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Stalking: Meaning, Types, and Penalties

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in SafetyJuly 19, 2022

The Stalking Awareness Organization estimates that 13.5 million people are stalked in the United States every year, with 1 in 3 victims being women. Having a stalker can be dangerous, with many instances of stalking resulting in damage to property or personal injury. If you believe someone is stalking you, it's best to take action immediately. Fortunately, many states acknowledge the inherent danger of this behavior and have penalties in place to punish those who engage in stalking.


Is Stalking a Crime?

Stalking is a crime, and no one should take it lightly. Stalkers are more likely to commit violence against women, and ignoring the common signs and types of stalking can be dangerous. There are a wide variety of ways that stalking can manifest; if you notice an individual engaging in any of these behaviors, take note and consider calling the authorities.

Types of Stalking

  • Phone Harassment:Frequently calling someone who doesn’t want to be called or leaving a high volume of voicemails, especially after being asked not to, is a form of stalking.
  • Loitering Outside Work, Home, or School: By finding where a person works, lives, or goes to school, a stalker may try to interact with them in what they believe is a more “casual setting.”
  • Following Someone: A stalker may follow someone from an event, home, or their workplace to try to get in contact with them.
  • Unwanted Communication or Gifts: Besides phone calls, stalking can take the form of repeated emails, texts, or letters. Stalkers may also frequently give their target gifts to win their favor, which also constitutes harassment.
  • Threatening:A stalker may try to intimidate their victims into communication by threatening their family members, friends, co-workers, pets, or anyone else they identify as a loved one.
  • Damaging Property: Stalkers may destroy a victim’s personal property to get their attention or coerce them into contact.
  • Using Monitoring Software: Through spyware or wiretapping, a stalker may monitor a victim's computer, phone calls, or electronic communications to find out valuable information.
  • Tracking Someone:By using airbags, GPS location, or other geo-location methods, a stalker may track someone's whereabouts to keep tabs on where they go and possibly intercept them.
  • Communicating Through Other Parties:Some stalkers try to circumvent the traditional definitions of stalking by using other people to communicate with their victims. This can include a child they have together, mutual friends, or co-workers if they share a workplace.

The exact penalties for stalking depend on your state and the severity of the crime. STalking is generally separated into legal designations by degree. This can manifest as first or second-degree stalking, which is usually determined by the victim's age, perpetrators' previous criminal history, and the nature of their stalking.

There are also different legal definitions for stalking in each state; California, for example, defines stalking as "willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following or harassing another, and making credible threats with intent to place another in reasonable fear for their own safety or the safety of their immediate family." If the stalker is a first-time offender, their penalty will usually be around one year in jail and a fine of up to $1000. If the person in question is a repeat offender or violated a restraining order, they may get up to five years in state prison.

is stalking a crime

How to Avoid Stalking: 6 Tips To Avoid Harm

While it can be hard to prevent stalking entirely, there are several ways you can fight back if you find yourself the victim of a stalker. That way, you can stop them before they can cause you or your loved ones harm.

Tip #1: Call 911

If you believe you are being stalked, immediately contact 911. Even if you aren't entirely sure that someone is stalking you, it's always best to contact the authorities. Making this call establishes a report that police can look to during further incidents and help you establish a restraining order or get the person arrested.

Tip #2: Document Every Incident

Any time you see a suspected or confirmed stalker, document the incident. This is preferably done with video, though you should also have a journal where you can write down information like the time, location, and nature of the stalking.

Tip #3: Let Others Know

Tell people in your life about your stalker and any associated incidents you've had with this person. This helps keep your loved ones on alert, allowing them to identify the stalker if they see him. If your stalker shows up at work, home, or at an event where people know who they are, they can call you and the authorities. They will also know not to provide this person with any personal information, like your full name, address, or current whereabouts. That way, you can avoid this person or get them arrested, stopping them from harming you or your family.

Tip #4: Use a Criminal Records Search Service

You should do so if you have enough information about your stalker to conduct a criminal records search. These searches can show you valuable information about an individual, helping you establish whether they have a history of stalking and providing further information you can give to law enforcement. If a stalker has a criminal history, it may be easier to get a restraining order or get police action taken against that individual.

Tip #5: Create a Safety Plan

Have a plan in place in case a stalker finds out your whereabouts; this may include contacting the authorities, letting friends and family know what is going on, and learning a form of self-defense. You should also have a safe location where you can take yourself and your family if your stalker turns up.

Tip #6: Contact an Advocate

Look in your community for local stalking protection services, like domestic violence stalking advocate agencies, legal representatives, or specifically trained members of law enforcement. These professionals can help you identify the steps you need to take to get a restraining order or press charges, as well as services you can use to protect yourself and your family.

Keep Yourself Out of Harm's Way

Having a stalker is an incredibly stressful situation and can take a severe toll on your mental health. By identifying the types of stalking and taking steps to prepare yourself in the event an incidence of stalking occurs, you can better protect yourself and your loved ones. No one should feel unsafe.

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