Being stalked is a life changing process. Stalking victims are in a state of constant fear 24 hours a day. The ongoing nature of stalking can cause traumatic psychological damage to the victim.
According to 1994 statistics, one million people in the United States have been stalked. High-profile cases of celebrities being stalked have raised the public’s awareness to this crime. But the majority of stalking victims are ordinary people, mostly women, who are being pursued and threatened by someone with whom they have had a prior relationship. Approximately 80% of stalking cases involve women stalked by ex-boyfriends and former husbands. Some stalking cases involve ex-employees who are obsessed with the rejection of having lost a job.
Are there any laws against stalking?
California was the first state to pass an anti-stalking law in 1990 in response to the stalking and murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer. Since then, all other states have enacted anti-stalking laws.
In California, both criminal and civil laws address stalking. According to the criminal laws, a stalker is someone who willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows or harasses another (victim) and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place the victim or victim’s immediate family in fear for their safety. The victim does not have to prove that the stalker had the intent to carry out the threat. (California Penal Code 646.9)
The criminal penalty for stalking is imprisonment up to a year and/or a fine of up to $1,000. There are more severe penalties when the stalker pursues the same person in violation of a court restraining order, with a sentencing range of two to four years imprisonment. Persons convicted of felony stalking also face stricter penalties if they continue to stalk their victim(s). Courts may issue restraining orders to prohibit stalking. (California Family Code 6320)
A victim, family member or witness may request that the California Department of Corrections, county sheriff or the director of the local department of corrections notify them by phone or mail 15 days before a convicted stalker is released from jail or prison. The victim, family member or witness must keep these departments notified of their most current mailing address and telephone number. The information relating to persons who receive notice must be kept confidential and not released to the convicted stalker. (California Penal Code 646.92) The court may order a person convicted of felony stalking to register with local law enforcement officials within 14 days of moving to a city and/or county. (California Penal Code 646.9)
A victim of stalking may bring a civil lawsuit against the stalker and recover money damages. (See Civil Code 1708.7 for the elements and remedies of the tort of stalking.) Victims may also request that the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suppress their automobile registration and driver’s license records from being released to persons other than court and law enforcement officials, other governmental agencies or specified financial institutions, insurers and attorneys. To have their records suppressed, the victim must submit verification such as police reports, court documentation or other documentation from a law enforcement agency. The documentation must show that they have reasonable cause to believe they are a victim of stalking. Release of a suppressed record must be authorized by the victim or the DMV. Records will be suppressed for one year. The time may be extended if the victim submits verification that he or she continues to have reasonable cause to believe they are being stalked. (California Vehicle Code 1808.21, 1808.22)
As of January 1996, in accordance with the California Public Records Act, state and local law enforcement agencies cannot disclose specified information regarding a victim of stalking, including the victim’s address. If the victim is a minor, the parents or guardians may request to have the victim’s name withheld. (California Government Code 6254) When stalking occurs in the workplace, an employer can request a temporary restraining order or an injunction on behalf of the employee who is a victim of stalking. (California Code of Civil Procedure 527.8)
Currently, there are few federal laws that deal directly with stalking.
The Interstate Stalking Punishment and Prevention Act of 1996 punishes persons with a fine and/or imprisonment for crossing state lines “with the intent to injure or harass another person…or place that person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury…” (18 USC ß 2261A, 2261, 2262).
Two laws authorize grants for law enforcement agencies to develop programs addressing stalking and for states to improve the process for entering stalking-related data into local, state and national crime information databases such as the National Crime Information Center.(42 USC ßß 3796gg, 14031)
Another law requires a training program for judges to ensure that when they issue orders in stalking cases, they have all the available criminal history and other information from state and federal sources. (42 USC ß 14036)
As of September 1996, the Attorney General must compile and report data regarding stalking as part of the National Incident-Based Reporting System. (42 USC ß 14038)
The National Center for Victims of Crime has additional information on federal and state laws.
