What to Do If You are a Victim of Stalking 

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In the U.S., one in six women and one in 19 men have experienced stalking during their lifetime. More than 3.4 million individuals are stalked in this country annually. Stalking is a crime in all 50 states, and it is a dangerous, potentially deadly one. Although the legal definition of stalking varies by jurisdiction, it is generally defined as a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. Interstate stalking is defined by federal law, 18 USC 2261A.

The majority of stalking victims are women and most stalkers are men, but it can happen to anyone regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status. Three in four stalking victims are stalked by someone they know.  Of female stalking victims, 66% are stalked by a current or former intimate partner. When women are stalked by intimate partners, 31% are sexually assaulted by that partner. Additionally, a strong link exists between stalking and women who were murdered by an intimate partner. 

 

Stalkers use a variety of means to frighten, harass and control their victims.  Examples of stalking behaviors include: repeatedly driving by the victim's home or work location; following or spying on the victim; persistently calling, texting or e-mailing; sending unwanted gifts; placing strange objects in or on the victim's private property or workplace; slandering or sharing private information about the victim in public places or on the internet; vandalizing property; and directing verbal or written threats toward the victim or the victim's loved ones or pets. Stalkers often use technology to harass, monitor and track victims via GPS, cell phones, cameras, social networking sites and even drones. 

Stalking behaviors often include individual acts that when viewed in isolation could appear benign or noncriminal, and as a result, stalking is often underreported by victims and the criminal justice system. Victims of stalking can experience terrible stress and emotional, physical and financial consequences. Stalking victims often have trouble sleeping and lose time from work, sometimes taking drastic measures such as moving or changing their names to protect themselves.  

If you are being stalked, it is not your fault, and what is happening to you has not been caused by anything you have done. Take all threats seriously and trust your instincts. If you feel that you are in danger, it is likely that you are. Document all contact and incidents with the offender, take photographs of property destruction or injuries inflicted, keep e-mails, letters and other objects you receive, and preserve (e.g., screenshot) electronic communications sent by the stalker via text or social media. Report each incident to law enforcement as soon as possible. 

Consider telling family members, close friends, coworkers or neighbors about your concerns.  In addition to providing a network of support, they can help look out for your safety and prevent contact when possible. Contact your local crime victim services agency,  domestic violence program or sexual assault hotline, and consider consulting an experienced threat assessment investigator. Trained professionals can help keep you safe, help you understand the law and your rights, assist in obtaining a restraining order, direct you to other available services and provide emotional support. If you cooperate with the criminal justice system, you may be eligible for compensation for out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of your victimization, such as medical expenses and lost wages, through your local victim advocates and assistance program. Finally, do not wait to take action under the assumption that the stalker will soon cease and desist. On average, stalkers continue to harass their victims for nearly two years.

ANGELA HRDLICKA