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What is stalking?

Stalking is known to endanger celebrities. More commonly, however, stalkers can also can cause domestic violence and frighten their former spouse or anyone that was involved in an intimate relationship with them. The victim's attempts to end a relationship with the offender often precipitates stalking.

Stalkers inflict emotional distress by intensely following their victims. This usually occurs by driving, walking, watching the victim at their home or workplace, transmitting unwanted emails, engaging in online stalking, forwarding unwanted cards and letters, making unwelcomed phone calls, or sending unwanted gifts such as flowers.

Stalking victims often and wrongly blame themselves for causing the stalker's behavior. Statistics show that 59 percent of female victims and nearly one-third of male victims were stalked by intimate partners.

Stalking is a criminal offense in Pennsylvania when the stalker finishes a minimum of two unwanted stalking acts within any time period. The stalking victim must also suffer a reasonable fear of serious physical harm or significant emotional suffering.

Some measures may combat stalking. A protection from abuse order prohibits the offender to contact the victim and allows the police to apprehend a stalker even if they do not witness offensive behavior. A county court can issue these orders if the victim is or was married to the stalker, had children with the offender or was involved with an intimate sexual or dating relationship with the stalker. Additionally, the stalker followed or contacted the victim for no lawful reason and the victim fears serious injury.

Victims can also notify stalkers by letter that they should not contact them or be near their residence, where they work or their school. Proving that the stalker received this letter can aid a criminal prosecution. However, the letter should be carefully drafted so that the stalker does not receive information that could endanger the victim.

Finally, a county prosecutor can seek a victim/witness protective order if a criminal complaint was filed against the stalker. Although these order may be more difficult to obtain, it often expedites arrests. These orders remain in effect until the criminal prosecution for stalking is concluded.

Emotional distress, possible physical harm and legal complexities often face stalking victims. Prompt legal representation can help victims protect themselves, assure the safety of their families, and stop and impose legal consequences on stalkers.

Source: Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, "Stalking: Is it happening to you?" Accessed June 27, 2016

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