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What Do Professionals Need to Know?

Criminal Justice

Overview of the Issue

Stalking
What is Stalking?

In simplest terms, stalking is the unwanted pursuit of another person. By its nature, stalking is not a one-time event. The individual's actions must be considered in connection with other actions to determine if someone is being stalked. It includes repeated harassing or threatening behavior toward another person, whether that person is a total stranger, slight acquaintance, current or former intimate partner, or anyone else.

Stalking is also:
  • A terrorizing crime with no real identified beginning and seemingly no end;
  • A crime that can cause tremendous fear without the slightest physical injury;
  • A behavior with a high correlation to physical and sexual violence
  • A crime that can be lethal; and
  • A very effective tactic of control for domestic violence abusers.

Some Common Stalking behaviors

Stalking behaviors can include any behaviors if they have no reasonable legitimate purpose, depending upon the context in which they are done. The acts committed are limited only by the stalker's creativity, access, and resources.

Stalkers' common behaviors include:
  • Following, monitoring, surveillance of victim and/or victim's family, friends, co-workers;
  • Disorderly conduct offenses;
  • Criminal mischief, larceny, robbery, burglary, trespass, loitering;
  • Forgery or criminal impersonation;
  • Abusing or killing pet or other animal;
  • Repeated threatening communications or attempts to communicate, especially after being clearly informed to stop;
  • Violation of any order of protection;
  • Crossing jurisdictions/borders to stalk/commit offenses;
  • Kidnapping victim or children or threatening to do so; and/or
  • Threats of suicide or homicide.
Intimate Partner Stalkers

When stalking is identified, it is generally true that:

  • The duration of a relationship prior to the identified stalking makes it more likely that the stalkers are choosing to use their behaviors in order to gain (or regain) power and control over their victims.
  • The great majority are male perpetrators targeting female victims.
  • The less of a relationship between stalker and target that occurred prior to the stalking, it is more likely that the stalker will be delusional and/or mentally disturbed.
Risks Increase When Current or Former Intimate Partner Is Stalking
  • Studies show increased fatality risk by stalker
  • Stalker already has extensive and intimate knowledge of victim and routines (history, social or family contacts, daily routines, employer, co-workers, neighbors, children, pets)
  • Stalker already knows victim's hopes and fears (so easier to exploit them)
  • Stalker can make it look like there are "legitimate" reasons for the behavior
  • Stalker has opportunity for regular contact with victim through children's activities, court dates, family, mutual friends, work, school, etc.
  • Especially increased risk if stalker has access to weapons
  • Can have increased risk of kidnapping children
Impact on Victims

Stalking can have a devastating impact on victims, including:

  • Continuous intense stress or anxiety; hyper-vigilance and/or all consuming fear
  • Feeling vulnerable, out of control, guilt and/or self-blame
  • Disruption of everyday living routines (self-isolation, move to new home or work location, change phone number and/or other contact information, change identity)
  • Anger, rage, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, failure to concentrate, and/or short-term memory loss
  • Somatic responses (nightmares, sleeping habits, eating disorders)
  • Loss of work productivity
  • Loss of trust in police and criminal justice system
What can be done if stalking is identified?
  • Take it seriously - stalking is correlated with violent physical behavior.
  • Encourage the victim to talk to - an advocate, law enforcement, or another professional that can help.
  • Suggest that the victim think about how to stay safe in different settings or situation, e.g., at home or away, with or without children.
  • Encourage the victim to keep records of the stalker's activities

Any safety plan should validate and support victims without blaming them or holding them responsible.

New York State Stalking Law

Current New York stalking law (established in 1999) focuses on the state of mind of the stalking victim and the reasonable fear that the stalker's behavior is likely to cause the victim.

  • Stalker need not intend fear, rather, a reasonable person should expect this behavior to make someone fearful.
  • The victim need not experience actual fear, rather, would a reasonable person have been made fearful, based on history, context, etc.?
  • There are four counts of stalking under NYS Penal Law, of varying degrees of severity depending on the stalker's behavior.
Current NYS Stalking Laws
What is cyberstalking?

Cyberstalking means using technology to stalk. Cyberstalkers need not be in physical proximity to their targets, and are capable of remaining anonymous or enlisting the help of others to stalk their prey. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, the term cyberstalking is “generally used to refer to the use of the Internet, e-mail, or other telecommunication technologies to harass or stalk another person. It is not the mere annoyance of unsolicited e-mail. It is methodical, deliberate, and persistent.”

Ready Access
The fact that cyberstalking does not involve physical contact may create the misperception that it is less threatening or dangerous than physical stalking. Cyberstalking is just as frightening and potentially dangerous as a stalker at the victim’s front door. The psychological torment is very real, even in the absence of a distinct physical threat.

The only thing a cyberstalker needs is access to a computer and a modem in order to obtain information about and access to a potential victim. Internet users are most vulnerable in chat or Internet relay chat lines, message boards or newsgroups, through personal email, and Instant Messaging. Additionally, the advent of “social networking” that has opened us up to more advanced abilities to communicate with very little limitation, and more real-time access to anyone, anywhere in the world, has brought about a whole new level of stalking tools for cyberstalkers through Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and similar forums full of personal and URL information.

Cyberstalkers may use the Internet initially to contact their victims, to send harassing, unwanted emails or messages. When told to cease such communications, cyberstalkers may escalate by harassing the victim in live chat rooms, posting degrading, identifying, or abusive information/material about the victim on websites, and/or soliciting unwanted, similarly threatening or harassing contact from others on behalf of the victim.

Domestic Violence and Cyberstalking
Typically, no one knows a domestic violence victim’s personal information better than the victim’s abuser. It is the abuser who knows the passwords to bank accounts, online memberships, work email and confidential files, medical records and information, etc. Simply typing in the victim’s password can deplete finances, ruin credit, commit her to various contractual obligations, threaten her work performance, and any number of additional forms of abuse that can range from annoying to life-threatening.
For More Information
  • To request technical assistance with policy development and training, contact opdvcriminaljustice@opdv.ny.gov
  • Contact the Office of Victim Services (OVS) for information on benefits available to victims of crime 1-800-247-8035, TTY: -888-289-9747,
  • Contact the NYS Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline.
    • 1-800-942-6906, English & español/Multi-language Accessibility. Deaf or Hard of Hearing: 711.
  • For national information, visit the Stalking Resource Center at the National Center for Victims of Crime.
  • Safety Net Project