January 7, 2009

January is National Stalking Awareness Month

During January 2009, communities across the country will observe National Stalking Awareness Month, a time to focus on a crime that affects 1.4 million victims a year. This year’s theme, “Stalking: Know It. Name It. Stop It.” challenges the nation to combat this dangerous crime by learning more about it. Stalking is a crime in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. One in 12 women and one in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetime, for an average duration of almost two years, and most victims are ordinary Americans (1). Victims may experience psychological trauma, financial hardship, and even death (2). Eighty-one percent of victims stalked by an intimate partner were also physically assaulted by that partner (3), and seventy-six percent of female homicide victims were stalked prior to their death(4). Yet many victims underestimate the seriousness and impact of the crime.

At first, they may view stalking as “creepy” but not dangerous. They may think that ignoring or confronting stalkers will stop them. But stalkers almost never stop, and confronting a stalker may escalate the violence. Even when victims see the danger and report the crime, stalking may be hard for authorities to recognize, investigate, and prosecute. Unlike other crimes, stalking is not a single, easily identifiable crime but a series of acts, a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause that person fear. Stalking may take many forms—such as assaults, threats, vandalism, burglary, or animal abuse—as well as unwanted cards, calls, gifts, or visits. Stalkers may use a range of devices—such as computers, Global Position System devices, or hidden cameras—to track their victims’ daily activities. Stalkers fit no standard psychological profile, and many have been known to follow their victims from one jurisdiction to another, making apprehension by the authorities even more difficult.

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1 Tjaden and Thoennes, “Stalking in America,” (Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice, 1998).

2 Mullen, Pathe, and Purcell, Stalkers and Their Victims, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

3 Tjaden, “Stalking in America.”

4 MacFarlane et al., “Stalking and Intimate Partner Femicide,” Homicide Studies 3, no. 4 (1998): 300-16.

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