Most statutes define stalking as willful, malicious and repeated harassment. An imminent, credible threat of violence must be made against the victim for the activity to be considered stalking in many jurisdictions. Many American states deem the intent to instill fear to be unlawful, with most defining criminal stalking as an activity that would instill fear in a reasonable person.
Stalking behavior is as old as the history of human relationships but had not been labeled as a distinct class of deviant behavior until recently. Prior to its common usage and subsequent designation as a crime, stalking was commonly referred to as harassment. California was the first place to make stalking a crime in 1990 after some high-profile cases involving celebrities, notably the murder of Rebecca Schaffer, the star of the television series My Sister Sam.
A crime survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics titled 'Stalking Victimization in the United States' (US Department of Justice, 2009) found that 3.4 million Americans (about 1.1% of the population) had been victims of stalking over the past year. Most stalkers are male and much more likely to become violent than female stalkers, though female stalkers have also murdered their victims. About 75% of stalkers are known to their victims, while 10% are strangers and 15% unknown.
Psychologists have identified two main categories of stalkers - 'Love Obsession' and 'Simple Obsession'. The former make up about 20% of stalkers, the vast majority with a mental disorder (often schizophrenia or paranoia), who form emotional attachments to strangers as they are unable to maintain normal social relationships. The later account for about 75% of cases, often have a personality disorder, and usually have or had some form of relationship with the victim.
Most stalkers will not physically harm their victims, but a study of the relationship between stalking and intimate partner murders found that 76% of femicide cases and 85% of attempted femicide cases involved at least one incident of stalking within a year of these offences being committed (Kohn, M., 1999, Prevalence and Health Consequences of Stalking, NCIPC). Thus being stalked by a male partner/ex-partner places female victims in a high risk category.
Police need evidence of a crime before they can charge a stalker with a criminal offence, so it is crucial that you collect any evidence of stalking and keep a Stalking Incident Log. You cannot obtain a restraining order without evidence. If you later have to shoot the stalker in self-defense this evidence will indicate that you were the victim and not someone who made up a story about being stalked on the spur of the moment to help cover up a violent crime.
7. RESTRAINING ORDERS
These orders generally require an offender stay away from and not harass the complainant. If violated the offender may be incarcerated and/or fined. They are typically obtained through a magistrate's office or local court. They are of limited value as they often do not extend beyond the local jurisdiction and police often arrive too late to enforce them. Even if caught violating an order an offender may spend little time in custody unless convicted of stalking.
8. MODEL ANTI-STALKING CODE
With the publication of the Model Anti-Stalking Code in 1994 many law enforcement officials will now accept that a threat does not have to be verbal. A hand that's pointed at you in the shape of a gun, or a finger drawn across the throat like a knife, conveys a message that is loud and clear. While most stalkers do not attack their victims the threat of violence is usually inferred, so even victims who are not physically attacked can suffer tremendously in terms of fear and anxiety.