What is Stalking?
Stalking is a form of unwanted contact between two people that either directly or indirectly implies a threat or places a victim in fear. Actions like following someone, suddenly appearing at a person’s home or workplace, making harassing phone calls, leaving unwanted messages and objects or vandalizing someone’s property are all examples of stalking.
Washington state law defines stalking as any intentional incident of threatening, following, surveillance and/or coercive behavior that occurs more than once. The stalker either intends to frighten, intimidate, or harass the person; or the stalker knows or reasonably should know that the person is afraid, intimidated, or harassed even if the stalker did not intend to intimidate, harass or cause fear.
Contrary to popular belief, stalking can affect anyone, not just celebrities. Stalking is a crime that causes constant anxiety and terror to the victim. It disrupts victims’ lives by causing fear of every day occurrences: the doorbell, the phone ringing, or a piece of mail. Victims of stalking may have nightmares, feel depressed and out of control, or have trouble sleeping or eating. Stalking can also cause financial problems if a victim either loses time from work or can’t go to work because of the situation.
The pattern of controlling behaviors in stalking is very similar to domestic violence. In fact, most stalking cases – approximately 80 percent — involve women being stalked by former male partners. In addition, 90 percent of women murdered by current or former male partners were stalked prior to their deaths.
Stalking can take all kinds of forms. Stalking cases can involve:
- Interpersonal relationships (ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, ex-husbands/wives, co-workers, neighbors, etc.).
- Strangers (fan/celebrity, unknown apartment tenant, unknown “admirer” at work, etc.).
- Relationships in which the stalker believes he/she is loved by another (i.e. fan/celebrity, or employee/supervisor).
- The stalker actually postures him/herself as a victim of stalking.
Cyberstalking involves use of the Internet and other forms of electronic communications to harass or threaten someone repeatedly. This can involve email, harassment in live chat situations, sending viruses or electronic identity theft as well as sending spam and pornography.
Stalkers can be extremely dangerous. Treat all threats or contact that demonstrate stalking seriously, and consider reporting them to the police. It is vitally important to document each incident including the date, time, location and all words and actions of the stalker.