Anyone who has survived a stalker knows only too well how to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and keep moving forward… again and again.
What is not so clear is what happens, and what information you may need if and when you get to the point of seeking legal remedy for your stalking issue.
So, in the next series of relatively digestible articles, I have taken the time to research and provide details about;
- basic legal definitions of commonly used legal terms for stalking and related crimes
- information about the legal process of filing a complaint and the process
- resources where you can find assistance
- resources on anti-stalking laws for each state and how to find out more about what protections your state provides you regarding anti-stalking statutes
Stalking and Legal Remedy; The Context of Rational Law in the Face of
an Irrational Issue
In the process we have gone through with our stalker we of course did a ton of research with legal professionals, law enforcement, mental health professionals and of course online. What we really ended up having to do was work with a legal system created and designed to work in a very reasonable, orderly, and logical manner with an issue that is anything but logical, reasonable and orderly.
On the more personal side, we had to work our way through the assumptions, false ideas and harsher realities about bringing our information to the legal system to seek remedy for what we were dealing with.
Legal Terms and Definitions for Stalking and Related Crimes
Stalking – Stalking behaviors are related to harassment and intimidation and may include following the victim in person or monitoring them. Stalking is unwanted or obsessive attention by an individual or group towards another person. Stalking behaviors can often appear to be ‘normal’ behaviors if one is not aware of the connection between the stalker and the target.
The term stalking is used with some differing definitions in psychiatry and psychology, as well as in some legal jurisdictions as a term for a criminal offense.
Aggravated Stalking – Aggravated stalking is a far worse case situation than harassment, pestering and even stalking. Technically,aggravated stalking is a legal definition that that involves a person committing further stalking after already being identified and put under a legal restriction such as a restraining order.
Another definition of aggravated stalking, which focuses more on the behavior itself from a psychological perspective, is when the stalker graduates from following and creating a presence to making harmful contact with the victim or the victim’s friends or family. This physical contact is often intended to be harmful to scare or mentally push the victim towards the stalker. It’s often the case such stalking is when the perpetrator has lost any hesitation or fear of the law or consequences and is acting outside of the law entirely, becoming a very serious threat to the victim.
Felony Stalking – While stalking in all forms is illegal, some instances of stalking are prosecuted as misdemeanors while other incidences are treated as felonies. State laws regarding felony stalking vary; however, the general overview below will give you an idea as to what type of stalking you may be up against.
Stalking can potentially be considered a felony if:
- The victim has gotten a restraining order against the stalker and the stalker disobeys this order.
- The stalker has been convicted of a violent crime at some point of time in the past.
- The stalker has been convicted of stalking the same victim within the last seven years.
- The victim is under 18 years of age (in some states the victim must be under the age of 16 and a misdemeanor conviction with an enhanced penalty is given in place of a felony conviction).
- The stalker intercepts the victim’s communications (oral or electronic) with third parties.
Harassment and Menacing – In some states, “stalking” is specified as a separate offense from harassment. Other states include both harassment and stalking under a single general statute. Since stalking refers to the obsessive or unwanted attention of an individual or group to another through seemingly ‘non-threatening’ behaviors most states have separate laws on stalking and harassment.
Harassment refers to a wide variety of behavior which can violate both civil and criminal laws, depending on the state you live in. What constitutes criminal harassment varies by state, but it generally entails targeting someone else with behavior meant to alarm, annoy, torment or terrorize, and creating reasonable fear in the victim for their safety or the safety of their family.
Some states punish stalking as a form of “menacing.” Menacing can often include ongoing actions, such as stalking someone, which cause reasonable fear in the victim. Menacing also often includes single acts which are purposefully intended to create a reasonable fear in someone, such as brandishing a weapon.
Restraining Order or Temporary Restraining Order – Both a restraining order and a temporary restraining order is an instrument of the courts to protect an individual, establishment, business, group from situations involving violence, stalking, sexual assault, assault, and harassment.
Within the context of stalking many states have and do use TROs as a mechanism to provide protection to targets of stalkers from the stalkers. Many states are now adopting new Protection Orders designed specifically for addressing stalking.
Restraining and personal protection order laws vary from one jurisdiction to another but all establish who can file for an order, what protection or relief a person can get from such an order, and how the order will be enforced. The court will order the adverse party to refrain from certain actions and/or require compliance with certain provisions. Failure to comply is a violation of the order which can result in the arrest and prosecution of the offender.
Stalking Protection Order – Civil orders of protection for victims of stalking are increasingly becoming available across the United States. Nearly two dozen states and territories have orders available specific to stalking or harassment victims. In many other states, stalking is included under domestic violence orders of protection.
These are the main terms you will need to know with some great links for more detailed information within your state. Stalking is often just one part of the crime that is happening. Most stalking cases involve numerous other crimes in addition to stalking.