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~ Harassment and Stalking ~

Harassment and Stalking are fairly similar. They are BOTH Crimes. Both are unwanted activities, that can instil so much fear and stress it may restrict the victim from living a normal life.

The definition for harassment which allows you to get a restraining order is: "repeated, intrusive or unwanted acts, words or gestures that are intended to adversely affect the safety, security or privacy of another, regardless of the relationship between the actor (harasser) and the intended target."

Criminal harassment is defined as: "engag(ing) in intentional conduct which the actor (harasser) knows or has reason to know would cause the victim, under the circumstances, to feel frightened, threatened, oppressed, persecuted, or intimidated; and causes this reaction on the part of the victim.

The harasser does not have to intend for this behavior to produce feelings of fear or intimidation in the victim, only that the harasser has reason to know that this behavior would cause such feelings. The law now reflects the understanding that, regardless of the motivation for the conduct, it disrupts the victims life and may threaten the victims safety.

In 1990 California passed an anti-stalking law. Penal Code section 649.9 defines a stalker as an individual who: "willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows or harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury."

This law defines harassment as a "knowing and willful course of conduct (over time) directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys or harasses that person, and which serves no legitimate purpose."

A "credible threat" is a threat made "with the intent and the apparent ability to carry out that threat so as to cause the person who is the target of the threat to reasonably fear for his or her safety."

New York State has several laws that address stalking. Menacing: It is a crime to repeatedly follow someone, to display a weapon, or to behave in any menacing way that causes a person to fear injury or death.

Harassment: It is a crime to follow someone or to engage in any course of conduct that causes a person to fear injury. It is a crime to phone, fax, or write in order to harass, annoy, threaten, or alarm someone. It is also unlawful to strike, shove, kick, or in any way physically attack or threaten to attack someone, or otherwise alarm or seriously annoy a person with a course of conduct that serves no legitimate purpose.

Criminal Contempt: It is a crime to disobey an order of protection and it is a felony to physically injure someone in violation of an order of protection. Repeat convictions for menacing, harassment, or criminal contempt lead to more serious charges and stiffer sentences.

Violation of the anti-stalking law is punishable by between 5 and 20 years in jail, with longer jail sentences intended for perpetrators who permanently disfigure their victims or inflict life threatening injuries, and life imprisonment if the victim dies.

Coast to Coast this problem is at epidemic proportions, and the laws reflect that. So, why is it so common? Why does this happen to so many? The history of stalking behavior is as old as the history of relationships.

Stalking has always been with us but until recently, it wasn't labeled as a separate and distinct class of deviant behavior. Before it was said to be a crime, stalking was referred to as harassment, annoyance or in some cases, domestic violence.

Blockbuster movies such as "Fatal Attraction" "Cape Fear" and "Sleeping With the Enemy" and the medias coverage of them, have brought this issue out into the open and made "stalking" a houshold word. Movies... what about the real people who live with this terror, on a daily basis?

Stalking is not a gender specific crime, there are both male and female perpetrators and victims. Most stalkers are men. Statistics indicate that 75 - 80 percent of all reported stalking cases involve men stalking women. Most stalkers have above average intelligence and come from every walk of life and background. Virtually anyone can be a stalker, just as anyone can be their victim.

Stalking is a serious crime that involves the intentional, malicious, repeated following and harassment of a person, causing the person to fear for his or her safety. Stalkers try to obtain power and control over another person. They have an emotional obsession and resort to stalking as a way of maintaining contact with their victim. Most stalking cases involve people with a prior acquaintance or relationship.

A New York City study found that 58% of stalkers knew their victim, an additional 13% were intimate partners, 13% were celebrity stalking cases, 8% were strangers and the relationship was unknown in 8% of the cases studied.

Unfortunately, there is no single psychological or behavioral profile for stalkers. Many experts believe that every stalker is different, making it very difficult not only to categorize their behavior, but difficult to find effective strategies to cope with such behavior.

