Legal Means for Prevention of Stalking
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What Is Stalking?
Consider these incidents: following from a distance, suddenly appearing on one’s walk to work, leaving phone messages, leaving objects on one’s car, sending flowers with strange notes, and vandalizing property. While any one of these incidents may not be worthy of a crime, when aggregated together as a pattern, they can comprise stalking.
Stalking was first defined as a crime by the California Legislature in 1990, after a series of movie star stalking incidents led to murder. Today, all states make stalking a crime, dubbing it “criminal harassment” or “menace.”
A stalker is someone who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another person, and makes a “credible threat” of harm, with the intent to frighten the person. The stalker does not need to actually intend to carry out the threat. To “harass” means to engage in several acts over a period of time that “alarm, annoy, torment, or terrorize” a person and serve no legitimate purpose.
Are There Any Legal Remedies A Person Being Stalked Could Pursue?
If the above elements are satisfied, a victim of stalking should contact the police and file a report. In conjunction with this, the victim will need to obtain an attorney who can file a restraining order against the stalker. A restraining order compels the stalker to keep a certain distance away or risk being arrested.
Bear in mind, however, that this legal solution should be reserved for extreme cases, where other preventive steps have already been taken, such as using a private post office box, keeping identification information confidential, obtaining an unpublished and unlisted phone number, and so on. Experts have found that restraining orders sometimes can lead to increased or unexpected violence.
How Can I Prove That I Am Being Stalked?
Although stalking is a crime, like all crimes, stalking requires proof before the defendant can be punished. As such, the victim should take the following steps to help ensure a successful prosecution:
- Keep a written record of all communication, including telephone calls, direct confrontations, e-mail, mail or any other means. Include time and place of the instances. Be sure to note the nature of the communication, including any threats made.
- Keep a written record about how the communications made you feel. This can be important if the laws of your area require that the victim feel a certain amount of apprehension about the situation.
- Retain any evidence, including letters, flowers, photographs, packages or voicemail.
- Note and record any instances where the stalker attempts to communicate with your friends, family, neighbor or anyone else who knows you.
- If the stalker is attempting to call you through unknown numbers, ask your telephone company if they can trace the phone calls to the numbers.
- Check the stalker’s criminal record and/or current behavior for other violations such as assault or burglary. These other crimes may be easier to prove than stalking, enabling swifter judicial action.
- In general, document all instances of the stalker’s behavior.
Are There Any Solutions I Can Use before Going to the Police?
Yes, although if you feel the situation is escalating out of control, call the police immediately.
A short list of solutions you can take before involving the police. Stalking is typically done to gratify the stalker’s need for control and power. Any steps you can take to put your life back into your own hands will help improve the situation. Remember, the stalker is the one who is legally and morally wrong. The victim should not feel punished or powerless.
- Accept that you are being stalked and that the stalker is indeed stalking you. Once the situation is accepted, further action can be taken. The victim gains nothing by denying the reality of the situation.
- State to the stalker once and very clearly that the behavior is harmful and that you want it to stop. After this single confrontation to set boundaries, never speak, call or contact that person again. Do not use a third party other than the police or an attorney to communicate with the stalker either.
- Tell everyone you know, friends, family, co-workers, your doctor, and anyone else the stalker may attempt to speak with, that you are being stalked and inform them who the stalker is. Provide a picture if necessary. Tell them not to provide information about your habits or about your personal life.
- Take a self-defense course.
- Move out of your current home if necessary.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Help File a Restraining Order?
After reading the above information, if you still believe you need to file a restraining order against someone, it would be worth while to speak with an attorney before doing so. A experienced criminal attorney can help guide you through this difficult process by filing the proper documents and appearing before the court on your behalf.
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Last Modified: 12-23-2014 10:30 AM PST
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