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Stalking - Is It A Crime?

Nov 05,2022

What is Stalking?

Instances of stalking are extremely common in contemporary society. However, often the victims are not aware if stalking is a crime or not. Even when they do possess the knowledge, they are not certain if the behavior displayed by the perpetrator falls under the definition of stalking. A report published by the U.S. Department of Justice defines stalking as a course of conduct of an individual (who can be called the perpetrator) directed at a particular person that causes fear within the person. However, this is only one definition of stalking. Stalking has been defined differently by all states.

The course of conduct that falls under stalking may include, but is not limited to, following the victim, invading their privacy by entering their home or their workplace, harassing through phone calls or text messages, and vandalizing their property, etc. These actions are usually employed repeatedly and voluntarily by the perpetrator to induce fear in the victim's mind. Individually, these acts seem to be harmless, but when done repeatedly, they embody an attack on the victim's personal space and safety.

How Prevalent is Stalking in the U.S. and Who is at Risk?

Another report by the U.S. Department of Justice states that approximately 3.3 million people aged 18 or above had been victims of stalking in 12 months. Not only are the victims of stalking afraid for their own safety, but also the safety of their family members and other people in their immediate social circle. While the stalker can be a stranger, more often than not, the stalker is a former spouse, romantic partner, or acquaintance. About eighty-one percent of the women stalked by a current or former partner were also assaulted by that partner. Stalkers can also target celebrities or children. With the internet becoming accessible to most households, stalkers use novel ways which are often difficult to trace. 

"Stalking in America: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey", a study by the U.S. Department of Justice observed that about eight percent of American women and two percent of American men have been stalked at some point in their life. These percentages translate to a massive number of 1,006,970 and 370,990 respectively. The same study observed that of all American women, Alaska Native women and American Indian women are at a higher risk of being stalked than others. Stalking is a gender-neutral crime, however, it has been noticed that a significant portion of victims are women and a majority of perpetrators are male. 

Is Stalking a Crime?

Stalking has been identified as a criminal act by the federal government, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. What behaviors constitute the criminal act of stalking differs in law from state to state. Repetition of offense by a perpetrator is also a factor determining the penalization. Many states also distinguish stalking by degree and label it as first or second-degree stalking, or felony and misdemeanor stalking. While the thought of repeated telephone calls or a person being followed does not appear to be much dangerous, it is much more than annoyance and constitutes a thoroughly terrifying experience for the victim because they never know when the stalker may escalate their harassment and assault the victim in any manner. The lurking presence of the stalker becomes an overwhelming presence in the life of the victim making it difficult for them to live and continue daily activities. 

Because the perpetrator stalks the victim surreptitiously, it may be difficult for the victim to provide evidence of being followed unless the perpetrator's actions get recorded on surveillance cameras. In such personal harassment, the evidence is mostly the victim's testimony since the bystanders may not even notice that someone is being stalked. Any type of harassment by the perpetrators that can leave a digital footprint may be easier to track and serve as evidence or assist the police in arresting the perpetrator. In instances where the stalker is an acquaintance or a former partner, the victim may think that the stalking would stop in due course of time. However, it has been noticed that the degree of stalking escalates to violent measures more often in such cases. Often, the stalker displays symptoms of mental health impairment and treatment may be provided to them at the orders of the court. 

How Does Stalking Impact the Victim?

Living in a perpetual state of fear and terror can cause significant damage to the mental well-being of an individual. Stalking causes great mental duress to the victim and therefore, it is considered a serious offense. Because the victim does not know the degree to which the stalker can escalate, their life becomes riddled with uncertainty, and their freedom is jeopardized. Many people seek psychological counseling as a result of their stalking victimization. The victim may also face disruptions at the workplace and need psychiatric and psychological help to alleviate their trauma. 

What Can One Do If They Are Being Stalked?

If someone thinks that they are being stalked and threatened, the first step they can take is to report the incident to the local police and seek assistance. It may also be beneficial for the victim to maintain a detailed record of the instances of stalking, particularly the date, time, location, conversation with the stalker, etc. Such a record may help the police with the case and also favor the victim in court. The victim may also seek a protection order from the court. Such an order shall make it illegal for the stalker to remain in proximity to the victim. The violation of such an order by the perpetrator accounts for another offense and the perpetrator shall be prosecuted under a misdemeanor or felony.