Stalking is a pattern of repeated behavior that includes unwanted attention, contact, harassment, or other conduct towards a specific person. Stalking behaviors may be committed in person, by following the victim, or by monitoring and harassing the victim electronically. Both men and women are victims of stalking all over the world. To explore this concept, consider the following stalking definition.
Definition of Stalking
- The act of harassing another person in a threatening or aggressive manner causing fear.
- The stealthy pursuit of prey or quarry.
Origin 1250-1300 Middle English stalken
What is Stalking
The crime of stalking has become a serious and widespread problem in the United States, causing 7.5 million Americans to make significant changes to the way they live their lives, fearing for their safety, and that of their family members. Stalking involves a stalker making repeated attempts to contact, or interfere with the life of, the victim. A stalker may be a romantic partner, acquaintance, or even a total stranger.
Stalking behavior encompasses a wide variety of actions, but nearly all acts of stalking incite fear for in the victim. The main elements of stalking include repeated unwanted attention and harassment directed at a specific person causing him to fear harm, or for his life. Many stalkers engage in more than one type of stalking behavior.
Common stalking behaviors include:
- Repeated and unwanted communications through phone calls, mail, emails, or social media sites
- Following the victim to work, school, home, or other places where they frequently visit
- Making threats to the victim either directly or indirectly
- Making threats to the victim’s family, friends, co-workers, or even pets
- Damaging the victim’s home, car, or other property, or threatening to do so
- Repeatedly sending the victim unwanted gifts
- Posting information, or spreading rumors about, the victim
- Obtaining information about the victim through the use of public records, online searches, going through the victim’s garbage, or contacting the victim’s family, neighbors, friends, or co-workers
- Hiring a private investigator to follow, or discover information about, the victim
Types of Stalker
While the majority of stalking cases look similar to outsiders, and they all involve similar types of stalking behavior, stalking is broken down by types of stalker, or types of people who engage in this crime. Understanding the various types of stalker helps professionals better understand the crime, how to assign appropriate penalties for stalking, and how to stop it.
The Rejected Stalker
The rejected stalker begins stalking behaviors after a close relationship breaks down. The rejected stalker’s victims are often former intimate partners, but family members and close friends who have ended, or placed limitations on, contact can also become victims. The rejected stalker aims to reconcile the relationship or exact revenge.
The rejected stalker acts out of feelings of jealousy, over-dependence, and humiliation. The rejected stalker is commonly the most intrusive and tenacious type of stalker, and is most likely to use fear, intimidation, and violence.
The Resentful Stalker
The resentful stalker is often paranoid and irrational in his beliefs that someone has wronged him. He commonly feels as if he has been unfairly dealt with, mistreated, or somehow abused by his victim, and has a strong desire to set things straight. The resentful stalker believes he is justified for his actions, making him obsessive and long-suffering in his stalking. The resentful stalker is most likely to verbally threaten his victim, and least likely to engage in physical violence.
The Intimacy Seeking Stalker
The intimacy seeking stalker acts out of feelings of loneliness, as he lacks close relationships. The intimacy seeking stalker is usually mentally ill, bearing a delusional belief that he has a close relationship with his victim, though no relationship exists. Victims are commonly brief acquaintances, or total strangers, with whom the stalker desires to have an intimate relationship.
The intimacy seeking stalker often interprets any action, or reaction, by his victim, including negative responses, as encouragement. Behaviors of the intimacy seeking stalker often include sending letters or other correspondence, phone calls, and gifts. If this stalker realizes, at some point, that he is being rejected, he may resort to threats and violence.
The Incompetent Suitor
The incompetent suitor is lonely, and lusts after the attention of others. This stalker however, is not looking for a long-term relationship, but only a date, or a brief sexual relationship. The incompetent suitor believes that anyone would be attracted to him, and is blind to the fact that he tormenting his victim. Behaviors of this stalker type include repeated phone calls, repeatedly asking for a date, and attempting to hold the victim’s hand, or to kiss the victim. The incompetent suitor’s stalking is usually of brief duration, and commonly stops following threat of legal action.
The Predatory Stalker
The predatory stalker engages in stalking behavior as a prelude to sexually attacking the victim. While stalking behaviors are perpetrated by both males and females, the predatory stalker is most commonly male, his victims most commonly female. The predatory stalker seeks sexual gratification, and the feeling that comes with the power he exerts over his victim.
The predatory stalker rarely contacts or harasses his victim, preferring to follow and watch the victim, and often engages in voyeurism, exhibitionism, and fetishism. This type of stalker is highly likely to be physically violent.
Cyberstalking is a form of harassment committed through electronic communications, such as e-mail, text messages, and social media posts. Cyberstalking, though perpetrated through electronic means, can cause the victim to fear for his safety, or for the safety of his loved ones.
A single social media post or text message is typically not enough to constitute cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is generally defined as a pattern of harassing conduct intended to cause the victim distress, or to cause the victim to fear for his or his family’s safety. Some jurisdictions refer to cyberstalking as “cyberbullying,” especially if children are involved.
Though cyberstalking does not involve physical contact, it is still considered a crime. The offense is much more serious when a minor child is the victim.
In 2011, a 12-year old girl in Seattle was charged with felony computer trespassing and cyberstalking, after accessing another girl’s Facebook account and repeatedly posting lewd photos. The girl also gained access to the victim’s instant messaging account, and sent messages to random people, soliciting sex on the victim’s behalf.
