Contact is considered to be stalking when an individual begins to feel threatened or harassed. Stalking behaviors may vary, but there is always the element of unwanted attention that makes the victim feel threatened. A stalker may be a stranger, but in most cases it is a person that the victim knows. There is no federal law against stalking, but every state has statutes that outlaw stalking behaviors.
Types of Stalking Behaviors
Stalking does not have to be done in person. Unwanted messages, phone calls, letters, or emails may all constitute stalking, especially if these communications are frequent. Cyberstalking is becoming more common, and victims may have a difficult time avoiding stalkers that have acquired personal information through social media channels. Stalkers may make unwanted sexual or romantic advances, or intimidate and threaten victims. In many cases, stalkers begin by soliciting affection from victims, and when the victim rejects the stalker the communications become menacing.
Stalking is relatively common, with about one in six females and one in nineteen males reporting having been stalked at some time. The frequent nature of the crime does not decrease the fear that victims feel, however. About sixty-six percent of victims report being stalked by a current or former romantic partner. Stalking can cause emotional damage to victims and can sometimes become violent.
Stopping Stalking Behaviors
Unlike most crimes, stalking is a crime that typically occurs more than once, so it may be difficult for the victim to bring the behavior to a halt. Victims should first make it very clear that the stalking behavior is unwanted and unacceptable. If this communication is done electronically, it is helpful for the victim to save any records of the time and date that the stalker was asked to stop. If not, it may be helpful for the victim to write down the date and time that this communication took place.
Continued Stalker Behaviors
If a stalker continues to exhibit menacing behavior, it is very important that the victim contact police and file a report. The victim should report the date that the victim was asked to cease communications and any behavior that has occurred following that date and time. It may be helpful for a victim to obtain a restraining order against the stalker.
The victim should also take precautions to ensure safety, such as:
- Installing an alarm system
- Carrying a cell phone at all times
- Avoiding being alone
- Telling friends, family, and coworkers or managers
- Changing contact information
Stalking Charges and Penalties
Stalkers are often charged with a felony, and officers need not obtain a warrant for an individual that has been accused of committing stalking behaviors. In many cases, individuals are ordered to stay away from the accuser for a specified time period in addition to receiving penalties for the crime. Penalties for stalking may include jail or prison time, probation, court ordered therapy, and fines. Depending on the nature of the crimes, stalkers may also have to register as sex offenders following a stalking charge.
Stalking Case Bias
Stalking is a very serious accusation, and there may be a bias against those accused of stalking. If an individual has been falsely accused of stalking, it is very important that the individual contact a criminal defense attorney and immediately cease communications with the accuser. Any communications with the accuser will strengthen the prosecution’s case and make charges more likely.
Legal Defense against Stalking
In order to uphold stalking charges, prosecution must prove that stalking occurred. It must be shown that there was a pattern of stalking behaviors, there was a threat to the accuser, and the accuser felt afraid or threatened by the behaviors. If any of these elements are disproven, the charges may be dismissed.
Constitutionally Protected Behavior
In some cases, stalking accusations may be leveled at individuals that are engaging in constitutionally protected behaviors. Behaviors such as peacefully protesting in front of a building or labor picketing are protected under the law and will not warrant stalking charges. Paparazzi and journalists are also protected under the First Amendment, although certain behaviors may constitute stalking.
“Stalking.” National Institute of Justice. The United States Department of Justice, 25 Oct. 2007. Web. 27 May 2014.
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“Statutes & Constitution: View Statutes: Online Sunshine.” Statutes & Constitution: View Statutes: Online Sunshine. The Florida Legislature, 26 May 2014. Web. 27 May 2014.
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“USDOJ: Office on Violence Against Women: Crimes of Focus: Stalking.” USDOJ: Office on Violence Against Women: Crimes of Focus: Stalking. The United States Department of Justice, n.d. Web. 27 May 2014.
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