Stalking is a very serious and scary criminal act. Since 2004, every January is recognized by the National Center for Victims of Crime as the National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM), aiming to raise awareness and help individuals and communities across the US identify, prevent and stop this dangerous behavior. Both intrusive and harmful, stalking can destroy a person’s sense of safety and can leave a victim suffering from horrible side effects.
What is stalking?
Historically, the term has not always been easily defined. Wikipedia defines stalking as unwanted and/or repeated surveillance by an individual or group toward another person. Stalking behaviors are interrelated to harassment and intimidation and may include following the victim in person or monitoring them. The term stalking is used with some differing definitions in psychiatry and psychology, as well as in some legal jurisdictions as a term for a criminal offense. According to a 2002 report by the U.S. National Center for Victims of Crime, “virtually any unwanted contact between two people that directly or indirectly communicates a threat or places the victim in fear can be considered stalking,” although in practice the legal standard is usually somewhat stricter.
Stalking became a criminal offense in the early 1990s and refers to following or harassing somebody against their will. California was the first state to pass anti-stalking laws and penalties in the United States, given the frequent incidents of celebrity harassment initiated by obsessed fans. By the 2000s, the District of Columbia and all 50 U.S. states had criminalized stalking.
If you or a loved one is in a dangerous emergency situation that requires immediate intervention, you should call 911 for assistance.
Stalking is a complex crime that is often misunderstood and largely underreported. If you think you are the victim of stalking or domestic violence, you may consider contacting local law enforcement about how to open a criminal case and pursue a protective order. Please call Schulze Law if you need the assistance of an experienced Massachusetts criminal defense attorney.
Stalking Stat’s and Facts
According to Infotracer.com, in the United States, it’s estimated that:
- 5 million people are stalked each year
- 87% of stalkers are men
- 7% of women and 5.8% of men have been victims of stalking at some point, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey
- In 67% of the cases, the stalker is a current or ex-partner seeking revenge, reconciliation or attachment from the victim
- About 18.3 million US women are victims of stalking during their lifetimes. For context, that’s about 15.2%
- Men are stalked, too. 5.7% (nearly 6.5 million) of US men experience stalking at some point
- Stalking tends to happen among young people. Most victims first experience stalking between the ages of 18 and 24
- About 4 in 5 victims of stalking are stalked by someone they know
- About 24.5% of Native American/Alaska Native women, 22.4% of multiracial women, 15.9% of non-Hispanic white women, 14.2% of Hispanic women, and 13.9% of non-Hispanic black women have experienced stalking. (The sample size for Asian and Pacific Islander women was too small to get reliable data from.)
Massachusetts Stalking Laws
According to FindLaw.com, In Massachusetts, “stalking ” is a specific criminal offense found in the penal code. Stalking refers to a clear, repetitive pattern of intentional unwanted, harassing, or threatening behavior directed toward another person that causes fear of personal safety or that of immediate family members. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265, section 43 prohibits stalking in the commonwealth.
Stalking is defined as the following behavior:
- Willfully and maliciously engaging in conduct that seriously alarms or annoys a specific person and would cause reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress; and
- Making threats with the intent to the place person in fear of death or bodily injury.
- The threatening conduct may be written or verbal and includes mail, phone calls, email and other internet communications, text messages, and other instant messages.
Criminal penalties for stalking depend the unique circumstances of each case, but may include the following:
- Confinement in state prison for no more than five years; or
- A fine of no more than $1,000; or
- Imprisonment in house of correction no more than two and a half years; or
- By both a fine and imprisonment.
Common forms of stalking behavior
According to ASecureLife.com, some behaviors and tactics used by stalkers include:
- Following you or showing up wherever you are.
- Sending persistent, unwanted, or inappropriate gifts, letters, notes, emails, texts, or social media messages.
- Damaging your home, car, or other property.
- Monitoring your phone, computer use, or social media accounts to learn about you, your family, your personal life, and your whereabouts.
- Using technology, like hidden cameras or global positioning systems (GPS), to track where you go.
- Driving by or hanging out at your home, school, or work.
- Threatening you, your family, friends, or pets or to reveal information (true or not) that could damage your reputation or relationships.
- Seeking information about you via public records, online search services, or private investigators or by going through your garbage or personal property. They may also contact or befriend your family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers to gain information about you.
- Posting personal information or spreading harmful rumors about you.
- Creating or manipulating situations to contact you. For example, applying for a job where you work or calling you with a personal emergency.
- Putting you in challenging or harmful situations so they can play the hero. For example, maybe they hide your wallet and then help you find it.
Common Characteristics of a Stalker
Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules on how to spot a stalker. But according to VictimsofCrime.org, here is list of common traits in stalkers:
- Obsessive and compulsive
- Falls “instantly” in love (Intensity)
- Does not take responsibility for their own feelings or actions
- Needs to have control over others
- Socially awkward or uncomfortable
- Views self as victim of society, family, and others
- Unable to take “no” for an answer
- Often switches between rage and “love”
- Difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality
- Sense of entitlement (“You owe me…”)
- Unable to cope with rejection
- Dependent on others for sense of “self”
- Views his or her problems as someone else’s fault
Steps to Take If You’re Being Stalked
- If you’re in immediate danger or feel threatened and fear for your safety in any way, pick up the phone and call the police right away.
- If you’re not in immediate danger, you can get help, support, and advice by calling these numbers:
- Victim Connect: 1 (855) 484-2846
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1 (800) 799-7233 En Espanol: 1 (800) 787-3224
- The National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1 (800) 656-4673
- Do not engage with them
- Put your safety and space first.
- Always carry a cell phone with you
- Have a safety plan.
- Always lock your doors
- Improve your home security
- Apply for a restraining order
- Change your phone number
- Consider moving
- Change your passwords
- Collect evidence
- Tell as many people as possible – family, friends, colleagues, and law enforcement
Remember, stalking is not your fault and you’re not in this alone. Stalkers are responsible for their behavior, not the victims. Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to end stalking behavior. However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and discourage the stalker from continuing. Always call 911 if you are in danger and get the help you need.