Guest blogger: National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC), Stalking Resource Center
January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and this January, the Stalking Resource Center is working to raise awareness about the crime of stalking for professionals who work with victims and offenders, especially law enforcement. Officers who understand the nature and dynamics of stalking can enhance public safety and help save lives. In this blog post, we’ll go over what stalking is, how stalkers are using technology to stalk their victims, and what law enforcement can do to support victims and create stronger cases.
What is stalking?
Stalking—generally defined as a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear—is a crime under the laws of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. territories, and the federal government. It is a crime that affects 7.5 million people in the United States a year, with 15% of women and 6% of men being stalked in their lifetime. Despite the prevalence of stalking, it is a crime that is seldom charged or prosecuted. Seventy-two percent of stalking victims report that charges were not filed in their cases after reporting to law enforcement. In cases where police have all the information they need to charge stalking, stalking is only charged 5 to 16% of the time.
Stalking is a unique crime in that it involves a course of conduct rather than a single incident. Therefore, context is absolutely critical when identifying stalking behaviors. Many stalking behaviors appear innocuous and may even be legal in a different context. For example, it typically is not illegal to call or text someone. However, when done repeatedly, under circumstances that instill fear or distress in the victim, then the conduct may constitute the crime of stalking.
How is technology used in stalking?
Stalkers are increasingly misusing a variety of telephone, surveillance, and computer technologies to harass, terrify, intimidate, coerce, and monitor former and current intimate partners. Perpetrators are also misusing technology to stalk before, during, and after perpetrating sexual violence.
Stalkers may misuse technology to:
- Send emails or text messages to threaten, harass, intimidate, or frighten
- Monitor a victim’s computer activity through programs such as spyware
- Track the location of a victim using GPS
- Watch the victim through hidden cameras
- Intercept phone calls and messages
- Impersonate the victim or someone else through spoofing, email, or social media
What can law enforcement do?
To support the safety and privacy of victims and hold perpetrators accountable, it is important to be able to identify stalking behaviors and give serious consideration to victims’ reports. This can be done, in part, by developing good relationships and establishing trust with victims and victim advocates, and by involving them in the investigation, reporting, and prosecution phases of a multidisciplinary stalking response. Additionally, law enforcement can assess all ways that stalkers perpetrate harm and identify all applicable charges. Substantiating the crime of stalking requires building a case that establishes a course of conduct and context for the behaviors. If an officer does not have enough evidence based on one incident report to charge the suspect with stalking, she or he can take the time to discuss with the victim how to document and report the offending behavior so that a chargeable case may be built. Law enforcement can also investigate other reported incidents such as vandalism, burglary, and violations of protection orders to see if these behaviors establish a pattern of conduct. Consulting with a local prosecutor to learn exactly what evidence will be needed to build and charge the case may be helpful.
More about the Stalking Resource Center & our work with the International Association of Chiefs of Police
The Stalking Resource Center (SRC) is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women to provide technical assistance and training to professionals working to end stalking in their communities. The mission of the Stalking Resource Center is to enhance the ability of professionals, organizations, and systems to effectively respond to stalking. The SRC envisions a future in which the criminal justice system and its many allied community partners will have the best tools to effectively collaborate and respond to stalking, improve victim safety and well-being, and hold offenders accountable. The SRC is the only national resource center dedicated to ending the crime of stalking.
The SRC has been honored to collaborate with and work on various initiatives led by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. SRC staff members have served as faculty for several national and state Law Enforcement Leadership Institutes and First-Line Supervisor Trainings on Violence Against Women.
For more information about stalking, visit the Stalking Resource Center’s website at www.victimsofcrime.org/stalkingresourcecenter, specifically the “Resources for Law Enforcement” page and the new Roll-Call training video “Connecting the Dots: Recognizing and Responding to Stalking”. Be sure to check out the National Stalking Awareness Month website at www.stalkingawarenessmonth.org.
The SRC is seeking information on your experiences working with victims and offenders of stalking. Please take our anonymous, confidential needs assessment survey.