Forensic psychologists (those who study criminal behavior) are just beginning to examine the minds and motives of stalkers. These psychologists have identified two distinct categories of stalkers and stalking behavior "Love Obsession" and "Simple Obsession."

Love Obsession Stalkers are characterized by stalkers who develop a love obsession or fixation on another person with whom they have no personal relationship. The target may be only a casual acquaintance or even a complete stranger. This can include stalkers who victimize celebrities or regular people, like co-workers or even people they pass on the street.

The majority of love obsessional stalkers suffer from a mental disorder, often schizophrenia or paranoia and nearly all display some delusional thought patterns and behaviors. They retreat to a life of fantasy relationships with persons they hardly know, if they know them at all, because they cannot form more conventional relationships. They then attempt to live out their fantasy life in the real world, casting their victims into the lead role, which they expect them to play.

When the victim doesn't respond as the stalker hopes, they may attempt to force the victim to by use of threats and intimidation. If the threats and intimidation fail, some stalkers turn to violence. They will be part of their victims life in either a positive or negative way, as long as they feel they are part of it.

Simple Obsession Stalkers represent 70 - 80 percent of stalking cases. They have had some previous personal or romantic relationship before the stalking behavior began. All domestic violence cases involving stalking fall under this catagory, as do casual dating relationships.

This kind of stalker may or may not have psychological disorders, all clearly have personality disorders. Forensic psychologists have put some of the common personality traits and behavioral characteristics together as follows:

  • Socially maladjusted and inept.

  • Emotionally immature.

  • Often subject to feelings of powerlessness.

  • Unable to succeed in relationships by socially acceptable means.

  • Jealous, bordering on paranoid.

  • Extremely insecure about themselves and suffering from low self-esteem.

Often these stalkers boost their own self-esteem by dominating and intimidating their partners, exercising power over another gives them a sense of power in a world where they otherwise feel powerless.

In severe cases such personalities attempt to control every aspect of their partners life. The victim literally becomes the stalkers primary source of self-esteem, their greatest fear becomes the loss of this person. If they lose their victim, the stalker may feel their life is worthless. This is what makes the simple obsession stalkers so dangerous. These stalkers will literally stop at nothing to regain their lost possession, their partner, their property, so they can regain their lost self-esteem.

In domestic violence cases, they are most dangerous from the time their victims physically leave the relationship. These situations are the most common and can be the most lethal class of stalking, at a rate of 75% higher risk of being murdered by the abusive partner. Those statistics are as scary as they can get and makes it imperative to have in depth safety planning and the law behind you.

Traditional law enforcement activities are apprehending and prosecuting perpetrators after a crime has been committed. When police officers are presented with information and concern about a possible future crime, their responsibilities, authority, investigative tools and approaches are less clear.

This makes it extremely important for us to become responsible for our own safety, in a big way. Take ALL activities and threats from harassers or stalkers serious and report them immediately. Some who make threats ultimately pose threats, many who make threats do not pose threats, then again some people who pose threats never make threats.

Violence is a process, as well as an act. Careful analysis of violent incidents shows that violent acts often are the culmination of long developing, identifiable trails of problems, conflicts, disputes, failures and very often domestic violence or abuse.

Threatening situations are more likely to be successfully investigated if other agencies are used to help solve problems presented by any given case. Such as those employed by the prosecutors, courts, probation, corrections, social service, mental health agencies, employee assistance programs, victims assistance programs, and community groups. Fill out incident reports, file charges and document everything you possibly can. Ask for help from every agency available, demand help if need be, this is your well being, possibly your life we are talking about.

The reactions of most stalking victims can aggravate the problem and increase the likelihood of violence. Case after case reveals the same patterns. Victims often deny the problem, which puts them at a disadvantage. They try to bargain with their stalkers, which establishes the dangerous situation of allowing him to control their actions.

