US stalking survey results alarming
3.4 million say they were victims; legal changes urged
The largest snapshot of stalking ever done in the U.S. revealed an estimated 3.4 million victims – most of them women – who often lived with the terror of not knowing what would happen next.
The federal report underscored what experts and advocates have long argued but had trouble pinning down with hard numbers.
The report prompted calls for reforms and increased public awareness.
Even though every state has adopted an anti-stalking law, the crime is rarely prosecuted, experts say. Victims’ advocates say many states, including Illinois, need to strengthen their laws, provide new protections and better train police and prosecutors on how to respond to the problem.
Among other shortcomings of the law, victims cannot get an order of protection against a stalker unless he or she is a former intimate partner or household member, experts said.
Experts say that stalking can be one of the more dangerous outgrowths of domestic violence because the abuser refuses to let go.
Roughly one-third of victims identified in the 2006 federal study had been romantically involved with the offender at some point. Other studies have found that many victims of intimate homicide had been stalked by their attacker. “Stalking is a huge component of how abusers continue to abuse their victims,” said Jacqueline Ferguson of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
While researchers don’t have cause to believe that stalking is increasing, the report shows that the crime has become more sophisticated because of advances in technology. One in four victims said the stalker used e-mail, GPS devices and other cyber-technology to contact or track them. “There’s now this whole new realm of stalking,” said Katrina Baum, one of the report’s authors.
An estimated 3.4 million people 18 or older were victims of stalking in a 12-month period in 2005 and 2006, according to the report.
The Justice Department’s survey of more than 65,000—a supplement to its annual National Crime Victimization Survey—defined stalking as occurring if someone had experienced one of more of seven harassing behaviors in the past year. These included receiving unwanted calls, letters or e-mails and being spied upon or followed.
People between ages 18 and 24 experienced the highest rates. Three out of four victims knew their offender in some way; only one in 10 was stalked by a stranger.
Some victims lost their job as a result of the stalking, according to the report. Others were forced to relocate.
A person commits stalking in Illinois when he or she follows another person or places the person under surveillance on at least two occasions, causing the victim to fear bodily harm. But proving a threat can be difficult, Smith said. “Our law is awkwardly written and probably antiquated,” she said.