In 2013, former tennis star Jennifer Capriati harassed her ex-boyfriend by sending 283 text messages, then confronting him at the gym, where she punched him four times. Capriati was charged with stalking and battery.
The first stalking laws, criminalizing stalking behavior, were enacted in California in 1990. This was in response to a number of high-profile stalking incidents, including the attempted murder of actress Theresa Saldana, in 1982, and the murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer, in 1989. Within three years of California’s legislation, every state in the U.S. enacted stalking laws, making stalking behavior a serious criminal offense.
Though the stalking laws of each state vary, they all aim to prohibit repeated unwanted contact that creates fear in a victim. Stalking laws also work to prevent violence and murder associated with stalking. In nearly all states, stalking laws require at least one of three specific elements to be met for the crime to be established:
- Conduct – The stalker must engage in prohibited acts, such as intruding on the victim repeatedly, loitering near the victim, or other repeated unwanted contact.
- Intention – The stalker must have the intent to commit the crime. In basic terms, the stalker must voluntary engage in the stalking behavior.
- Victim Response – The stalking victim must be aware of the stalker’s behavior, and must be intimidated by it, or fear for his safety.
Penalties for Stalking
Stalking can be categorized as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances surrounding the case. Penalties for stalking may include incarceration, fines, restitution, and community service. Penalties for stalking are most severe in cases in which the victim sustains life threatening injuries, permanent disfigurement, or death.
Such penalties range from 5 years to life imprisonment, and may include the death penalty in some states, if the victim dies. According to federal stalking laws, if a stalker violates a victim’s restraining order, he may be imprisoned for no less than one year.
Stalking is not a crime reserved only for celebrities, though those cases often receive the most attention in the media. Stalking is not as uncommon as one might believe, claiming more 7.5 million victims each year in the United States alone. Some of these victims are injured or killed by their stalkers. Stalking victims are not only women, as men also experience the violations of privacy and fear engendered by stalking.
Other stalking statistics:
- 1 out of every 6 women, and one out of every 19 men, are stalked in their lifetime
- 77% of female victims, and 64% of male victims, know their stalker
- 66% of female victims, and 41% of male victims, are stalked by an intimate partner, or former partner
- The average stalking period lasts 1.8 years, with the exception of intimate partner stalking, which lasts on average 2.2 years
- 1 out of ever 4 stalking victims reports some form of cyberstalking
- The majority of people suffering from stalking were sexually or physically abused by their stalker
Stalking cases find their way into the courtroom on a daily basis, though some stalking cases gain more attention in the media than others, due to the circumstances surrounding the crime.
Man Cyberstalks Ex-Wife and Her Daughters
In July 2012, 32-year old Michael Johnson, of Hyattsville, Maryland, engaged in a campaign of stalking his ex-wife. The victim, after being harassed and threatened, obtained a restraining order against Johnson, which he violated, sending vulgar emails, and threatening to rape her, and to kill her children.
Police executed a search warrant on Johnson’s home, where they seized his computer, which contained many of the emails he had sent to his victim. Johnson had also set up fake profiles on social media accounts, claiming to be his ex-wife, soliciting sex. Some of the messages sent through those social media accounts even asked men to rape her.
Johnson was charged, and later found guilty, of 73 charges, including stalking, reckless endangerment, harassment, and violation of a protective order. All of these fear-inducing acts perpetrated against his ex-wife and her two daughters, occurred within a 45-day period. Johnson was sentenced to 115 years in prison, of which he is to serve 85 years, the remaining 30 years to be served concurrently.
Man Terrorizes Ex-Girlfriend
In 2008, a Raleigh, North Carolina man by the name of David Williams met a woman at a local gym. The two dated for several weeks, after which the woman broke up with Williams, as she thought it was odd that he still lived with his mother, and had no friends. What the woman didn’t know was that Williams had been charged with stalking in 1995.
Following the breakup, Williams began calling Smith repeatedly calling the woman from his phone. When she didn’t answer, he began using other people’s phones to call. The woman asked Williams to stop calling, but he later followed her to a bar, where he blocked her in with his car. The following day, Williams broke into his victim’s apartment, breaking in the door. While nothing was taken, he left the closet light on, so she would know someone had definitely been there.
The woman, fearing for her life, then filed for a restraining order. Williams continued to follow his victim, approaching her from the woods next to her work, and knocking on her door. When the woman heard Williams climbing onto her balcony in the middle of the night, she called 9-1-1, and he left.
Williams didn’t, however, stop his campaign of terror. He left dead rose petals around the victim’s door, and left a voicemail message, pretending to be from “victim’s services.” When the victim called back, Williams said “gotcha!” The woman even tried to avoid her stalker by moving away. As she was leaving the U-Haul parking lot, she saw her stalker following her. As she arrived at her new apartment, Williams was coming out of the building, and offered her money to help with moving expenses.
More threats, property damage, and stalking by a GPS device hidden on her car, followed this incident before the state enacted a new stalking law, and Williams was arrested. Although Williams claimed he had nothing to do with any of the events with which he was charged, he was convicted, and sentenced to 34 to 41 months in prison.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Concurrent Sentences – Sentences that may be served at the same time.
- Criminal Act – An act committed by an individual that is in violation of the law, or that poses a threat to the public.
- Felony – A criminal offense punishable by a year or more in jail.
- Jurisdiction – A territory in which the court has the right, power, and authority to administer justice by hearing and resolving conflicts.
- Misdemeanor – A minor offense punishable by a year or less in jail.
- Victim – A person who is injured, killed, or otherwise harmed as a result of a criminal act, accident, or other event.