mere thought of it unnerves me. As I have told you multiple times, I have a paranoia-prone brain (remember the post about being a paranoid traveler). For instance, one of the reasons I love all the snow in the winter is that I can see if there are any fresh footprints around my house. Now, mind you, there are many reasons I love the snow, but that seriously is one of the reasons.
Yes, I know that sounds crazy and over the top, but hear me out. I am also the kind of person that will keep driving if there is someone driving behind me who has made too many of the same turns. Anything that could be termed out of the ordinary, strange, odd or weird does not set well with me. I am a people watcher. I sometimes have a strong sense of foreboding that something foul is afoot; and often I'm right. I take the cautious approach. I try not to leave much to chance. I don't need a stalker to keep me looking over my shoulder.
While the crime of stalking is nothing new, the avenues for stalking have changed as our society has evolved into a social media loving community. It's not hard to find out where a person lives; who a person lives with; where a person works; whether the person is on Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, My Space, etc.; how to contact a person by phone or email; information about a person's friends and family; if a person serves on boards or committees; which candidate(s) a person has supported through donations; and thanks to FourSquare and other applications, you can often track the exact whereabouts of a person at any given time.
Last week a reader tipped me off about January being Stalking Awareness Month. I was glad for the information and for the chance to learn more about stalking issues and laws. Stalking crimes affect 3.4 million Americans per year, according to the National Center for Victims of Crimes (NCVC). The Stalking Awareness campaign slogan is "Stalking. Know It. Name It. Stop It."
Types of Stalking
There are traditional methods of stalking and there's cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is when a person uses the Internet, email and other social platforms to harass, threaten and/or frighten a person. Stalking is threatening, harassing and/or frightening a person by following, calling, showing up in the same locations as a person, sending mail or objects to a person, vandalizing a person's property. A stalker may use online resources to find out information about a person, but not necessarily stalk the person online. This post is about traditional methods of stalking and the laws meant to protect those being stalked. On Wednesday, I will post on cyberstalking laws.
Findlaw defines three types of stalking:
Erotomania: often committed by a female and is delusional obsession with a public figure or someone out of the stalker's reach;
Love Obsessional: Involves an individual stalking someone with whom they think they are in love; and
Simple Obsessional: Stalking by someone the victim knows; often an estranged spouse or partner.
Stalking is generally not a random crime, but is most often perpetrated by someone who knows the victim. In fact, stalking is often a domestic violence crime; a Simple Obsessional Stalking. Stalking involving estranged spouses or partners often includes:
- Repeated threatening or harassing behaviors, such as phone calls;
- Following a person;
- Showing up at a person's home or place of business;
- Vandalizing property; and
- Other activities that make a person fearful for his or her safety.
Stalking is a crime in all 50 states, D.C., U.S. territories and under Federal statutes. Stalking laws do vary by jurisdiction. You can check your state's stalking statutes on the NCVC State by State Legislation page. But I will use the MN stalking statute as an example of how stalking is defined. MN Statute § 609.749 defines "stalking" as "conduct which the actor knows or has reason to know would cause the victim under the circumstances to feel frightened, threatened, oppressed, persecuted, or intimidated; and causes this reaction on the part of the victim regardless of the relationship between the actor and victim." In Minnesota, no specific intent is required.
In IL a new stalking law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2010. Prior to the Stalking No Contact Order Act, not all stalking victims were protected; only those victims in a domestic relationship with the stalker or victims of sexual assault. Now, IL stalking victims can seek a No Contact Order even if there was no previous relationship between the victim and stalker.
NCVC provides these statistics on stalking laws:
Less than 1/3 of states classify stalking as a felony upon first offense.
More than 1/2 of states classify stalking as a felony upon second offense or subsequent offense or when the crime involves aggravating factors.
Aggravating factors may include: possession of a deadly weapon, violation of a court order or condition of probation/parole, victim under 16 years, or same victim as prior occasions.
Since there is often very little, if any, evidence of stalking it's often difficult to recognize and name the crime, hence the Stalking Awareness slogan. Minnesota’s Battered Women’s Legal Advocacy Project has developed and applied the Stalking Response Program. This program trains law enforcement, prosecution, victim service providers and judicial participants in "the nature of stalking and its intersection with domestic violence and sexual assault in addition to providing technical assistance to those who are looking at developing a CCR (Coordinated Community Response) in their community." This program has been well received.
On Tuesday, I will write about how stalkers act and things they do in stalking, as well as how a victim or family member should respond. Please share this post and pass along the information that January is Stalking Awareness Month. Over and out…
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