A Bureau of Justice Statistics report indicates that 14 people of every thousand will fall victim to a stalker. The figure reveals only a portion of the problem. About 60 percent of victims never report the crime. What makes stalking insidious is the fact that many of the acts that make up stalking are not illegal. A phone call, a text, a visit, gifts, or a casual meeting are not illegal. Unlike other crimes, which involve one act, stalking is a series of actions that occur over a period of time, and 11 percent of all victims report stalking lasting more than five years. Nearly half of all stalking victims report at least one unwanted contact per week or more. Many report more.
One Roswell woman said: “I wish it were only once. This person is waiting for me as I leave for work or return home. He’s standing at my gate or on my doorstep, or hiding someplace behind a wall just out of sight. He’ll sneak up behind me when I‘m in my yard or my garage. He calls me at work and if he knows I am home, he drops in, uninvited and unannounced, or the calls start. If I don‘t answer the phone, he switches phones, hoping I won’t recognize the number, and if I don’t answer then he comes over. Eventually, I realized he had to be listening at the walls or observing my home, which is creepy. If I get within arm’s length of him as I try to get out of my garage to get to work, he’s touching me, and he does any or all of the above on any given day. In other words, every day.”
Skewing the statistics, the crime is often disguised under other names—domestic dispute, harassment, threats, or, at its worst, assault and battery. In a recent case, a stalking turned into arson as the stalker sought revenge against a woman who had successfully filed not one but several complaints with the police that were upheld in court. In December even though the stalker was in jail, she woke to find her car on fire.
Stalkers are looking for some sort of interaction with their victims and will manipulate circumstances to have contact, such as finding or trapping them at a location where they cannot avoid their pursuer.
The stalker counts on the victim feeling as if his actions are demonstrations of affection. Perhaps no particular incident stands out as dangerous; however, a pattern emerges and the entire picture alarms.
The behaviors escalate. The victim’s personal privacy and personal safety become compromised. At best, it is a form of mental assault, in which the perpetrator repeatedly and disruptively breaks into the victim’s life. The acts have a cumulative effect. Stalkers exert subtle control on the victim. The victim will alter his or her behavior—not answering the phone, changing phone numbers, leaving for work at a different time or driving by a different route—all to avoid the stalker.
The victim’s best defense is to record each event. The woman who obtained successful convictions against her stalker got pictures of each incident where he parked outside her place of employment. She took videos each time he followed her. She also got pictures of the license plate, so he could not say it was mistaken identity.
If the function is available, experts recommend a date and time stamp, or the victim can take the photos immediately to the police station to be viewed. Collectively the photos indicate the number of incidents. As tempting as it may be, don’t delete telephone records, texts, voice messages and e-mails. Keep them. Record conversations, phone and otherwise, especially if confronting the stalker. These records will illustrate not only the severity of the problem and the number of incidents, but will document the fact that the individual has been informed that the attentions are unwanted. This takes the stalking out of the realm of he said/she said.
The victim can obtain a temporary restraining order, but a TRO is subject to some limitations, not the least of which the stalker’s compliance. The temporary restraining order are precisely that, temporary. They only last until the court hearing when they may be extended for a period of up to one year.