What is Stalking?
Stalking is a serious crime that affects 1 out of every 12 women and 1 out of every 45 men during their lifetime. In most cases the stalker isn’t a stranger. The stalker may be a current or former intimate partner, a friend, customer, coworker, or an acquaintance. 77% of female victims and 64% of male victims know their stalkers.
Stalking is generally defined as any unwanted contact that communicates a threat or places the victim in fear. Stalkers are often obsessed with their victims. A stalker may monitor a victim’s actions including her/his whereabouts, conversations with other people, and internet and email usage. The stalker’s motivation typically is to gain and maintain control over the victim. Some individuals may use stalking as a way to try to re-establish a former intimate relationship or to feel connected to a person with whom they do not and/or cannot have a relationship.
Commonalities exist between stalking and both sexual assault and domestic violence, and a great deal of overlap occurs with these crimes. The laws in Massachusetts and throughout the country are catching up with what we have come to know and understand about this criminal behavior.
Stalking victims often live in constant fear that at any moment their safety and lives may be threatened. Never knowing when the threat may become a violent reality, stalking victims commonly experience anxiety, severe depression, social isolation,and insomnia causing significant disruption and alteration of daily life. Helping stalking victims find safety requires a coordinated community response.
Legal definitions of stalking vary from state to state. In Massachusetts, there are 2 laws that address stalking behavior and patterns.
Under Massachusetts’ Stalking law, stalking is defined in two parts. First, stalking is a willful and malicious pattern of conduct that seriously alarms and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress. (MA General Laws, Chapter 265: Section 43) Second, like many other states, Massachusetts’ stalking law also requires that a stalker directly threaten a victim.
In the National Violence Against Women (NVAW) Survey, fewer than half of all stalking victims reported that their stalkers directly threatened them. Therefore the second requirement of the law makes proving a stalking case more difficult and excludes a large number of stalking victims from filing charges.
To address this gap, Massachusetts passed a criminal harassment law in 2000 intended to protect stalking victims in cases where there is no clear threat made by the stalker. The law allows for prosecution of “criminal harassment” when a stalker engages in a pattern of harassing conduct but does not directly threaten the victim. (MA General Law, Chapter 265, Section 43A) Now, even victims who are not specifically threatened may see their cases prosecuted in Massachusetts.
Jane Doe Inc. supported the creation of a new law, MGL c.258E, to create Harassment Prevention Orders that provide a civil remedy for victims of stalking, harassment or sexual assault, requiring the offender to stay away from and to not contact the victim. This law closed an unacceptable and dangerous gap in protection for victims who did not meet the relationship requirements of a domestic violence restraining order under MGL c.209A. The new protection order under 258E closely mirrors the protections offered by MGL c.209A.
Research shows an enormous overlap between stalking and sexual and domestic violence. The National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAW) survey found that:
• 76% of female stalking murder victims had been stalked by their intimate partner
Of the women surveyed who had been stalked by an intimate partner:
• 67% of them said their partner had also been physically abused them
• 31% of them said their partner sexually abused them
Whether it’s an intimate partner, someone known to the victim, or a stranger, rapists routinely engage in following, surveillance, information gathering, and voyeurism prior to a sexual assault. After an assault, the rapist frequently threatens the victim, thinks and talks about the incident as if it were consensual, and maintains social contact.
Although sexual assault and domestic violence victims might not use the word stalking to describe their experiences, a perpetrator’s behavior often involves stalking. The same patterns of power and control appear in both.
Stalking behavior and conduct can range from very subtle behavior to extreme and outrageous acts that might sound unbelievable to those less familiar with stalking. A stalker might engage in only one form of stalking behavior while another might engage in a wide variety of different and unpredictable stalking activities.
Celebrity stalking, while very serious, accounts for a small percentage of all stalking cases. Most stalking cases are in the context of domestic violence – the victim is living in fear of someone they once loved and trusted in an intimate partner relationship.
A stalker’s behavior might include:
• Waiting outside of a home or workplace
• Making harassing or persistent phone calls
• Sending letters or emails
• Sending unwanted gifts or flowers
• Contacting, threatening, or harassing friends and family
• Hurting or killing pets
• Vandalizing property
• Manipulative behavior, for example, threatening suicide in order to force contact
• Spreading lies about a victim, for example, filing false reports, posting or distributing personal or false information
• Collecting information about the victim’s personal life and habits
• Subscribing to services in the victim’s name
• Interfering with utilities or services, for example, having phone service disconnected
• Impersonating the victim or family member
• Accessing personal information through computer files or email accounts
Access to the internet and familiarity with new electronic technologies is increasingly common for most households, campuses, and workplaces. This technology provides stalkers another means for finding, contacting, and harassing their victims. While using technology to stalk does not involve physical contact, it is no less threatening than physical stalking. Campus and workplace policies as well as community responses need to take seriously the protections from and responses to these stalking tactics.
Stalking via technology can take many forms, such as:
• Accessing or interfering with computer files and/or emails
• Sending threatening correspondence via email
• Tracking activities and movement through GPS (global positioning satellite) technology
• Taking photo/video images without consent and/or transmitting those images through the internet via social networks, email, or other channels
Check out this information on Internet and Computer Safety and steps you can take for your safety.
To learn more about this issue or for additional safety planning information, visit The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV). The NNEDV Fund runs “Safety Net: the National Safe and Strategic Technology Project” to educate victims of stalking and domestic/sexual violence, their advocates, and the general public on ways to use technology strategically to help escape violence and find safety.
More information is available at the National Center for Victims of Crime Stalking Resource Center.
National Center for Victims of Crime Stalking Resource Center http://www.ncvc.org/ncvc/Main.aspx
Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, “Stalking in America: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey,” National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Research in Brief (April 1998).
Blauuw et. al. “The Toll of Stalking,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence (2002).
McFarlane et al. “Stalking and Intimate Partner Femicide,” Homicide Studies (1999).
Mohandie et al. “The RECON Typology of Stalking: Reliability and Validity Based upon a Large Sample of North American Stalkers.” In Press, Journal of Forensic Sciences (2006).
Domestic Violence, Stalking, and Antistalking Legislation,” Attorney General’s First Annual Report to Congress under the Violence Against Women Act, National Institute of Justice Research Report (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, April 1996).
“Domestic Violence, Stalking, and Antistalking Legislation,” National Institute of Justice Research Report (April 1996).