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.
What is Stalking?
Stalking is generally defined as any unwanted contact that communicates a threat or places the victim in fear. Stalking can happen within an intimate partner relationship, in connection with sexual violence, or by itself. Stalkers are often obsessed with their victims. A stalker may monitor a victim’s actions including their whereabouts, conversations with other people, and technology use. 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.
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.
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.
Stalking is a form of gender-based violence and is also crime
Legal definitions of stalking vary from state to state. In Massachusetts, there are laws that address stalking behavior and patterns and provide legal and civil recourse for victims.
MA General Laws, Chapter 265: Section 43: 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. 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. This second requirement of the law makes proving a stalking case more difficult and excludes a large number of stalking victims from filing charges.
MA General Law, Chapter 265, Section 43A: 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. Now, even victims who are not specifically threatened may see their cases prosecuted in Massachusetts.
MA General Law, Chapter 258, Section E: 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 Harassment Prevention Order under 258E closely mirrors the protections offered by MGL c.209A. It provides a civil remedy for victims of stalking, harassment or sexual assault, requiring the offender to stay away from and to not contact the victim.
Stalking and technology
The increased use of technology in our daily lives has provided 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.
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.
To learn more about steps you can take for your safety visit the Safety Net project of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
No one deserves to be abused or assaulted. No matter what you have been told, what happened to you isn’t your fault. Whether this experience happened recently or in the past, you can call a rape crisis center or a domestic violence program to get the support that you need. Trained advocates provide free and confidential support, connect you with resources, and respect your decisions.
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