Unveiling Shadows: Shedding Light on Stalking During Stalking Awareness Month

As we observe National Stalking Awareness Month in January, it is crucial to shed light on the pervasive and often misunderstood issue of stalking. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) underscores its prevalence, with approximately 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men experiencing stalking in their lives. While most incidents occur in adulthood, the survey exposes alarming statistics, revealing that a significant percentage of victims were stalked during their youth (approximately 24% of female victims and 19% of male victims). Stalking is a deeply distressing and invasive behavior that can leave victims feeling trapped, vulnerable, and isolated. This blog will delve into various aspects of stalking, including myths and facts, criminal prosecution, the impact on victims, and the psychology of the stalker. This month is dedicated to raising awareness, dispelling myths, and fostering a supportive community for those who have experienced stalking.

What is Stalking?

Stalking is defined as a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other behavior directed at a specific person, causing them to feel threatened, fearful, or harassed. This can manifest in various forms, including cyberstalking, following, unwanted communication, and even property damage. Stalking is not limited to a single gender, age group, or socioeconomic background. It can happen to anyone, anywhere.

Myths vs. Facts

To combat the stigma and misinformation surrounding stalking, it’s essential to address common myths:

Myth: Stalking only occurs in romantic relationships.

Fact: Stalking can happen in various contexts, including acquaintances, colleagues, or even strangers.

 Myth: Stalking is just annoying behavior.

Fact: Stalking is a criminal offense that can escalate into violence, causing severe emotional and psychological harm to the victim.

 Myth: Stalking only happens in person.

Fact: With the rise of technology, cyberstalking has become a prevalent and equally damaging form of harassment.

Stalking is A Criminal Act: A Brief Look at Nevada Law

In simple terms, the Nevada state statute NRS 200.575 deals with the crime of stalking and outlines the definitions and penalties associated with it.

Key definitions in the statute include:

  • “Stalking”: A person who, without lawful authority, willfully or maliciously engages in a course of conduct directed towards a victim that would cause a reasonable person under similar circumstances to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, harassed or fearful for his or her immediate safety or the immediate safety of a family or household member, and that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, harassed or fearful for his or her immediate safety or the immediate safety of a family or household member, commits the crime of stalking.
  • “Course of conduct”: A pattern of behavior directed at a specific person over time.
  • “Without lawful authority”: Acts initiated or continued without the victim’s consent, excluding protected or authorized acts under constitutional or statutory law.

For a first offense, stalking is classified as a misdemeanor, while subsequent offenses are considered gross misdemeanors. If the stalker threatens the person with the intent to cause fear of death or substantial bodily harm, it becomes aggravated stalking, punishable as a category B felony with imprisonment for a minimum of 2 years and a maximum of 15 years, plus a fine of up to $5,000. Additional provisions address stalking involving victims under the age of 16. For a first offense, it is a gross misdemeanor, a second offense is a category C felony, and any subsequent offense is a category B felony, carrying more severe penalties. The statute emphasizes that the criminal penalties mentioned can be imposed in addition to any penalties for other related offenses or contempt of court arising from the same conduct.

If the stalking occurs within the state’s jurisdiction, the offender may be prosecuted in that state. In cases where the victim has ongoing, reasonable fear of physical harm, the court may include this finding in the judgment of conviction, prohibiting the convicted person from owning firearms and mandating the surrender, sale, or transfer of existing firearms. Violation of these provisions is a category B felony, punishable by imprisonment for 1 to 6 years and a fine of up to $5,000. The victim is not prevented from seeking other legal remedies.

Using the internet or similar means to stalk, publish, display, or distribute information that substantially increases the risk of harm results in a category C felony. The statute acknowledges exceptions, such as protected activities like picketing during a labor dispute, journalistic activities, lawful employment-related activities, and actions in exercise of constitutionally protected rights of freedom of speech and assembly. The statute was added to the Nevada Revised Statutes in 1993 and has undergone amendments since then. Stalking Awareness Month serves as a powerful reminder that stalking is a serious crime that demands our attention and collective action. If you live in a different state and would like to understand your state’s laws, you can search for them here.

The Impact of Stalking on Victims

Stalking can have severe consequences on the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of the victim. Constant fear, anxiety, and paranoia can become a daily struggle, affecting one’s ability to work, socialize, and enjoy life. Recognizing the signs of stalking and seeking support are crucial steps toward breaking the cycle and reclaiming a sense of security. Being stalked can have severe and lasting psychological impacts on the victim. The experience is not only distressing but also can be traumatic, leading to a range of emotional and psychological consequences. Here are some of the potential psychological impacts of being stalked:

Fear and Anxiety: Victims often live in constant fear and anxiety, fearing for their safety and the safety of their loved ones. The persistent feeling of being watched or followed can lead to heightened states of vigilance and hypervigilance.

Emotional Distress: Stalking can result in significant emotional distress, including feelings of helplessness, vulnerability, and powerlessness. Victims may experience intense sadness, depression, or feelings of isolation.

Impact on Relationships: Stalking can strain relationships as victims may become more withdrawn, distrusting, or preoccupied with the stalking situation. Intimate relationships may suffer due to the stress and strain imposed by the constant threat.

Sleep Disturbances: The ongoing fear and anxiety associated with stalking can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to insomnia or nightmares. Sleep disturbances can further contribute to fatigue and a sense of being overwhelmed.

