When considering the number of men and women who fall victims to stalking every year, some people probably wonder, is stalking a crime? Although the legal definition of stalking differs from one state to another, it can be generally defined as the act of harassing another person repeatedly through actions that are intended to instill fear or cause injury.
So, is stalking a crime? Stalking as a crime first received public attention when Rebecca Shaeffer, an actress from California, was murdered by a man who stalked her for two years. Since anti-stalking laws were not yet in place at that time, the police could not arrest the stalker although his actions posed a threat to the victim. When the victim was murdered, the stalker was finally arrested.
Today, stalking is considered a crime under state and federal laws. However, only one-third of all US states classify first-offense stalking as a felony. About half of the states classify stalking as a felony when it involves other aggravating factors. These factors include possession of a deadly weapon, the stalker is on probation or parole, has violated a restraining order, or if the victim is under 16 years of age.
Is Stalking A Crime ?: Stalking Awareness
Each year, January is declared as National Stalking Awareness Month. 2014 marks the 10th year of creating awareness on stalking across the U.S. Through the efforts of the Office on Violence Against Women and the U.S. Department of Justice, many laws have been passed and services for stalking victims have been improved. However, it remains a fact that there are more than 6 million American adults who fall victim to stalking each year.
Is Stalking A Crime ?
The Stalking Resource Center at the National Center for Victims of Crime cites several statistics to raise awareness on stalking and help people understand its serious consequences:
- One in 6 women and one in 19 men are stalked at one point or another in which they felt fear of being harmed or killed. Many of the victims who are stalked are between the ages of 11 and 17. Stalking often happens by someone they know.
- 6.6. million people experience stalking annually in the United States alone.
- Most stalking victims experience anxiety, paranoia, and severe depression especially if the stalking resulted in rape, physical abuse, or destruction of property.
- Stalking results in victims being harmed in at least 1 out of 5 cases. 54% of female murder victims reported to the police that someone was stalking them before they were killed.
- More than 1 in 4 of victims are stalked through email (83%) or text messaging (35%).
How Victims Often React To Stalkers
In most cases, most victims do not know how to respond to a stalker. Some victims try to be nice to the stalker with the hope that the threatening behavior will stop. Others may respond by threatening back or ignoring the stalker. However, there is no way that a person can predict what a stalker will do next. It is best to create a safety plan that can protect the victim from further danger.
Safety planning includes documenting all threatening behavior including emails, phone calls, or text messages. Gifts received from a stalker must be recorded and preserved as evidence in the event that a case has to be filed. The victim should engage family members or friends in this planning activity in order to feel safer and avoid the feeling of desperation that is common among stalking victims.
Stalking Safety Tips
If you or someone you know have encountered a stalker, keep these safety tips in mind to lessen the risk of danger:
- If possible, vary routines such as changing routes to school, work, or the supermarket.
- Try not to be alone all the time. Let someone know of your whereabouts, especially at night.
- Do not take threats sent through email, phone, or text message lightly. Report threats to the police right away.
- Have a phone nearby all the time. Remember emergency numbers and the phone numbers of close family and friends. Keep 911 on the speed dial of your phone.
- Never interact with the person trying to stalk you since this will only encourage his or her behavior.
- Consider filing for a restraining order against the stalker if the behavior becomes too threatening.
- In case you are exposed to real danger, do not panic. Call the police, family, or friends and go to a safe place such as a police station, domestic violence shelters, church, or other public areas.
A stalker can find out information about you using various means. Since technology has made cyberstalking a lot easier, be careful whenever you give or post personal information over the phone or on the Internet. Turning off your GPS (global positioning system) on your phone can also stop a stalker from tracking you.