January is National Stalking Awareness Month, a time to focus on a crime that affected 6.6 million victims in one year.
One in six women and one in 19 men have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime, says Cheryl O'Neil, director of Caring House, Iron Mountain's shelter for domestic violence victims.
The majority of stalking victims are stalked by someone they know; 66 percent of female victims and 41 percent of male victims of stalking are stalked by a current or former intimate partner.
More than half of female victims and more than a third of male victims are stalked before the age of 25, O'Neil said.
Stalking is a crime in all 50 states, the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, yet many victims and criminal justice professionals underestimate its seriousness and impact.
A Bureau of Justice Statistics reports, in one of five cases, stalkers use weapons to harm or threaten victims, and stalking is one of the significant risk factors for homicide of women in abusive relationships, O'Neil said.
Stalking is difficult to recognize, investigate, and prosecute.
Unlike other crimes, stalking is not a single, easily identifiable crime but a series of acts, a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause that person fear.
Stalking may take many forms, such as assaults, threats, vandalism, burglary, or animal abuse, as well as unwanted cards, calls, gifts, or visits.
One in four victims reports that the stalker uses technology, such as computers, global positioning system devices, or hidden cameras, to track the victim's daily activities, she said.
Stalkers fit no standard psychological profile, and many stalkers follow their victims from one jurisdiction to another, making it difficult for authorities to investigate and prosecute their crimes.
According to the anti-stalking laws, a person can be charged with stalking for willfully and repeatedly contacting another individual, without permission, causing that person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.
Under these laws, assailants could be charged with stalking for repeatedly:
- Following or appearing within the sight of the victim.
- Approaching or confronting the victim in a public or private place.
- Appearing at the workplace or residence of the victim.
- Entering or remaining on the victim's property.
- Contacting the victim by telephone.
- Sending mail or electronic mail to the victim.
Victims of stalking are encouraged to exercise their legal rights:
- Notify the police in the areas where the stalking took place.
- Get an anti-stalking restraining order from Circuit Court (this order states that the stalker is to have no contact with the victim; if violated, criminal penalties will follow).
- You may also bring a civil action against the stalker. This allows you to sue him or her for any damage that may have caused emotional harm, and may entitle you to exemplary damages and legal fees as well.
- As a victim, your best weapon against a stalker is the local law enforcement agency. They are a means of protection as well as a source for referrals. However, it is also important to have support from your friends and family during this emotionally distressing time.
- Individuals who are being stalked or abused can find help by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.
Communities that understand stalking can support victims and combat the crime. We then have a better chance to protect victims and prevent tragedies.
For more information, or to see how you can help prevent stalking, contact Caring House at 774-1112.