Out of respect for victims of stalking, I have refrained from using my usual “firedog-isms” in this post.
January 2020 marks the 16th Annual National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM), a call to action to recognize and respond to the serious crime of stalking. Organized by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), the campaign is extremely important because, although most people have heard the term, few understand the serious nature and prevalence of stalking-related incidents in the United States.Legal definitions of stalking vary by jurisdiction, but here is a good working definition: A course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.
Stalking Statistics (Adapted from the Stalking Resource Center, courtesy of the National Center for Victims of Crime):
- In one year in the United States, 6-7.5 million people are stalked.
- At some point in their lifetimes, one out of six women and one out of 17men have experienced stalking victimization. This means they felt fearful or believed that they (or someone close to them) could be harmed or killed.
- Applying a less conservative definition of stalking (which includes virtually any amount of fear) one in four women and one in 13 men reported being victimized by a stalker in their lifetime.
- Most stalking victims are stalked by someone they know: 61% of female victims and 44% of male victims are stalked by a current or former intimate partner, 25% of female victims and 32% of male victims are stalked by an acquaintance.
- About half of all stalking victims indicate that they were stalked before the age of 25. About 14% of female victims and 16% of male victims experienced stalking between the ages of 11 and 17.
- Approaching the victim or showing up somewhere the victim didn’t invite them to attend; making unwanted telephone calls; leaving unwanted messages (text or voicemail); and watching or following from a distance, or spying on the victim with a listening device, camera, or global positioning system were the most commonly reported stalker tactics by both female and male victims of stalking.
- 46% of stalking victims experience at least one unwanted contact per week.
- 11% of stalking victims have been stalked for at least 5 years.
- 20% of stalkers use weapons to harm or threaten victims.
- Fewer than 40% of victims of stalking report incidents to law enforcement.
- Two-thirds of stalkers pursue their victims at least once per week. Many pursue daily.
- The vast majority of the victims are stalked by someone they know. 52.5% are current or former intimate partners. 31.5% are acquaintances, 16% are strangers, 9% are family members and 2.5% are people of authority.
Laws Against Stalking
- Stalking is considered a crime in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Territories.
- For the first offense, fewer than one third of the states classify stalking as a felony.
- More than half of states classify stalking as a felony upon second or subsequent offense or when the crime includes “aggravating factors.” (These include possession of a deadly weapon, violation of a court order or condition of probation/parole, victimization of someone who is less than 16 years old, or victimization of the same victim multiple times.)
- For a complete list of state, tribal, and federal laws visit victimsofcrime.org/src.
How to Protect Yourself from Stalkers
While no “one size fits all” solution exists to preventing stalking, you can take steps to protect yourself and discourage potential stalkers:
- Do not engage.
Politely but firmly tell the stalker to stop contacting you. Then, stop engaging with them. Don’t yell. Don’t argue. Don’t send friends to speak to them on your behalf. In most cases, stalkers consider any reaction (even negative ones) a victory. So the best thing you can do is ignore them.
- Put your safety first.
Carry a cellphone at all times. Keep friends and close family members on speed dial. Always lock your doors. Improve your home security. Frequently change passwords. Have a safety plan in place. Know evacuation routes. Familiarize yourself with the route to the police station. Consider applying for a restraining order. Change your phone number. Consider moving (which may sound extreme but could save your life).
- Collect evidence.
Just in case, keep records of phone calls as well as notes, messages and voicemails. Doing so may sound like overkill. But if the situation warrants it, you will be thankful you have collected information all along the way, which would strengthen your case in a court of law.
- Talk about it.
You are in no way responsible for keeping this situation secret or protecting your stalker. Stalking is illegal. Your safety is of paramount importance. Tell friends and family about the situation. Report everything to law enforcement.
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