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What Is Stalking?

Stalking Can Escalate into Violence

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Stalker spying on woman at front door
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Stalking refers to repeated harassing or threatening behavior by an individual, such as following a person, appearing at a person's home or place of business, making harassing phone calls, leaving written messages or objects, or vandalizing a person's property, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime (OVC).

Any unwanted contact between two people that directly or indirectly communicates a threat or places the victim in fear can be considered stalking, but the actual legal definition of stalking varies from state to state according to each state's laws.

According to the OVC's brochure "Stalking Victimization," anyone can be a stalker, just as anyone can be a stalking victim. The brochure points out:

Stalking is a crime that can touch anyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, geographic location, or personal associations. Most stalkers are young to middle-aged men with above-average intelligence.

Unfortunately, there is no single psychological or behavioral profile for stalkers. Every stalker is different. This makes it virtually impossible to devise a single effective strategy that can be applied to every situation. It is vital that stalking victims immediately seek the advice of local victim specialists who can work with them to devise a safety plan for their unique situation and circumstances.

Some stalkers develop an obsession for another person with whom they have no personal relationship. When the victim does not respond as the stalker hopes, the stalker may attempt to force the victim to comply by use of threats and intimidation. When threats and intimidation fail, some stalkers turn to violence.

Stalking Can Become Violent

The most prevalent type of stalking case involves some previous personal or romantic relationship between the stalker and the victim. This includes domestic violence cases and relationships in which there is no history of violence. In these cases, stalkers try to control every aspect of their victims' lives.

The victim becomes the stalker's source of self-esteem, and the loss of the relationship becomes the stalker's greatest fear. This dynamic makes a stalker dangerous. Stalking cases that emerge from domestic violence situations, however, are the most lethal type of stalking.

The stalker may attempt to renew the relationship by sending flowers, gifts, and love letters. When the victim spurns these unwelcome advances, the stalker often turns to intimidation. Attempts at intimidation typically begin in the form of an unjustified and inappropriate intrusion into the victim's life.

The intrusions become more frequent over time. This harassing behavior often escalates to direct or indirect threats. Unfortunately, cases that reach this level of seriousness often end in violence.

Source: Office for the Victims of Crime

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