Anxiety sets in, never knowing when or where he will turn up or what he may do next, it consumes their minds. They start to become over-whelmed both mentally and emotionally. This will cause exhaustion, along with depression. Then the self-esteem starts to lower and the victims start to blame themselves. Eventually anger, so much anger that they'll do almost anything to get the stalker out of their life. Finally, they accept their situation and only then can they start to deal with the problem objectively.

As unfair as it seems, the stalking victim is the person whose behavior has to change, the stalker certainly will not change theirs. You can only change and control yourself. Most people don't like to hear this but, if you want to protect yourself and your loved ones, this is reality.

The critical question becomes, how do you navigate around this situation? Even with the police and legal systems involved, the victim will still be the one best able to protect themselves.

These steps will help you towards regaining control over victimization. Say no quickly. Letting someone down easy simply draws out the pain as well as the rejection process. Be direct and clear, even if it doesn't feel comfortable, or it may be interpreted as encouragement. Avoid giving reasons or explaining that you don't want this involvement. They will be heard different from what you meant. Examples are - Not yet (I'm changing my mind), Give me time (keep the pressure on), I'm not ready (you still want him but just don't know it yet), or Maybe (he must prove how much he loves you). Do not waiver, if they can sense that you are uncertain, they will believe that persistence is the key, then it's too late.

Allow them to maintain their dignity. Be firm but not patronizing or harsh. Act like you expect a reasonable response. Listen to what is really being said rather than what you want to hear. If someone says they love you too much, they are probably right.

The stalker may never resort to violence, but the unwanted attention will most likely cause you stress and grief at the very least. Whether you are dealing with a former partner, an aquaitance or a stranger, you need to play it safe and protect yourself, your family, your home and work place. Hopefully, many of these protection measures will already be in place before a problem arises.

Keeping yourself out of the stalkers reach should be your top priority. If a stalker doesn't know where you live, make sure it stays that way. Stop all communication with the stalker. Screen your calls and don't pick up the phone no matter how often he calls or what he says. If they have called you 50 times and you pick up the 51st time, you have taught him that it takes 51 calls to get your attention.

If you can afford it, do not change your number, get a second line instead and hook an answering machine up to the old number. This will allow the stalker to vent his frustrations on tape instead of on you. Every time he leaves a message, he also gets the message that you can resist his harassment. It can provide the best insight into the callers state of mind and any patterns of escalation. Plus, it is a perfect way to document harassing calls.

Minimize all chances for personal contact with him by varying your routines and the routes you take. If you do see him, don't react at all and definitely don't show him you are afraid, that is the exact reaction he wants.

Let reliable people around you know what is going on and have them keep on the look out. Describe the person and their vehicle, or better yet show a photo to family members, neighbors, co-workers, school officials, secretaries, receptionists, doormen, apartment managers, household staff and police.

Park in well lit and visible areas. If you are being followed while in your car head to the police station, fire department or any other busy place. Honk your horn to attract attention. Keep a cell phone with you, but be aware that the stalker could pick up your conversations with a scanner.

At home, you can have the police come and do a free security check, this is available in most areas. This is highly recommended, so there is nothing over looked.

At work, make sure all visitors and packages go through reception. If you have reserved parking areas, take your name off it. Inform any on-site security of the situation. Have someone screen all calls if necessary. Always leave work with others, to go to your car.

If you receive even ONE threat call the police or a threat assessment professional. Evaluate the threat, his character, motives and circumstances to judge if it is likely to be carried out. Take ALL threats seriously, but don't over-react to the stalker, that may cause your situation to escalate.

With whatever route you choose for your safety, do not neglect your emotional well-being. You will probably be under alot of stress and feel alone with this nightmare. There are many places to get support and encouragement. Counseling, close friends and or family, can make a huge difference for you, while dealing with these extremely, frustrating situations. Don't be embarassed or afraid to tell people and ask for help. This is your safety and your life, ask for help and get protection. It is always better to be safe, than take any risks.

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