Social Isolation: Stalking victims may withdraw from social activities and isolate themselves to avoid potential encounters with the stalker. Fear of putting others at risk or involving them in the situation can contribute to social withdrawal.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Stalking can meet the criteria for trauma, and some victims may develop symptoms of PTSD, including flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts related to the stalking.

Loss of Control: The loss of personal space and the feeling of being constantly monitored can lead to a profound sense of loss of control over one’s life.

Physical Symptoms: The stress from being stalked can manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and other stress-related ailments.

Impact on Work and Daily Functioning: Stalking can interfere with a person’s ability to concentrate, work, or engage in daily activities, affecting their overall functioning.

It’s crucial for stalking victims to seek support from mental health professionals, law enforcement, and support groups. Understanding the psychological impacts of stalking is essential for providing practical support and interventions to help victims cope with and recover from these traumatic experiences.

Psychology of A Stalker

The psychology of a stalker is complex and can vary based on individual motivations and characteristics. As previously mentioned, stalking is generally considered a pattern of repeated, intrusive, and unwanted behaviors directed at a specific person, causing the target to feel threatened or fearful. Stalkers often exhibit certain psychological traits, but it’s important to note that not all stalkers fit the same profile, and motivations can differ. Here are some common psychological factors associated with different types of stalkers:

Rejection and Obsession: Some stalkers are motivated by a perceived rejection or abandonment by the target. They may have an obsessive desire to regain control or maintain a connection with the person who rejected them.

Intimacy Deficits: Stalkers may have difficulties forming and maintaining healthy relationships. Their stalking behavior may be an attempt to establish a connection with someone they believe will fulfill their emotional needs.

Narcissism and Entitlement: Certain stalkers display narcissistic traits and a sense of entitlement. They believe they have the right to the attention and affection of the person they are stalking.

Delusional Beliefs: Some stalkers have delusional beliefs about their relationship with the target, often imagining a romantic connection or an intense personal bond that doesn’t exist.

Anger and Hostility: Stalkers may harbor feelings of anger, resentment, or hostility towards the target. Stalking becomes a way to express and externalize these negative emotions.

Mental Health Issues: Stalking behavior can be associated with certain mental health disorders, such as personality disorders, mood disorders, or psychosis. In some cases, untreated mental health issues contribute to the development of stalking behaviors. 

Fixation and Preoccupation: Stalkers often become fixated on their target, constantly thinking about them and focusing on every aspect of their life. This preoccupation can lead to an unhealthy and intrusive obsession.

Control and Dominance: Stalkers may seek a sense of control and dominance over the target. The act of stalking becomes a means of exerting power and influence over the other person. 

Lack of Empathy: Stalkers may lack empathy for the distress and fear they cause their victims. Their actions are often driven by their own desires and needs without consideration for the well-being of the person being stalked.

Social Skills Deficits: Some stalkers may struggle with social situations and with appropriate social behavior. Stalking may be an attempt to establish a connection without effective social skills.

It’s important to recognize that stalking is a serious criminal behavior, and individuals who experience stalking should seek help from law enforcement and mental health professionals. Understanding the underlying psychological factors can aid in developing effective intervention and prevention strategies.

Preventing and Responding to Stalking

Addressing and navigating instances of stalking is crucial for personal safety. Below is some practical information on how to respond to stalking.

  1. Trust your instincts: If you feel uncomfortable or threatened, take it seriously.
  2. Document incidents: Keep a record of all instances, including dates, times, locations, and descriptions of the stalking behaviors.
  3. Seek support: Reach out to friends, family, and professionals who can provide emotional support and guidance.
  4. Report to authorities: If you believe you are a victim of stalking, report it to law enforcement promptly.
  5. Use technology wisely: Be cautious about sharing personal information online and utilize privacy settings on social media platforms. 

Stalking Awareness Month encourages everyone to play a role in creating a culture of awareness, empathy, and support. By breaking the silence, dispelling myths, and fostering open conversations, we can work together to eradicate stalking and create a world where everyone feels safe and secure.

References

Basile KC, Arias I, Desai S, & Thompson MP. (2004). The differential association of intimate partner, physical, sexual, psychological, and stalking violence and posttraumatic stress symptoms in a nationally representative sample of women. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 17(5), 413-421.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2023). Fast Facts: Preventing Stalking. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/stalking/fastfact.html#:~:text=The%20National%20Intimate%20Partner%20and%20Sexual%20Violence%20Survey%20(NISVS)%20reports,reported%20being%20stalked%20as%20minors.

Davis K, Coker A, Sanderson M. (2002). Physical and mental health effects of being stalked for men and women. Violence Vict., 17(4):429–43.

Logan T, Walker R. (2010). Toward a deeper understanding of the harms caused by partner stalking. Violence Vict., 25(4):440-55.

Morris M, Bailey B, Ruiz E. (2020). Pain in the acute aftermath of stalking: associations with posttraumatic stress symptoms, depressive symptoms, and posttraumatic cognitions. Violence Against Women. 26(11): 1343-61.

Mullen, P, Pathc, M, Purcell, R, & Stuart, G. (1999). Study of Stalkers. The American Journal of Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.156.8.1244

Smith SG, Basile KC, & Kresnow M. (2022). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2016/2017 Report on Stalking [4 MB, 32 Pages]. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury

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