Stalking is behavior wherein an individual willfully and repeatedly engages in a knowing course of harassing conduct directed at another person, which reasonably and seriously alarms, torments, or terrorizes that person. Stalking involves one person’s obsessive behavior toward another person. Initially, stalking will usually take the form of annoying, threatening, or obscene telephone calls, emails or letters. The calls may start with one or two a day but can quickly increase in frequency. Stalkers may conduct covert surveillance of the victim, following every move his/her target makes. Even the victim’s home may be staked out. Virginia’s anti-stalking laws may prevent some people from stalking, but this has not yet been proven. Many will stop after they have been arrested, prosecuted, and/or convicted. Unfortunately, laws do not stop most stalkers. Studies of stalkers indicate that they stop when their target is no longer available to them, or they find someone else to harass.
Effects of Stalking
Stalking can happen to anyone, male or female, and may also include your family members, friends, or co-workers. Stalkers may target casual acquaintances or random victims, and can stalk their victims for days, weeks, or even years. The target can become a prisoner in her or his own home.
Most stalking takes place between people who have known each other intimately. Intimate partner violence stalkers, as a category, constitute the most dangerous and potentially lethal group of stalkers. Abusers often feel that their victims belong to them, are theirs to control or to punish for trying to leave, and rationalize their inappropriate behavior by blaming the victim of their obsession. Leaving an abusive relationship takes careful planning and implementation. A local domestic violence shelter can assist in developing a safety plan.
Strategies to Prevent/Stop Stalking
Here are some strategies that might help you fight back and regain some control of your life:
- Notify the stalker to stop: Your attorney or you can send a registered letter to the stalker stating that he/she must stop the behavior immediately.
- Notify law enforcement: Request that law enforcement agencies log your complaint each time you call whether they respond or not. Request a copy of the report.
- Obtain a Protective Order: You will need to go to the magistrate to get a criminal warrant and then file for a protective order. While the stalker may not respect the order, the police are required to make an arrest if the order is violated.
- Document everything: Record any information that you or any witnesses can provide. Remember to record as many details as possible about the event.
- Tell everyone: Give friends, neighbors, coworkers and family members a description of the stalker. Ask them to watch for him/her, document everything listed above and give you a written account for your records.
- Take pictures: When you see the stalker, try to take a photo or videotape if it’s safe to do so.
- Press charges: Call police or go to the magistrate immediately and request warrants each time the stalker breaks a law. The stalker should be arrested, bonded, and then released. Request that one of the terms of the bond be that the stalker may not have any contact with you at all. Obtain copies of all documents and the name of the magistrate, as well as arresting officer.
- Save all communications: Save and date all cards, letters, notes, envelopes, e-mails, and taped messages on your telephone answering machine that are from the stalker.
- Keep all legal documents: Obtain copies of warrants, protective orders, court orders, etc.
- Make it hard to track you down:
- Alter travel routes and routines.
- Obtain a post office box.
- Give your address and phone number to as few people as possible. Inform professional organizations that they are to provide no one with information about you.
- Call the Social Security Office and request that Social Security numbers be changed if you can prove that the stalker is using them to find you.
- Post a No Trespassing sign on the edge of your property where it is clearly visible.
- Report any threatening calls to the telephone company.
- Use *67, Call Trace, if available.
- Report to the FBI all threats sent by mail.
- If you move:
- Don’t ask the post office to forward your mail. Have them hold it for you
- Take all important records with you: your (and your children’s) medical, financial, academic records, Social Security cards, green cards, passports, driver’s licenses, etc.
- Pick up or forfeit deposit money on apartments
- Take a self-defense class: You may find that you feel more empowered and self-sufficient, even if you never employ the techniques that you learn in your class.