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Stalking

Victimology And Targets Of Stalkers, Motivation, Relationship To Target: Nondomestic Stalkers, Domestic Stalkers

Beginning in the late 1980s stalking became an accepted word in the American vocabulary and a distinct criminal offense under state and federal law. The sensitivity of the mental health and legal communities to this abnormal social behavior was heightened by the notable cases of Prosenjit Poddar (Tarasoff v. Regents of University of California, 551 2d 334 (1976); Meloy, 1996) and John Hinckley, Jr. (Caplan). Extensive media coverage of the stalking of some celebrated actors, musicians, and television show hosts raised the consciousness of the American public to this offense in the mid-1990s.

Stalking is the willful and malicious act of following, viewing, harassing, communicating with, or moving threateningly or menacingly toward another person. Stalking behaviors may be expressed by written and verbal communications, unsolicited and unrecognized claims of romantic involvement on the part of victims, obsessive surveillance, harassment, loitering, and following that may produce intense fear and psychological distress to the victim. Stalkers use telephone calls, conventional and electronic mail, and vandalism to communicate their obsessional interests.

Stalking is typically a long-term crime without a traditional crime scene. The stalking occurs at the target's residence, place of employment, shopping mall, school campus, or other public place. There are a number of aborted or obscene phone calls or anonymous letters addressed to the target professing love or knowledge of the target's movements. Written communications or symbolic items are often left on vehicle windows or placed in mailboxes or under doors by the stalker. The tone of communications may progress from protestations of adoration, to love, to annoyance at not being able to make personal contact, to threats of violence and menacing.

Although the actual number of stalking victimizations has yet to be systematically documented, a congressional report of 1998 estimates that approximately 1.5 million victims are subjected to the terror of threatened violence annually (Department of Justice). Remarkably, there are an estimated 200,000 stalkers in the United States. One of every twelve women in the United States has been or will be a victim of a stalker during her lifetime; one out of every forty-five men has suffered or will suffer the same fate. Stalking over the Internet, known as cyberstalking, claims additional victims from an estimated forty thousand offenders (Karczewski).

All states in the United States (including the District of Columbia) have passed antistalking legislation, following California's lead, in an attempt to fill the gaps left by generally ineffective civil restraining orders and criminal statutes prohibiting such activities as "threats of violence," "criminal trespassing," and "harassment" (Geberth). Many of these state statutes are patterned after provisions of a model anti-stalking law jointly drafted by the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) and sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (Fein, Vossekuil, and Holden). Federal anti-stalking legislation (the Interstate Stalking Punishment and Prevention Act of 1996) targets perpetrators who travel across state lines to commit crimes.

ANN W. BURGESS

WILLIAM S. LAUTER

CASES

Hinckley v. United States, 140 F.3d. 277, 286 (1998).

Long v. State, 931 S.W. 2nd 285 (1996).

Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, 551 2nd 334 (1976).

United States v. Reinhold, 975 F. Supp. 834 (W.D. La. 1997).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law