Tips for Stalking Victims
These tips will help you guard your personal information and lessen the chance that it will get into the hands of a stalker or harasser. However, some of these tips are extreme and should only be used if you are indeed being stalked. Harassment can take many forms, so this information may not be appropriate in every situation and may not resolve serious stalking problems.
1. Use a private post office box. Residential addresses of post office box holders are generally confidential. However, the U.S. Postal Service will release a residential address to any government agency, or to persons serving court papers. The Post Office only requires verification from an attorney that a case is pending. This information is easily counterfeited. Private companies, such as Mail Boxes Etc., are more strict and will require that the person making the request have an original copy of a subpoena. Use your private post office box address for all of your correspondence. Print it on your checks instead of your residential address. Instead of recording the address as “Box 123,” use “Apartment 123.”
2. File a change-of-address card with the U.S. Postal Service giving the private mailbox address. Send personal letters to friends, relatives and businesses giving them the new private mailbox address. Give true residential address only to the most trusted friends. Ask that they do not store this address in rolodexes or address books, which could be stolen.
3. Obtain an unpublished and unlisted phone number. The phone company lists names and numbers in directory assistance (411) and publishes them in the phone book. Make sure you delete your information from both places. Don’t print your phone number on your checks. Give out a work number when asked.
4. If your state has Caller ID, order Complete Blocking (called “Per Line” Blocking in other states). This ensures that your phone number is not disclosed when you make calls from your home. (California phone companies will to offer Caller ID June 1996. See PRC fact sheet 19 on Caller ID.)
5. Avoid calling 800, 888 and 900 number services. Your phone number could be “captured” by a service called Automatic Number Identification. It will also appear on the called party’s bill at the end of the month. If you do call 800 numbers, use a pay phone.
6. Have your name removed from any “reverse directories.” The entries in these directories are in numerical order by phone number or by address. These books allow anyone who has just one piece of information, such as a phone number, to find where you live. Reverse direct-ories are published by phone companies and direct marketers.
7. Let people know that information about you should be held in confidence. Tell your employer, co-workers, friends, family and neighbors of your situation. Alert them to be suspicious of people inquiring about your whereabouts or schedule.
8. Do not use your home address when you subscribe to magazines. In general, don’t use your residential address for anything that is mailed or shipped to you.
9. Avoid using your middle initial. Middle initials are often used to differentiate people with common names. For example, someone searching public records or credit report files might find several people with the name, Jane Doe. If you have a common name and want to blend in with the crowd, don’t add a middle initial.
10. When conducting business with a government agency, only fill in the required pieces of information. Certain government agency records are public record. Anyone can access the information you disclose to the agency within that record. Public records such as county assessor, county recorder, DMV and business licenses are especially valuable finding tools. Ask the agency if it allows address information to be confidential in certain situations. If possible, use a post office box and do not provide your middle initial, phone number or your Social Security number. If you own property or a car, you may want to consider alternative forms of ownership, such as a trust. This would shield your personal address from the public record. (For more information on “government records and privacy,” see PRC fact sheet number 11.)
11. Put your post office box on your driver’s license. Don’t show your license to just anyone. Your license has a lot of valuable information to a stalker.
12. Don’t put your name on the list of tenants on the front of your apartment building. Use a variation of your name that only your friends and family would recognize.
13. Be very protective of your Social Security number. It is the key to much of your personal information. Don’t pre-print the SSN on anything such as your checks. Only give it out if required to do so and ask why the requester needs it. The Social Security Administration may be willing to change your SSN. Contact the SSA for details. (See PRC fact sheet number 10 on “SSNs.”)
14. Alert the three credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and Trans Union–to your situation. Ask them to “flag” your record to avoid fraudulent access. (See PRC fact sheet number 6 on “credit reporting” for addresses and phone numbers. See also fact sheet number 17 on “identity theft.”)
