January is National Stalking Awareness Month. This year’s theme—“Stalking: Know It. Name It. Stop It”—challenges us to fight this dangerous crime by learning more about it.
In 2012, 6.6 million people across the U.S. were victims of stalking. On average nationally, one in six women and one in 19 men have been stalked at some point during their life. Minnesota’s criminal definition of stalking is more broadly defined than in most States. This means that statistically, in Rice County, one in four women and one in 13 men could be stalked in their lifetime.
Stalking is a crime in every State. Yet, many of us underestimate its seriousness and impact.
Stalking victims suffer anxiety and severe depression at much higher rates than the general population. Stalking victims lose time from work, or relocate from their community as a result of their victimization. In one of five cases, victims were physically harmed or threatened by a stalker’s use of a weapon. And stalking is one of the significant risk factors for homicide of women in abusive relationships.
Stalkers can be difficult to catch. Many tactics used by stalkers seem innocent enough, until viewed in the context of the relationship (or lack of relationship) between the parties. A dozen roses received from an unwanted admirer, causes fear and apprehension in a victim. The victim is left wondering how she was located, what message the stalker is sending, and what will the stalker do next.
Investigating and prosecuting stalking can also be difficult. Unlike many other crimes, stalking is not a single, easily identifiable crime. Rather, it is a series of acts or a course of conduct. The conduct must be directed at a specific person, and be such that the victim felt frightened, threatened, oppressed, persecuted, or intimidated – which the stalker intended to happen.
Stalking takes many forms: assaults; threats; vandalism; or burglary. As well, unwanted emails, texts, calls, gifts, or visits can be acts of stalking. One in four victims report that their stalker used technology (computers, GPS, or hidden cameras,) to track them.
In Minnesota, stalking is a gross misdemeanor for the first offense, and is a felony for the second and subsequent offenses. Additional criminal offenses are sometimes charged along with the stalking offense, which can increase the penalty imposed upon the stalker.
Tragedies can be prevented and victims protected if we: recognize stalking; contact Law Enforcement about the stalking; and reach out to victims. 89% of women killed had also been stalked and physically assaulted in the year before their murder. Would intervention by a friend or co-worker have made a difference? Or maybe such intervention could have been an opportunity for law enforcement to assist.
For additional resources, please visit: http://stalkingawarenessmonth.org, or www.ovw.usdoj.gov. Locally, please contact the HOPE Center at (507) 332-0882; their crisis line is 1-800-607-2330. You can also give financially, or volunteer your time, at HOPE Center.