National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM), is in January. This is the time to heighten awareness and to encourage action against the dangers of stalking. Stalking is a criminal offense that involves following, harassment and intimidation of another person. Stalking can be charged as a federal or state crime and the definition of stalking differs between the federal government and states and between states. In general, the definition of stalking requires that an action involve willful behavior and a credible threat to another person. Cyberstalking is a form of stalking that involves the use of electronic communication, such as texting or email. Stalking can be classified as a misdemeanor or as a felony, depending upon what action the offender has taken against the victim.
Anyone can be a potential victim of stalking. Every year, 7.5 million people are stalked. On average, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 17 men will be stalked. Half of these victims experience this before the age of 25. About half of stalking victims will be contacted by their stalker at least once weekly, and a quarter of these victims will experience the stalking online. With the internet at their fingertips, perpetrators can cyberstalk individuals by following their every move online. There are even cases in which the stalker tracks their victim through GPS services. Those who are stalked are more likely to deal with a loss of sleep, somatic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, and symptoms of depression.
The majority of stalking victims are stalked by a person they know. According to an assessment of 1000 prosecuted stalkers, two thirds of the time, victims are contacted multiple times during the week and one-third of perpetrators were repeat offenders. Stalking can often be initiated by an intimate partner, whose behavior may begin in the form of domestic abuse. However, stalkers can be strangers to their victims as well.
A victim is never at fault for being stalked. Although a victim may feel embarrassment or guilt for being stalked, he or she should remember that stalking is never justified. Unfortunately, because so many victims experience feelings of shame, only one in three stalking cases are reported. By raising awareness of stalking and its signs through NSAM, by emphasizing that they are not to blame, more victims will hopefully feel safe and able to report stalking to authorities. Victims of stalking should not rationalize their stalker’s behavior, nor should they feel responsible to help their stalkers, even if they know them. A person can help protect themselves and others against stalking by being vigilant of consistent contact or “surprise” encounters, making social media pages more private, limiting location tagging, and keeping an open line of communication about the issue with trusted family or friends. If a person fears they may be being stalked, they should keep an incident and behavior log of the perpetrator’s action.
Oklahoma law provides that any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another person in a manner that would cause a reasonable person or a member of the immediate family of that person to feel frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested and the victim does actually feel that way is guilty of stalking. Oklahoma also allows the victim of stalking, whether a stranger or someone known to the victim, to get a protective order. This is a court order requiring the stalker stop the behavior. Violation of the protective order can result in criminal penalties.
Stalking is unpredictable and extremely dangerous. If you are in imminent danger, contact 911. In addition, if you or someone you know is being stalked or has been a victim of stalking, know that you have the ability to seek a Protective Order without a lawyer. Many Oklahoma counties actually have volunteers at the courthouse that will assist in that process. You may also have rights in the civil justice system to sue your stalker or entities enabling the stalker. If you have questions, please contact Koller Trial Law for a free consultation.