15. If you are having a problem with harassing phone calls, put a beep tone on your line so callers think you are taping your calls. Use an answering machine to screen your calls, and put a “bluff message” on your machine to warn callers of possible taping or monitoring. Be aware of the legal restrictions on taping of conversations.
16. If you use electronic mail and other online computer services, change your e-mail address if necessary. Do not enter any personal information into online directories. (See PRC fact sheet number 18 on “privacy in cyberspace.”)
17. Keep a log of every stalking incident, plus names, dates and times of your contacts with law enforcement and others. Save phone message tapes and items sent in the mail.
18. Consider getting professional counseling and/or seeking help from a victims support group. They can help you deal with fear, anxiety and depression associated with being stalked.
19. Make a police report. Consider getting a restraining order if you have been physically threatened or feel that you are in danger. When filed with the court, a restraining order legally compels the harasser to stay away from you, or he/she can be arrested. Be aware that papers filed for a restraining order or police report may become public record. Put minimal amounts of information and only provide a post office box address. You should contact an attorney or legal aid office if a restraining order becomes necessary. (Note: Some security experts warn that restraining orders sometimes lead to violence. Before obtaining a restraining order, consider your options carefully.)
20. And these final tips from someone who was stalked for over three years: For your own protection, carry pepper spray. Get a car phone and/or a beeper. Carry a Polaroid or video camera. Never verify anything, like your home address, over the phone.
Security Recommendations For Stalking Victims
Be alert for any suspicious persons.
Positively identify callers before opening doors. Install a wide-angle viewer in all primary doors.
Install a porch light at a height that would discourage removal.
Install dead bolts on all outside doors. If you cannot account for all keys, change door locks. Secure spare keys. Place a dowel in sliding glass doors and all sliding windows.
Keep garage doors locked at all times. Use an electric garage door opener.
Install adequate outside lighting.
Trim shrubbery. Install locks on fence gates.
Keep fuse box locked. Have battery lanterns in residence.
Install a loud exterior alarm bell that can be manually activated in more than one location.
Maintain an unlisted phone number. Alert household members to unusual and wrong number calls. If such activity continues, notify local law enforcement agency.
Any written or telephone threat should be treated as legitimate and must be checked out. Notify the appropriate law enforcement agency.
All adult members of the household should be trained in the use of any firearm kept for protection. It should be stored out of reach of children.
Household staff should have a security check prior to employment and should be thoroughly briefed on security precautions. Strictly enforce a policy of the staff not discussing family matters or movement with anyone.
Be alert for any unusual packages, boxes, or devices on the premises. Do not disturb such objects.
Maintain all-purpose fire extinguishers in the residence and in the garage. Install a smoke detector system.
Tape emergency numbers on all phones.
When away from the residence for an evening, place lights and radio on a timer. For extended absences, arrange to have deliveries suspended.
Intruders will attempt to enter unlocked doors or windows without causing a disturbance. Keep doors and windows locked.
Prepare an evacuation plan. Brief household members on plan procedures. Provide ladders or rope for two-story residences.
A family dog is one of the least expensive but most effective alarm systems.
Know the whereabouts of all family members at all times.
Children should be accompanied to school or bus stops.
Routes taken and time spent walking should be varied.
Require identification of all repair & sales people prior to permitting entry into residence.
Always park in a secured garage if available.
Inform trusted neighbor regarding situation. Provide neighbor with photo or description of suspect and any possible vehicles.
Inform trusted neighbors of any anticipated extended vacations, business trips, etc.
During vacations, etc., have neighbors pick up mail and newspapers.
If residing in an apartment with on-site manager, provide the manager with a picture of the suspect. If in a secured condominium, provide information to the doorman or valet.
Central reception should handle visitors and packages.
Office staff should be alert for suspicious people, parcels, and packages that do not belong in the area.
Establish key and lock control. If keys possessed by terminated employees are not retrieved, change the locks.
Park in secured area if at all possible.
Have your name removed from any reserved parking area.
If there is an on-site security director, make him/her aware of the situation. Provide him/her with suspect information.
