What Is Stalking?
As defined by Pennsylvania law, stalking is “engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person without proper authority, under circumstances which demonstrate either of the following: an intent to place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury, or an intent to cause substantial emotional distress to the person.”
In more simple terms, stalking is a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person in order to cause that person fear or emotional distress. Stalking can take many forms, and is only limited by the creativity and ingenuity of the stalker. It is important to look for patterns of behavior and note changes in the intensity of the behaviors. Following are some of the more common stalking behaviors:
- Verbally or physically threatening victim
- Following the victim
- Showing up at the victim’s home, school, work or other location
- Making unwanted phone calls, text messages, or emails
- Leaving messages on an answering machine
- Sending unwanted gifts, letters or cards
- Damaging the victims home, car or other property
- Monitoring phone calls or computer use
- Using technology (cameras, GPS) to track the victim’s location or activities
- Threatening to hurt victim’s family, friends, pets
- Contacting family, friends, coworkers, neighbors of victim
- Going through victim’s garbage
- Lying to others about the victim
- Manipulating the victim with threats to harm self if victim doesn’t comply
Stalking can happen to anyone, male or female, and may involve family members, friends, or coworkers. Although we hear a great deal about celebrity stalking cases, the vast majority of stalking victims are ordinary people. Victims often don’t realize that the annoyingly persistent behavior they are enduring is actually a crime.
Just as anyone can be a stalking victim, virtually anyone can be a stalker. They come from every race, age, sexual orientation, religion, and gender. They can come from any socioeconomic background or education level. Stalking often occurs within the context of domestic violence, and involves an intimate partner or former intimate partner. Domestic violence stalkers, as a category, constitute the most dangerous and potentially lethal group of stalkers. However, a stalker can also be a casual acquaintance or stranger, and they may stalk their victim for days, weeks or even years.
Stalking can have a profound effect on the victim. The pattern of behavior used by the stalker can cause feelings of fear, stress, vulnerability, nervousness, depression and anger. Stalking victims may have trouble eating, sleeping, concentrating or trusting anyone. They may also feel that their concerns are not taken seriously, and that others don’t understand why they are afraid. Stalking is an insidious crime because it can make the victim feel completely “crazy.” A stalker’s goal is to twist the victim’s sense of reality with complete stealth.
The ongoing advancements in technology are giving stalkers a very sophisticated selection of tools to use. GPS devices, hidden cameras, keystroke loggers and computer monitoring software are some of the ways that stalkers secretly monitor the activities and location of victims. Stalking victims need to trust their instincts and take into account the possibility that a stalker may be using these methods.
Stalking is unpredictable and serious, may be violent, and can escalate over time. Many victims believe a stalker will cease their behavior if they are ignored, but stalkers seldom “just stop.” Therefore, stalking must be taken seriously. Every situation is different, so no one plan of action is effective for all stalking cases, and the victim should obtain assistance from law enforcement or victim services to maximize her safety.