Academic journal article Social Work

Stalking: Terrorism at Our Doors-How Social Workers Can Help Victims Fight Back

Academic journal article Social Work

Stalking: Terrorism at Our Doors-How Social Workers Can Help Victims Fight Back

Article excerpt

Stalking is a devastating crime that irrevocably changes the lives of its victims. Victims report that they never again feel the same level of security and trust. Exacerbating the effects of stalking is the tendency for courts, law enforcement, social workers, and even victims to minimize and dismiss this problem. Most do not recognize the serious nature of stalking, which can place victims in physical and psychological danger. Stalking is not a new phenomenon despite the recent media attention given to the subject. It is also not a rare problem, as many believe. The organization, Survivors of Stalking, in Tampa, Florida, reports receiving approximately 30,000 telephone calls per month from stalking victims from across the country (Orion, 1997). The Annual Report to Congress on Domestic Violence, Stalking and Antistalking Legislation, under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 stated that there were 20,000 to 200,000 victims of stalking. Research shows that approximately 8 percent of all women and 3 percent of all men will be victims of stalking at some time in their lives. An additional 13 percent of victims are former employers of their stalkers (Antistalking Legislation, 1992; Rowley, 1997).

Using census data, researchers estimate that approximately 10 million Americans have been stalked at least once during their lives (Rowley, 1997). There are approximately 200,000 admitted stalkers in the United States today, and most suffer from some form of mental illness (Antistalking Legislation, 1992).

Stalking is defined as "non-consensual communication, and/or harassment of another person." (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 1996). It includes a threat that can be either direct or implied, and victims must feel fear for their safety (National Criminal Justice Association, 1993). Stalking is always about power and control. Stalkers control the time, type, amount, and place of contact. Even if stalkers had prior egalitarian relationships with their victims, the relationship is now changed. The balance of power has shifted toward the stalkers. This realization is traumatic for victims and often leads to a cluster of problems marked by intense fear and depression (Orion, 1997; Wright, 2000).

Stalking involves a pattern of harassment that can last for many years and tends to escalate over time in both intensity and frequency (Hall, 1998; Orion, 1997). No matter what the motivation for stalking, the behaviors are the same. Behaviors include, but are not limited to, repeated following; repeated telephone calls and hang-ups; letters; unwanted gifts and packages; going through and stealing mail; spreading harmful gossip about the victims; breaking-and-entering that can include vandalism, theft, or even simply rearranging objects so that victims know the stalker was there. Other behaviors listed by victims include stealing underwear; going through their garbage; harassing and hurting others involved with the victims; hurting, killing, or stealing nets: physical and sexual assault; arson; kidnapping; obtaining items and services in the victim's name; and sending threatening items, including dead flowers, soiled underwear, and semen-stained clothes. In addition, they may enlist friends or associates to help them stalk or have their associates speak with friends of the victims to obtain information (Hall; Orion).

In response to the problems of stalking, antistalking laws were enacted that make stalking bot a misdemeanor and a felony. The first antistalkin law was passed in California in 1991. Since that time, every state in the United States has adopted antistalking laws, and federal statutes were enacted in 1996 under the Interstate Anti-Stalking Punishment and Prevention Act of 1996 (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 1996; Saunders, 1998). Federal statutes are used to protect victims who are stalked across state lines (Bureau of Justice Assistance). Despite the widespread adoption of antistalking legislation, many are unaware that stalking is a crime and what behaviors constitute stalking (Saunders). …

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