Have secretary or co-worker screen calls if necessary.
Have a secretary or security personnel screen all incoming mail (personal) or fan letters.
Be alert to anyone possibly following you from work.
Do not accept any package unless you personally ordered an item.
Remove home address on personal checks and business cards.
Place real property in a trust, and list utilities under the name of the trust.
Utilize a private mailbox service to receive all personal mail.
File for confidential voter status or register to vote utilizing mailbox address.
Destroy discarded mail.
Phone lines can be installed in a location other than the person’s residence and call-forwarded to the residence.
Place residence rental agreements in another person’s name.
The person’s name should not appear on service or delivery orders to the residence.
Do not obtain a mailbox with the United States Post Office.
Mailbox address now becomes the person’s official address on all records and in all rolodexes. It may be necessary or more convenient to list the mailbox as “Suite 123” or “Apartment #123” rather than “Box 123”.
File a change of address card with the Post Office giving the mailbox address as the person’s new address. Send postcards [rather than U.S. Post Change of Address cards] to friends, businesses, etc., giving the mailbox address and requesting that they remove the old address from their files and rolodexes.
All current creditors should be given a change of address card to the mailbox address. (Some credit reporting agencies will remove past addresses from credit histories if a request is made. We recommend this be done.)
File a change of address with the DMV to reflect the person’s new mailbox address. Get a new driver’s license with the new address on it.
Park vehicles in well-lit areas. Do not patronize parking lots where car doors must be left unlocked and keys surrendered; otherwise surrender only the ignition key. Allow items to be placed in or removed from the trunk only in your presence.
When parked in the residence garage, turn the garage light on and lock the vehicle and garage door.
Equip the gas tank with a locking gas cap. The hood-locking device must be controlled from inside the vehicle.
Visually check the front and rear passenger compartments before entering the vehicle.
Select a reliable service station for vehicle service.
Keep doors locked while vehicle is in use.
Be alert for vehicles that appear to be following you.
When traveling by vehicle, plan ahead. Know the locations of police stations, fire departments, and busy shopping centers.
Use a different schedule and route of travel each day. If followed, drive to a police station, fire department, or busy shopping center. Sound the horn to attract attention.
Do not stop to assist stranded motorist. (Phone in.)
Ten most common mistakes that stalking victims make: The following list is from the book Understanding-and Surviving-America’s Stalking Epidemic by Linden Gross
Not listening to your intuition. You need to keep your internal radar tuned to pick up signals that something might be wrong.
Letting someone down easy, instead of saying a definitive NO if you’re not interested in a relationship. Trying to be nice can lead a potentially obsessive suitor to hear what he or she wants instead of the message that you’re not interested.
Ignoring the early warning signs that annoying attention might escalate into dangerous harassment and pursuit.
Responding to a stalker in any way, shape, or form. That means not acceding to your stalkers demands even once he or she has introduced threats.
Trying to reason or bargain with a stalker. Stalking is like a long rape.
Seeking a restraining or protective order. All too often, this one act propels stalkers to act violently. Still tempted to get that piece of paper?
Expecting police to solve your problem and make it go away. Victims have to take 100 percent responsibility for their dealing with the situation.
Taking inadequate privacy and safety precautions.
Neglecting to enlist the support of family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, therapists and other victims. It may be tough to admit that you’re being stalked, but it’s not your fault. Learn how to gather the people who will constitute your first line of defense.
Ignoring their emotional needs during and after a stalking.
For More Information
To obtain a guide for stalking victims, write or call the National Center for Victims of Crime 2111 Wilson Blvd. Ste. 300, Arlington, VA 22201 Phone: (800) FYI-CALL or (703) 276-2880 Web: www.ncvc.org
The National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) is a nonprofit referral center. Contact them at: NOVA 1757 Park Rd. N.W. Washington, D.C. 20010 Phone: (202) 232-6682 Hotline: (800) 879-6682 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.trynova.org
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