Are You Being Stalked? Tips For Protection
By: the National Center for Victims of Crime
What Is Stalking?
Stalking refers to harassing or threatening behavior that is engaged in repeatedly. Such harassment can be either physical stalking or cyberstalking.
• Physical stalking is following someone, appearing at a person’s home or place of business, making harassing phone calls, leaving written messages or objects, or vandalizing one’s property.
• Cyberstalking involves using the Internet or other electronic means to harass.
Either type of action may or may not be accompanied by a credible threat of serious harm. But both types can cause psychological damage, and each can potentially lead to an assault or even murder.
All states have anti-stalking laws, but the legal definitions vary. Some state laws require that the perpetrator, to qualify as a stalker, make a credible threat of violence against the victim. Others require only that the stalker’s conduct constitute an implied threat. The model anti-stalking code developed by the National Institute of Justice doesn’t require stalkers to make a credible threat, but it does require victims to feel a high level of fear.
Who Is Affected?
The landmark “Stalking in America” study by U.S. Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control concluded that eight percent of women and two percent of men have been stalked at some point in their lives. Researchers estimated that about one million women and 400,000 men are stalked each year in the United States. (“Stalking in America,” www.ncjrs.gov/txtfiles/169592.txt. See also “Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: From the National Violence Against Women Survey,” www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/172837.pdf, both released in 1998.)
Most victims know their stalker. Women are significantly more likely to be stalked by an intimate partner — a current or former spouse, a co-habiting partner, or a date. Only 23 percent of stalkers identified by female victims were strangers. Currently or formerly battered women have the greatest risk of being stalked.
Young adults are the primary targets. Seventy-four percent of victims are 18-39 years old when the stalking started. About 87 percent of the stalkers were men. Overt threats were made against 45 percent of victims. In most cases, stalking episodes lasted one year or less.
About one-third of victims report they have sought psychological treatment, and one-fifth lost time from work. Thirteen percent of female victims and nine percent of male victims report that their stalkers were criminally prosecuted.
Stalking first received widespread public focus in 1980 with the murder of John Lennon, and again in 1981 with John Hinckley Jr.’s assassination attempt on President Reagan. But it was not until the 1989 death of Rebecca Schaeffer, a rising young actress killed by an obsessed fan who’d stalked her for two years, that laws were enacted.
Such high-profile cases raised the public's awareness of 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.
California was the first state to pass an anti-stalking law in 1990 in response to the stalking and murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer. Now, all states have anti-stalking laws. See www.ncsl.org/programs/lis/CIP/stalk99.htm
In recent years stalkers have seized on the anonymity of the Internet to commit their crimes. This has added a new dimension because many victims of cyberstalking don’t know the identity of the stalkers. That can make the fear more palpable and prosecution more unlikely.
The fact that cyberstalking doesn’t involve physical contact doesn’t mean it is any less dangerous than “real life” stalking. It’s not difficult for an experienced Internet user to find enough of the victim’s personal information, such as phone number or place of business, to establish his or her physical location.
The reality is that any type of stalking can lead to a physical attack if the situation is not properly dealt with as soon as possible.
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, www.leginfo.ca.gov)
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. (California Vehicle Code 1808.21, 1808.22)
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 § 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 §§ 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 § 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 § 14038)
• A 2006 expansion of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), originally passed in 2004, adds a cyberstalking provision to the law originally passed to protect women from domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The new version creates criminal penalties for anonymous emails and VoiP (voice over the Internet) calls sent with the intent to “annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person.”
• The National Center for Victims of Crime has additional information on federal and state laws at its web site: http://www.ncvc.org/law/issues/Stalking/stalking_frames.htm
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.
See also the Supplement to this fact sheet, “Security Recommendations for Stalking Victims,” provided by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Threat Management Unit. www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs14a-stalking.htm
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 generally stricter and will require that the person making the request have an original copy of a subpoena.
Be sure to get a private mailbox that is at least two ZIP codes away from your residence. 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." If you must use a traditional home mailbox, make sure it has a lock.
2. Do not file a change of address with the U.S. Postal Service. 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 that could be stolen.
3. Sign up for your state's address confidentiality program . Nearly half the states offer a no-cost mail-forwarding program that enables victims of domestic violence and stalking to protect their residential address. A few states limit the program to just the driver’s license or solely voter records. For a list, visit: www.sos.state.ok.us/acp/confidentiality_programs.htm
4. 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. Do not print your phone number on your checks. Give out a work number or use an alternate number such as a voice mail number when asked – that is, a message-only number that is used solely for receiving recorded messages from callers.
5. 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. (See PRC Fact Sheet 19 on Caller ID, www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs19-cid.htm .)
6. Avoid calling toll-free 800, 866, 888, 877 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 toll-free 800 numbers, use a pay phone.
