Very often stalking victims need to build their own case before law enforcement will get involved. Even then, cases are sometimes difficult to prove. In some jurisdictions, these cases end up with a victim facing serious physical harm before they are taken seriously.
Laws have come a ways since the early 90s when many states were just beginning to enact legislation. Technology has often kept one step ahead of the laws though leaving victims still vulnerable. While almost all states have a provision in the law that covers cyber stalking, the laws are new and few cases involving use of social networking sites have been prosecuted.
According to the National Violence Against Women Prevention Resource Center, stalking is defined as a repetitive pattern of unwanted, harassing or threatening behavior committed by one person against another. Acts include: telephone harassment, being followed, receiving unwanted gifts, and other similar forms of intrusive behavior. All states and the federal government have passed anti-stalking legislation.
According to the National Stalking Resource Center, 1,006,970 women and 370,990 men are stalked annually in the U.S. That means that roughly 1 in 12 women and 1 in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetime.
Safety Planning for Stalking Victims
Stalking is not just one incident, it’s a variety of activities over time intended to cause fear in the victim. The following are some options a victim can utilize to begin to build a legal case and protect themselves. These are mentioned as options and not directions as a “one size fits all” approach does not work with all cases.
Know the early warning signs
Always use your instincts. If something in someone else’s behavior causes you concern or fear, don’t dismiss those feelings and break off contact early on. It’s often better to hurt someone’s feelings then be terrorized later. It’s important to set firm clear boundaries and stick to them especially in the face of erratic behavior. Plan for safety and seek help.
Know your surroundings
Begin to look at how safe you are at home, work and other places you frequent. Creating a plan for safety is important before something happens. Talk to law enforcement, victim services or a private investigator that can help you assess safety in your home, workplace and in your travels. Talk to those around you and let them know what’s going on and provide a picture of the stalker if you have one. The more support you have the better. If a stalker is bothering friends or family, make sure they have a safety plan too.
No Contact Demand
Issue a no-contact statement only once. A stalker must hear or read on only one occasion that you do not want any contact. This must be done only once. Any contact on your part after the no contact statement will only be viewed by the stalker as hope and they will persist. A stalker will assume if you break the no contact once, you may do it again and their actions will continue.
It is important that you document everything that occurs. The time, date, type of contact and context of the contact should be recorded in a journal. Write down what happens and keep this with you. Save voice mails, e-mails, texts, instant messages and any other form of communication you receive. If the stalker calls 100 times each day, note the times and dates of the calls. This begins to lay the foundation for your legal case.
Identify where your personal information can be found. Take note of what personal information you have out there. If you can find it, so can anyone else. Note where personal information about you can be found; phone companies, utilities, rent or own your home, internet, social media and other sources like credit card companies or even your local gym. Talk to all your sources and let them know you have some privacy concerns. Ask how you can keep your information private even if someone calls identifying themselves as you. It’s important to remember that the stalker may have personal identifying information about you already like your name, address, social security number or other passwords that can help them gain other information illegally.
Assess Your Technology
Be careful putting too much personal information on the Internet. It’s one of the easiest, free ways people gather information. What other forms of technology are you using on a regular basis such as the computers or cell phones? Technology is often a stalker’s best friend. With the use of GPS, spyware and cell phone tracking sometimes stalkers don’t even need to leave their homes to know exactly where you are and your activities. If you suspect that your stalker is using these types of technology, seek help from experts to assess your situation.