January is Stalking Awareness month, and I wanted honor all the victims who have lost their lives to a stalker by shedding some light on how to avoid falling victim to this horrific crime. If you, or someone you know is being stalked, take the steps to protect yourself. I know first hand, it could save your life.
I was a stalking victim for over 15 years. Prior to 1990, there were no laws on the books that made this behavior a crime, nor had the behavior been labeled as “Stalking”. Over the years, I had to learn every aspect of personal safety just to stay alive. I also had to learn how to work with Law Enforcement so they could protect me. In May of 1990, my stalker came in to my home, tied me up and took me out at gunpoint. Luckily the police were waiting outside, and after an 11 hour standoff, I was able to escape unharmed, and he went off to prison. Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by then State Senator Ed Royce out of Orange County, CA who was trying to pass the nations first Anti Stalking Law. He asked if I would testify in front of the State Senate to help pass the law,which I gladly did. That day, the law passed unanimously, and from there Ed Royce was elected to US Congress and in 1996 we helped pass the Federal Anti Stalking Law. We have come a long way since the inception of the law, but sadly, Stalking is still a very hard crime to prove.
“Enough is Enough”: What to do if you are being stalked.
Each Stalking case is different, yet similar. (Wow, how profound is that?) What I mean by that is, there are certain procedures that you would follow in every stalking case and some strategic actions you would not. For example, the first thing that a victim should do in every stalking case is to make it clear to the stalker that she/you want not further contact of any kind. Something that can be different in every Stalking case is whether you obtain a restraining order or not. Let me go through a list of things to do when dealing with a Stalker and explain in more detail the reasons for each.
Remember: THE KEY TO STAYING ALIVE AS A STALKING VICTIM IS TO STAY ONE STEP AHEAD OF YOUR STALKER.
1. The first moment your Intuition tells you that the person’s behavior is inappropriate, you should tell the Stalker loud and clear, “I WANT NO FURTHER CONTACT WITH YOU OF ANY KIND.” Even if he does not comply, you can tell the police that you have made your feelings clear to the Stalker. Now his behavior can be considered harassment.
2. AVOID ANY FURTHER CONTACT WITH THE STALKER.
Sometimes this can be quite difficult. It might mean you have to shop somewhere else; find new restaurants; even change your address. Many victims believe that they should not have to turn their lives upside down because of a stalker. I wholeheartedly agree, but until they can put all Stalkers on an iceberg somewhere in the middle of Antarctica, your safety is more important than where you buy your groceries. This also means never, ever talking with a Stalker in person, on the phone, e-mail or snail mail. Any contact (even if you’re screaming a stream of obscenities) can be interpreted by the Stalker as a sign of encouragement.
3. DOCUMENT ALL INCIDENTS. Get a journal and write down the time, date and a description of every incident. Whether it’s a phone call or a sighting of the suspect parked in front of your home, make a note of it. Even if you don’t think it’s important, the police do. In order to charge a suspect with the crime of Stalking, you need to show a laundry list of harassing behavior. Every little bit helps.
4. NOTIFY THE POLICE. If the Stalker persists after you have made it clear that you want no further contact, notify the police. It is best to visit to the police station and sit down with an officer to make the report, rather than having a police officer and patrol car come to your home (which can be conspicuous if you want to keep your case private). Be clear and calm. Bring all evidence and documentation with you. The police are there to help you, but you are the one who needs to facilitate your own case. You need to work together with the police in getting the Stalker to stop his/her threatening behavior. That means following the list of actions in this chapter as well as all instructions given to you by your police department. As I said earlier, we have come a long way legally since the crime of Stalking was given a name. While there are laws in every state, some police departments remain relatively mystified by the behavior. That’s why it is so important for you to be a reliable and organized “client”. If you still are not getting a good response from your local police, contact one of the Victim’s Rights Organizations like the National Center for Victims of Crime (ncvc.org) or the Office on Violence against Women (www.ovw.usdoj.gov)
5. SAVE ALL EVIDENCE. This means that ugly teddy bear that he left on your doorstep, the dead flowers he left on your desk, even the stupid post-it note he left on your car. Make sure you save any and all forms of communication from the stalker i.e. voice mail messages, emails, texts, Facebook posts, etc. All of this is extremely helpful to the police and aids in the prosecution of your Stalker.
6. KEEP A CAMERA AND/OR VIDEO CAMERA WITH YOU. If you are a safe distance away, and your stalker is in front of your home, work, school, etc. Use your SmartPhone to take his picture, or videotape his antics on film. That’s right, be your own detective. Remember, it’s your word against his. The more concrete evidence, the better. This DOES NOT mean that you should put yourself in danger just to get the shot. Use your common sense.
7. KEEP AN EMERGENCY CONTACT LIST. Make sure you have an easily accessible list of names and numbers that could be critical in your time of need. For example: 911(of course), the name of the police officer or detective who has been assigned to your case; your attorney or prosecutor, and any neighbors or family who can assist you.
8. NOTIFY FAMILY, FRIENDS, NEIGHBORS AND CO-WORKERS THAT YOU ARE BEING STALKED. For a lot of victims, this can be uncomfortable or embarrassing. I assure you, your personal well-being should outweigh any awkwardness. If you have a picture of your Stalker, make copies for your trusted friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. If you know the suspect’s name, vehicle description, work and home address, distribute that information as well. Your neighbors can be your eyes and ears when you are not home; your co-workers can ward off any unexpected visits from the Stalker, and your family is an essential support group for you in an incredibly stressful and emotional time. Also make sure that your children are escorted safely to and from school. Notify school officials of your situation and make it clear that only authorized family members and friends are to pick up or drop off your kids.
9. OBTAIN A RESTRAINING ORDER. This is a legal document from the court which restricts the Stalker from contacting you or coming near you in any way. Violators are subject to arrest. This is a first step in getting your tormentor prosecuted for the crime of Stalking. But a Restraining Order is not always the answer. Sometimes (mostly in cases of Domestic Violence) this can be a violent catalyst to the Stalker. Even a simple piece of paper restricting the Stalker from getting near his victim can set off violent retaliation. In these cases, an alternate course of action should be taken. Another problem with a Restraining Order is that the victim must list the various locations prohibited to the Stalker–which doesn’t make any sense if the victim has just relocated and is in hiding. Filing a restraining order is something that should be discussed with the police officer or detective that has been assigned to your case. Bottom line: proceed with caution.
10. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. Being stalked is traumatic. Many victims feel that they have done something to make the Stalker behave this way. Remember: IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT! Everyone in this world is responsible for their own actions. The prototypical Stalker is emotionally weak and disturbed. You have done nothing to provoke this violating, destructive behavior.
Taking action and being your own “case detective” is empowering. It helps reduce the stress and helpless feeling that goes along with being Stalked. Managing your case alongside the police is a positive and productive way to handle the situation. Check with local law enforcement to find out exactly how the Anti Stalking Laws read in your area, as they differ from State to State.