Stalking is defined as a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. This is not a legal definition of stalking, but rather a working definition.
Harassment involves annoying behavior, while stalking involves behavior that would make a reasonable person feel fear. The difference between stalking and harassment is FEAR.
You’ll notice that this definition does not address the intent of the stalker to cause fear, rather the impact of the behavior on the victim. This should make sense intuitively – most often if you were to ask a stalker if s/he intended to cause fear in their victim, what do you think their response would be?
Stalking is often comprised of behaviors that in and of themselves are not criminal behavior – making phone calls, leaving messages, sending emails or text messages, showing up outside your dorm or classroom, posting on a social networking site, etc. It is when viewed in the full pattern of behavior, or course of conduct, that these behaviors constitute the crime of stalking.
Stalking is much more common that most people think. The problem is extensive – 3.4 million people are stalked annually. Persons aged 18-24 experienced the highest rates of stalking victimization. Nearly half experienced at least 1 unwanted contact per week.* Females are nearly 3 times more likely to experience stalking than males but a growing number of males are reporting stalking victimization.*
It is also important to know that most stalking victims know their offender – current or former intimate partner, friend/roommate/neighbor, acquaintances, someone from school or work. Only 10% of victims are stalked by a stranger.
*Stalking Victimization in the United States, Bureau of Justice, 2009. We thank the Stalking Resource Center for permission to reproduce much of the content used for this section on stalking.
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