Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Stalking is a Crime

By: Emily Ostrowski

Roughly 6.6 million Americans are stalked every year with an estimation of 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men being victimized by stalking at some point in their lives. The vast majority of stalking victims are stalked by someone they know, frequently a current or past romantic partner, with 66% of female victims and 41% of male victims indicating their stalker was someone they had a past or present intimate relationship with.

January is National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM). Started by the National Center for Victims of Crime in 2004, NSAM was created “to increase the public’s understanding of the crime of stalking.”

It began in 2003 in response to murdered stalking victim, Peggy Klinke. Klinke’s sister, Debbie Riddle, was motivated by the tragedy to improve the way law enforcement handled and responded to stalking. She contacted the Stalking Resource Center to see what she can do, and from there was able to get her sister’s story out to everyone she could. That July, having been moved by Klinke’s story, Representative Heather Wilson (R-NM) introduced a Congressional resolution to support National Stalking Awareness Month. The following January, the first observance of National Stalking Awareness Month was held, with the National Center for Victims of Crime helping to plan events to raise awareness throughout the country.

Currently, there are laws against stalking in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, however not all states and jurisdictions define “stalking” in the same manner, nor is the crime prosecuted the same. The National Center for Victims of Crime suggest that a good working definition of stalking is “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” This conduct can include but is not limited to, following a person, frequently emailing, texting or calling, sending unwanted gifts, and stealing personal possessions.

To some, stalking might seem like a less serious offense when compared to any sort of physical assault, but not only do victims of stalking experience intense fear and uncertainty that lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression, but stalking can often times be a precursor to physical violence. According to the Stalking Resource Center, weapons are used to harm or threaten victims in 1 out of every 5 cases of stalking. Even scarier, 76% of all women killed by an intimate partner were stalked by that partner before their murder, and 54% had reported the stalking to the police before they were killed.

Young people may be at a particularly high risk. A report by the US Department of Justice in 2009 indicated that people aged 18-24 experience the highest rate of stalking. Teens are especially susceptible to cyber-stalking (harassment via computers, cellphones etc.) often because of their heavy presence on social media, which makes it easier for stalkers to obtain personal information about their victim, as well as give them more options for making contact.

One of the most important things we can do to help stalking victims and prevent stalking from continuing is to be informed. To find out what you can do to protect yourselves and the ones you love, check out this important list of tips and resources from the Stalking Resource Center.

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