Despite its frequent romantic portrayal in feature films, novels and on television, stalking is a serious, abusive behavior that often leads to violence and escalation. Even when they are not physically injured, stalking victims often suffer financial and emotional damage with far-reaching repercussions. Learn more on our Anti Stalking Alert!
Anti Stalking Alert: What is Stalking?
Legal definitions of stalking vary from state to state and within other jurisdictions, but a standard explanation is “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear,” according to the Stalking Resource Center.
Stalkers often follow their victims from their homes to work and other destinations, send unsolicited and unwanted messages and gifts, damage property, monitor correspondence or telephone calls, threaten to harm victims and their loved ones and post information about their victims online and in other venues.
Stalkers can be someone the victims knows, such as a former boyfriend or girlfriend, a co-worker or an ex-spouse, or someone they have never met.
Anti Stalking Alert: Impact on Victims
The impact of stalking on victims is significant. Along with living in fear, these people often suffer physical injury and lose their jobs owing to the negative impact of their personal lives on the workplace. Male victims tend to suffer the same type of effects as female victims.
Impacts on stalking victims include self-doubt, worry about overreaction, denial, confusion, guilt, humiliation, self-blame, frustration, fear, a sense of helplessness, feelings of isolation, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, inability to focus or remember routine details, insomnia, anger, detachment, hypervigilance, inability to trust others, barriers to intimacy, flashbacks of terrifying incidents, suicidal thoughts or behavior, self-medication with drugs and/or alcohol, fatigue, headaches, weight fluctuations, sexual dysfunction, withdrawal from social circles, poor work or school performance and avoidance of usual activities.
Anti Stalking Alert: Cyberstalking
In some jurisdictions, cyberstalking is also a crime. In most states prohibiting cyberstalking, it is a crime to harass someone using social media, email or other online methods. In some cases, the FBI has jurisdiction over cyberstalking.
Anti Stalking Alert: Stalking Laws
All 50 states have some form of anti stalking law. Stalking is also a federal crime as well as illegal in the District of Columbia and all United States territories.
However, fewer than one-third of states regard stalking as a felony when it is a first offense. On the other hand, more than half of states classify stalking as a felony when it is a second offense.
Anti Stalking Alert: What Victims Should Do
Anti stalking experts suggest victims clearly inform their stalkers in writing to cease contact in order to establish a legal record of the behavior and to give the stalker a warning that you are prepared to take legal action to stop him or her if necessary.
If this is not enough to stop a stalker, it might be time to obtain a protective, or restraining order from a court of law. Many states permit victims to file for a restraining order against anyone who has stalked them, even if there is no other relationship between the two.
Meanwhile, most states’ anti stalking law allows stalking as sufficient reason to obtain a domestic violence protective order.
To improve their chances of being awarded a restraining order, victims should record stalking instances in a journal as well as keep any messages or other correspondence.
Anti Stalking Alert: Safety Tips for Victims
Regardless of how a victim approaches dealing with a stalker legally, he or she should practice general safety by doing the following:
- Avoid responding to the stalker’s behavior, other than with an initial written request to cease the behavior. Responding often only reinforces the behavior.
- Carry a cell phone with the numbers of local police on speed dial.
- Always log out of personal email and social media accounts, and change passwords frequently.
- Designate a safe place, other than home, to go during an emergency. This could be the police station, a church, a public area or the home of a loved one.
- Avoid traveling alone as often as possible.
- Vary routes to and from work, school and other regular destinations.
- Limit personal information online, including phone number, address and birthday.
There are many ways to learn more about coping with stalking, including the U.S. Department of Justice, which features a great deal of information on its website.