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Commentary | Jan. 24, 2012

Stalking is Lame – and it’s Illegal

By Julie Couture Family Advocacy Outreach Manager

January 2012 marks the ninth consecutive year that National Stalking Awareness Month is observed. Most people don't think they could be stalked, but according to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 3 million people over the age of 18 report being victims of this crime each year. Ninety percent of those stalked, know who the stalker is.

In Virginia, stalking is defined as repeated contact directed at someone that could cause him or her to suffer reasonable fear of death, bodily injury or criminal sexual assault. Many don't know that a first offense is a misdemeanor. If it continues, it can be a felony.

It is estimated that of the 3.4 million people who report being stalked, 30 percent are stalked by a current or former intimate partner. For many people, it can be hard to determine if the behavior is stalking, or just the cycle of the relationship. In the beginning, it's normal to want to spend your waking hours talking, texting and spending time with your new, special someone.

However, it isn't so normal when he or she treats you in a not-so-special way by constantly texting you, leaving multiple voicemails or electronically tracking your location so they can know your whereabouts at all times.

For others, the stalking occurs after the relationship ends. The behavior is justified initially - perhaps someone is having a hard time letting go and wants to reconcile. After all, you are awesome. So you can't blame someone for wanting you in his or her life. Yet, if you tell someone to stop contacting you, and he or she continues, or if the behavior escalates, then there is a definite problem.

In the past, stalking was pretty obvious - stalkers would physically follow the object of his or her affection, and check to make sure someone is where he said he was going to be. Phone calls were also used to verify a person's whereabouts.

In extreme situations, stalkers would employ the use of their friends. After all, restraining orders and jail cells don't deter someone's need to know where their partner is at all times. There are even situations where the stalker enlists the help of friends, who don't see the problem with sitting outside someone's house, or with giving an update to the jailbird about what is happening on the home front.

Today stalking, just like everything, has gone high tech. Many individuals are constantly connected via their smart phones. In addition to physically stalking, the stalker now has a choice to either go on the move, or do it from the comfort of her home or office. The use of text messages, voicemail and instant messaging to keep tabs is very common. If there isn't a response, the stalker may resort to more physical ways of getting attention to make his or her presence known.

Extreme cases involve the use of global positioning devices, spyware and other surveillance tools. Keep in mind that even though the person isn't physically following you, all stalking methods are illegal. If you feel you are being stalked, keep records of texts, e-mails, and voicemails, even if it is painful to look at or listen to them.

If your cell-phone company does not allow you to keep texts, take pictures of them as documentation. It can help to keep a log of all the times someone has made contact with you. Sometimes, seeing the evidence listed in black and white can show how often it occurs.

Some think stalking only happens to celebrities or people who are sick. Check your stalker knowledge with the questions below by answering true or false:

A. 76 percent of women in abusive relationships who were killed by their partners were stalked.
B. Most stalkers do not suffer from a mental illness.
C. All 50 states consider stalking a crime; two thirds of states classify it as a felony on the first offense.
D. Ignoring a stalker may make things worse.

The answer to all of them is true.

It can sometimes be difficult to know if someone is stalking you. If someone is sitting in his car outside your house watching you, that is stalking. Other times, events are more subtle. Some incidents are isolated - once a week, or once every two weeks - when you have unsolicited contact with someone.

If the contact is consistent by your standards and makes you uncomfortable, you have a right to tell the person to stop. If someone respects you, he or she will refrain from these behaviors. If not, then the behaviors will continue and may escalate.

Go with your gut. If it feels scary when someone contacts you, conveniently shows up at locations you're at (even though you never told him or her of your plans), or threatens you, contact the police so they have a record of the behavior.

If you are in an abusive relationship, or you would like more information about what to do, active duty and their intimate partners can call the Joint Base Langley-Eustis Family Advocacy Program at 878-0122 (Army) or 764-2427 (Air Force). Victim Advocates are available 24 hours a day at 817-6149. Retirees, Department of Defense civilian and contractors can utilize Transitions Family Violence Services at 722-2261.