San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has recognized January as National Stalking Awareness Month, a time to focus on a crime that affects more than three million victims a year.
This year’s theme, “Stalking: Know it. Name it. Stop it,” challenges San Diego County residents to combat this dangerous crime by learning more about it.
“Stalking is a crime in all 50 states and one that our office takes very seriously,” Dumanis said. “Many of these cases escalate with victims being seriously injured or even murdered by their stalker.”
The District Attorney established the Stalking Strike Force in 1994 to better serve citizens by focusing on the aggressive investigation and prosecution of stalkers before they harm their victims.
“If more people can recognize stalking, then we have a better chance of holding offenders accountable and keeping victims from being harmed,” said Stalking Unit Deputy District Attorney Rachel Solov.
Stalking is not new, but widespread recognition of stalking as a social and criminal justice concern is relatively recent. California enacted anti-stalking legislation in 1990, and in 1994 Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act.
Stalking cases are unique because they can involve behavior that can last for years. Victims are among the most emotionally traumatized because of the ongoing and threatening nature of the crime but are least likely to report the crime.
“Most victims don’t want to waste other people’s time, or are in denial,” said Solov. “These victims think the situation will just go away if ignored. However, they only escalate with time.”
“Alison” was stalked by her ex-boyfriend after she ended their month-and-a-half relationship because he harassed her family. After three months of threats, her stalker was arrested.
“It got to the point where I was under physical threat and had to be put under a 24/7 private investigator’s watch,” Alison recalled.
A common misconception is that only highly recognizable celebrities are stalked, but the majority of people stalked are ordinary citizens.
Stalkers threaten their victims in three different manners: direct threats, which are straightforward and explicit statements of an intention to commit harm; veiled threats, which are indirect, vague or subtle; and conditional threats, which are statements portending harm and specifying conditions to be met in order to avert the harm.
Alison’s stalker threatened her wellbeing and that of her family and would actually damage her property.
“I thought people like this only existed in scary movies,” she said.
A misconception about stalkers is that they target someone who they believe is in love with them. In truth, those suffering from this disorder, called erotomania, only make up 9.5 percent of stalkers.
About 47 percent of stalkers know the target as an ex-spouse, lover or boss, while 43 percent of stalkers are obsessed with strangers.
Even when victims see the danger and report the crime, stalking may be hard for authorities to recognize, investigate and prosecute.
Stalking may take many forms, such as assaults, threats, vandalism, burglary, animal abuse and unwanted cards, calls, gifts or visits.
Stalkers may use a range of devices, including computers, global positioning system devices and hidden cameras, to track their victims’ daily activities.
“These new technologies have made it easier for stalkers to follow someone, but it can be hard to prove,” said Solov. “Stalking can last for a long time and it can be difficult and frustrating to prove it is happening.”
Nationwide, one in 12 women and one in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetime. The average duration of a stalking situation is about two years.
Stalking victims are advised to call their local police agency first and file a report, but Solov recommends victims talk to a Strike Force advocate before taking drastic measures such as serving restraining orders, as they can escalate the situation and cause the stalker to become more aggressive.
For more information about National Stalking Awareness Month, go to http://www.stalkingawarenessmonth.org.
For information on San Diego Stalking Strike Force, go to http://www.sdcda.org/protecting/stalking.php or call the Stalking Hotline at (619) 515-8900.
Those who feel they are being stalked may obtain assistance and support by calling the Stalking Hotline.
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