The definition of stalking as a crime is as follows: a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. However, nearly every jurisdiction has their own definition of stalking and most of them do not have standardized penalties for stalking and it is often a crime not seriously investigated.
Stalking is a serious problem, more than 10 million people are stalked every year in the US. And most stalkings last more than five years. More than 70% of stalking victims require therapy for mental distress created by stalkers. It is basically a form of psychological warfare and in my opinion should be treated as such.
Penalties against stalkers also vary greatly. If a case can even be made against a stalker, the penalties are very light, it is not uncommon for stalkers to be sentenced to probation and community service if they do not commit a violent crime in the course of stalking their victim. And if a violent crime is committed in association with stalking, the stalker is still usually only given a few years in prison as long as the violent crime isn’t murder.
Stalking victims commonly develop anxiety, insomnia, and sometimes PTSS (PTSD) and there is a risk of a victim developing agoraphobia (fear of leaving their house). On average, a stalking victim has a face to face encounter with their stalker once a week, usually in a public place. And it is sadly rare for the victim of a stalker to be able to get a restraining order against their stalker and if they do manage, enforcement is difficult because most encounters are in public and “accidental encounter” can be claimed. Furthermore, a victim with a restraining order can be in violation of the restraining order if they run into their stalker at say a coffee shop and neither the stalker or victim leaves, if the victim violates the restraining order it can be negated.
Actions of a stalker include some of the following (this is not a comprehensive list by far):
- Sending unwanted gifts
- Showing up where the victim is
- Following a victim
- Posting private information gleaned by the stalker (via going through the victim’s trash, scrounged from the internet, captured via malware installed on the victim’s computer, photographs taken by the stalker, etc)
This causes the victim to feel fear, no part of their life is private. Their daily routines are interrupted and have to be changed because the stalker knows these routines, insomnia, anxiety, victims often have to miss multiple days at work due to their stalker, victims will move to escape a stalker only to have the stalker move too, and minor property damage is commonly committed by stalkers.
Only 55% of female stalking victims and 45% of male victims are stalked by an ex-partner. However, when an ex-partner is the stalker, only 30% were abusive during the relationship (physically, emotionally, and/or sexually). Over 50% of stalkings committed by an ex-partner end in violence (murder, sexual assault, physical assault) compared to just 35% of stalkers who are not ex-partners end in violence.
While most crimes in the US are on the decline, stalking is not one of them. Stats show that between 2006 and 2016 crimes of stalking increased by 27%. And those are just the crimes we know about. Stalking is often an unreported crime because victims know that law enforcement intervention without a violent encounter is nearly impossible.
The general public has the misconception that stalkers are mentally ill and that stalking almost always ends in violent encounters. Most stalkers are just average people. Many criminologists believe stalking is on the rise because it does maximum damage with This little chance of the perpetrator being punished for it.
And people like Kathleen Hale (who has now been signed to write a book about her time as a stalker) make it worse. Kathleen Hale is a young adult novelist who was signed by HarperTeen. As per usual, HarperTeen sent advanced read copies of her book to several people, including a well known and respected book blogger. The blogger hated Hale’s book. HarperTeen warned Hale that she would be getting a negative review and to not retaliate, but Hale decided to stalk the blogger for it.
Hale even found the woman’s home address and left packages for her at her home. She got the woman’s cell phone number and began calling her to get a recorded interview regarding why the blogger hated Hale (note I said Hale, not the book, as Hale considered it personal that this blogger didn’t like her book) Hale’s victim quit blogging about books and became a recluse, refusing to talk about her ordeal. Hale on the other hand, was given a contract to write a book titled Kathleen Hale is a Crazy Stalker.
I am of the opinion, that HarperTeen should have punished Kathleen Hale. They could have stopped publication of her book, demanded the return of the advance, and voided her contract. Her victim had to give up her job, but Kathleen Hale profited from her stalking, which seems unfair to say the very least, especially since Hale obviously caused her victim a great deal of emotional distress (enough that she quit her job).
On a side note, the thing that stalkers want is the exact same thing terrorists want, to cause their victim to change their lives because of fear.