Stalking and Women

 

If you think stalking is just about a jaded lover, crazed fan, or strange co-worker here or there, think again.

Approximately 1 million women are stalked every year in the U.S. –Department of Justice

 

 

What Exactly is Stalking?

Stalking is a crime of power and control. 

Although legal definitions vary depending on where you live, the National Institute of Justice defines it as: “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated (two or more occasions) visual or physical proximity, nonconsensual communication, or verbal, written, or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear.”

The National Center for Victims of Crime defines it this way: “Stalking can be defined as a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”

Behaviors at a Glance

-Repeated, unwanted, intrusive, and frightening communications from the perpetrator by phone, mail, and/or email

-Following the victim to their home, school, work, or places of recreation 

-Making direct or indirect threats to harm the victim, the victim’s children, relatives, friends, or pets

Stalking is a Mixed Bag

Stalking may also include persistent patterns of leaving or sending the victim unwanted items or gifts that may range from seemingly romantic to bizarre, laying in wait for the victim, damaging or threatening to damage the victim’s property, defaming the victim’s character, or harassing the victim via the Internet by posting personal information or spreading rumors about the victim.

Electronic & Cyberstalking

As if stalking isn’t creepy enough, stalkers can now track you down, follow you, and peep into your world at the flick of a button–through the computer. Stalking can also be carried out via electronic mechanisms (phone, fax, GPS devices or cameras). Cyberstalking happens when a stalker obtains and uses personal information (according to stalking laws) about the victim by using Internet search services or uses computer spyware.

With the proliferation of online sites, services and personal information made public, stalkers have far more access to their targets than ever before. If you have a Facebook or MySpace account, for example, it’s very important to take precautions to secure your privacy.  Although cyberstalking does not involve physical contact with a victim, it is still a very serious crime. 

As part of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2005, Congress extended the Federal interstate stalking statute to include cyberstalking (18 U.S.C. §2261 A). 

Effects of Stalking on Victims

Being stalked can be a terrifying experience for victims, placing them at risk of psychological trauma and physical harm.  Many women who realize they are being stalked for the very first time may say they feel “spooked”, “caught off guard”, “startled”, or, “creeped out”. When they begin to notice a pattern, however, it takes their mind and emotions to a whole new level. It’s the difference between surprise and fear.  When a woman is stalked, she can instantly go from feeling free and confident to vulnerable and terrorized. 

“Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Once it escalates to something that’s not going away—she realizes she’s got a serious problem on her hands.  While there are various reasons and methods for stalking, control is a major factor. When women feel controlled by their stalker, they feel helpless and out of control

Reporting a Stalker, Obtaining a Restraining Order and Fear

Do report stalking to the police—it is a crime!  Do file a restraining order—it is your right.  But also be aware that many stalkers ignore restraining orders, so you need to protect yourself in other ways as well.

Victims who reported being stalked were significantly more likely to have an active restraining order against the suspect.

They are also more likely to have previously requested notification of further action in the case.  It’s interesting and relevant to note that the victims were significantly less likely to be emotionally distraught at the time of the report–which emphasizes the critical role of fear in stalking crimes.

The high-profile domestic violence, kidnapping, and rape cases that make the news often have their roots in stalking.

Taking Extra Precautions 

Be sure to tell your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors if necessary, so they will also be on high alert. It may also help to provide a photo. If you have children, notify the authorities at the school or places they frequent as well. The more eyes and ears on the street for your safety, the better. You may need to change your regular routines (where you shop, eat, work out). Get a new phone number and/or switch your email addresses and profiles. 

Bad to Worse

No person’s actions should make another person feel fear and anxiety to the degree that they have to rearrange their personal liberties, just to feel safe.  It may seem like a hassle but it might save you from things going from bad to worse.  Too many women underestimate the seriousness of stalking as a crime, especially when they know their stalker.  They tend to rationalize the stalker’s behavior thinking they won’t cross a more serious line.

The obvious alert should be: they have already crossed a line. They are intruding in your life and on your freedom, and they refuse to stop. You need to interpret that belligerence and disrespect as a warning.  Kick fear in the teeth–protect yourself and take back control.

For more information, read the Special Report, “Stalking Victimization in the United States” by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Sources: U.S. Department of Justice, Stalking Resource Center, National Center for Victims of Crime

© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photos by Sam Mugraby, Ferdi, andronicusmax )

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