7. 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 directories are published by phone companies and direct marketers.
Contact the major directories and request that you be removed from their listings:
• Haines Criss+Cross Directory, Attn: Director of Data Processing, 8050 Freedom Ave. N.W. , North Canton, OH 44720.
By phone: Call (800) 843-8452 and ask for extension 312.
• Equifax Direct Marketing Solutions (formerly Polk):
By mail: Equifax Direct Marketing Solutions, Attn: List Suppression File, 26955 Northwestern Hwy., South Field, MI 48034.
Include your name, address, ZIP code and phone number.
By phone: (888) 567-8688
8. 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. If you have a photograph or description of the stalker and vehicle, show a photo or describe the person to your neighbors, co-workers, friends, family and neighbors.
9. 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.
9a. Do not accept packages at work or home unless they were personally ordered by you.
10. 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, do not add a middle initial. In fact, consider using your first initial and last name only in as many situations as you can.
11. When conducting business with a government agency,only fill in the required pieces of information. Certain government agency records are public. Anyone can access the information you disclose to the agency within that record. Public records such as those held by a county assessor, county recorder, registrar of voters, or state motor vehicles department (DMV) are especially valuable to a stalker, as are business licenses.
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 11, www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs11-pub.htm .)
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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 10 on SSNs, www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs10-ssn.htm .)
15. Alert the three credit bureaus--Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. Put a fraud alert on your credit reports to avoid fraudulent access. (See PRC Fact Sheet 17a on identity theft for information on establishing fraud alerts, www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17a.htm .)
16. 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.
If you have harassing or threatening messages left on your answering machine, tape record them in case you need them as evidence for a restraining order or in filing a police report. (See PRC Fact Sheet 3 on harassing phone calls, www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs3-hrs2.htm . See also PRC Fact Sheet 9 on wiretapping and eavesdropping, www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs9-wrtp.htm . The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers a 50-state guide to laws regarding taping phone calls, www.rcfp.org/taping .)
17. If you are a victim of cyberstalking, act promptly and firmly to defuse the situation. Take potential threats seriously. Very clearly tell that person to stop, saying something like, “Do not contact me in any way in the future.” Sometimes it is helpful to copy your “stop” message to the abuse department of the harasser’s Internet service provider. (If you have trouble determining that ISP, contact www.Cyberangels.org or www.Haltabuse.org .)
Do not respond to any further messages from the harasser nor have anyone else contact the harasser on your behalf. Change your e-mail address if necessary. Do not enter any personal information into online directories.
See cyberstalking resources at the end of this guide and the PRC's Fact Sheet 18 on online privacy, www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs18-cyb.htm .
For a list of state cyberstalking laws, see National Conference of State Legislatures, www.ncsl.org/programs/lis/CIP/stalk99.htm .
18. Keep a log of every stalking incident. Building such a paper trail can make a successful prosecution more likely. Examples of evidence that may help build a case include: Caller ID records, logs of phone calls, copies of threatening letters, items sent to you in the mail, pictures of injuries, or even photos of the stalker outside your home. Plus, maintain a list of names, dates and times of your contacts with law enforcement.
19. 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.
20. Make a police report. Consider getting a restraining order if you have been physically threatened or feel that you are in danger. Study your state’s stalking law to gain a clear understanding of what conduct constitutes an offense under the statute. You should contact an attorney or legal aid office if a restraining order becomes necessary.
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 on such documents and provide only a post office box address.
Note: Some security experts warn that restraining orders sometimes lead to violence. Before obtaining a restraining order, consider your options carefully.
21. Be cautious about applying for a domain name. If you use your name as a Web site domain name (for example, www.janedoe.com), it will be relatively simple for potential stalkers to locate your physical address because that information is available in the domain-name databases.
22. Develop a safety plan. Remember, even restraining orders do not always prevent stalking from escalating into violence. Make sure friends, neighbors, and co-workers know about your situation. Show them photos of the stalker. Keep handy the phone numbers of assisting agencies. Set up easy access to a reserve set of money, credit cards, medication, important papers, keys, and other valuables in case you need to leave quickly. Have a safe place in mind that you can go in an emergency. Try not to travel alone. Always vary your routes. Carry a cell phone with you.
23. And these final tips from someone who was stalked for over three years: For your own protection, carry pepper spray. Get a mobile phone and/or beeper. Carry a digital or video camera. Never verify anything like your home address over the phone.
For More Information
• To obtain a guide for stalking victims, write or call the National Center for Victims of Crime
2000 M St. NW, Ste. 480
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: (202) 467-8700
• National Domestic Violence Hotline
The NDVH helps victims find safe houses.
• Working to Halt Online Abuse, www.haltabuse.org
• Wired Safety, www.wiredsafety.org/cyberstalking_harassment/index.html
• Cyberangels, www.cyberangels.org