When most of us think “stalking,” it’s the well-publicized incidents involving celebrities that come to mind, but you don’t need to be famous to be a stalker’s fixation.
Stalking is a crime of obsession, and is often associated with different types of psychopathology, including psychosis and severe personality disorders. Depending on the stalker, behavior may range from overtly aggressive threats and actions, to repeated phone calls, letters or approaches. Stalking harassment may go on for years, causing the victim to exist in a constant state of stress and fear. The violent aspects of stalking behavior often escalate over time, and in extreme cases, can end in murder (Douglas 1998).
There are anti-stalking laws in place, both federal and state, designed to protect victims of stalkers. Under these laws, perpetrators can be charged with stalking for repeatedly:
- Following or appearing within the sight of another.
- Approaching or confronting another individual in a public or private place.
- Appearing at the work place or residence of another.
- Entering or remaining on an individual’s property.
- Contacting a person by telephone.
- Sending postal mail or e-mail to another.
Too often victims do not fully appreciate the true danger of being stalked, and this can be a fatal mistake. If you feel uncomfortable with the repeated advances, gifts or communications of an “admirer,” trust your instincts, and always err or the side of caution. All stalking is a crime and all stalkers should be considered dangerous.
David Beatty, Executive Director of Justice Solutions, Inc. and former Director of Public Policy for the National Victim Center, observes that stalking, “is one of the rare opportunities where a potential murderer raises his hand and says ‘I’m gonna be killing somebody.’ Stalking provides an opportunity to intervene in what seems to be, in many cases, an inevitable escalation towards violence and murder.”
Evidence of Stalking
Every situation is different. There are different types of stalkers and no set guidelines, so each victim must use his or her own judgment as to what actions to take. But don’t go it alone. Seek support from your friends and family. Whether or not you plan to file formal charges, report the harassment to your local law enforcement agency. It is important to build your case against the stalker by providing the police with records of the stalker’s behavior towards you (Kamphus, 2000), including any or all of the following:
- Keep a diary or a log of the stalker’s attempted interactions with you, noting the time, place, verbal or written communication, gifts, and sightings.
- Save all voice mail and email messages left by the offender.
- If you can do so safely, obtain a photo or videotape of the stalker.
- Collect other identifying information, such as license plate number, model and make of car, and a description of the stalker’s appearance.
Protect Yourself from Stalkers
Unfortunately it is always the victim who is initially penalized in a case of stalking; and the penalty is persistent stress and fear, as well as the inconvenience of having to make significant changes to your daily routine for the purpose of increasing safety. The Stalking Resource Center suggests that the following precautions are important to take if you are being targeted:
- Travel with friends and do not walk alone.
- Change your telephone number to an unlisted number.
- Vary the times and routes you take to work or to frequently visited places.
- Notify your family and friends, and explain the situation to your employer so that they may protect you at work. Provide them with a photograph or description of your stalker.
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