January is National Stalking Awareness Month, a time to focus on a crime that affects millions of victims every year.
U.S. Department of Justice statistics show that some 3.4 million individuals are stalked each year.
By conservative estimates, at least one in 12 women and one in 45 men has been stalked at some point in their lives.
Over three quarters (78 percent) of stalking victims are female and most (87 percent) stalking perpetrators are male, according to the National Violence Against Women Survey.
This year's theme is Stalking: Know It, Name It. Stop It, said Cheryl O'Neil, executive director of the Caring House in Iron Mountain.
It challenges the nation to fight this dangerous crime by learning more about it.
Only in the past 15 years has the legal system begun to recognize and address the crime of stalking.
California passed the nation's first anti-stalking state law in 1990. Over the next decade, anti-stalking laws were passed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, yet many victims and criminal justice professionals underestimate its seriousness and impact.
In one out of five cases, stalkers use weapons to harm or threaten victims, and stalking is one significant risk factor for women in abusive relationships.
Research indicates a clear link between stalking and intimate partner violence.
National studies show that former husbands, boyfriends, or co-habiting partners perpetrate a majority (62 percent) of the stalking incidents against females.
Of women stalked by current or former partners, 81 percent were physically assaulted and 31 percent were sexually assaulted by that same partner, Department of Justice statistics show.
New forms of technology and increased access to technology provide stalkers with new tools to terrorize current or former intimate partners.
The tactics of perpetrators are the same - abusing power to gain and maintain control of the victim, O'Neil said.
Every day more advanced technologic tools make stalking easier and more effective.
The increasingly affordable and available variety of phone, surveillance and computer technologies provide a wide array of dangerous tools for abusers to use to harass, intimidate and stalk their current and former intimate partners, O'Neil said.
If you suspect the possibility that your phone, computer, email, driving or other activities are being monitored seek help, O'Neil said.
Victims of stalking have found that disconnecting a telephone line or email account in an attempt to thwart a stalker results in the abuser escalating to a new method of control or access, she said.
Abusers or stalkers can act in incredibly persistent and creative ways to maintain power and control.
Help and safety planning can be provided through the Caring House by calling 774-1112 or 1-800-392-7839.
According to the anti-stalking laws, a person can be charged with stalking for willfully and repeatedly contacting another individual, without permission, causing that person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.
Under these laws, assailants could be charged with stalking for repeatedly:
- Following or appearing within the sight of the targeted victim.
- Approaching or confronting the targeted victim in a public or private place.
- Appearing at the workplace or residence of the targeted victim.
- Entering or remaining on the targeted victim's property.
- Contacting the targeted victim by telephone.
- Sending mail or electronic mail to the targeted victim.
Victims of stalking are encouraged to exercise their legal rights:
- Notify the police in the areas where the stalking took place.
- Get an anti-stalking restraining order from Circuit Court (this order states that the stalker is to have no contact with the victim; if violated, criminal penalties will follow).
- You may also bring a civil action against the stalker. This allows you to sue him or her for any damage that may have caused emotional harm, and may entitle you to exemplary damages and legal fees as well.
- As a victim, your best weapon against a stalker is the local law enforcement agency. They are a means of protection as well as a source for referrals. However, it is also important to have support from your friends and family during this emotionally distressing time.