Stalking is an objectionable and unwanted behavior of an individual towards others. Stalking exists since the beginning of human history but recently it has been categorized as a crime in various countries. A number of people may not consider stalking as a crime or serious problem but reality is different and it causes various problems and harassments for others. Stalking does not create problems for individuals only but it presents various challenges for law enforcement agencies and legal system. The problem has become more complicated as stalking has widened its area from physical stalking to cyber stalking. This paper intends to discuss stalking and discusses how stalking causes problem for others along with examining its challenges for police and legal system.
Staking was not considered as a crime until recent years and people did not take instances of stalking seriously. A common notion about stalking among people was that stalking is related to higher class people only. One of the first incidents of stalking came into light when Rebecca Schaeffer, a famous actress was murdered by a stalker in the year 1989. Stalking was taken into account and categorized as a crime by policy makers when incidents of stalking increased abruptly and people started complaining about incidents of stalking. Stalking affect various aspects of victims’ behavior. Stalkers compel victims to change schedule of their personal and professional activities (Baum, 2011).
Stalking affects the behavior and psychology of people who are stalked regularly. It has been observed that stalking causes a series of consequences and people become seriously sick due to threat perceptions of stalking. Anxiety, sleeplessness and behavioral changes are some very common consequences of stalking. A number of incidents suggest that Victims are afraid of stalked regularly and they slip into depression. Stalking may compel victims to take extreme steps and incidents suggest that people have attempted to suicides due to constant stalking by stalkers.
Stalking: Definition and Legal provisions
There is not a legal definition of stalking but there are many statutes that recognize stalking as a crime and makes penal provisions for this act. Stalking is now considered as a separate and serious crime in many countries. Section 2A (3) of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997recongnizes following acts as Stalking:-
“(a) following a person,(b) contacting, or attempting to contact, a person by any means,(c) publishing any statement or other material relating or purporting to relate to a person, or purporting to originate from a person,(d) monitoring the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication,(e) loitering in any place (whether public or private),(f) interfering with any property in the possession of a person,(g) watching or spying on a person” (Devenney and Johnson, 2013, p 229).
Californian penal code describes stalking and proposes penal provision for stalking. Section 646.9. (a) reads as,
“Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or willfully and maliciously harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family is guilty of the crime of stalking, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment, or by imprisonment in the state prison” (Bevans, 2014, p 211).
Physical and Cyber Stalking
Stalking usually affects women but there are several incidents that suggest that men are also victim of stalking. Stalking of school and college going was very common in earlier times. Stalkers used to stalk and follow girls while going to school and colleges. Passing lecherous comments was a part of stalking. Stalkers also used to target women while going to their offices, markets or other places. Single women or girls were favorite targets of stalkers. Stalking leads to other crimes and molestation is at the top of them.
Stalkers stalk people due to various reasons and gender plays a very significant role in the issue of stalking. Weller et al. (2012) in their study found that in a majority of incidents, stalkers were somehow known to the victim. They were either an ex-partners who were divorced or living separately from their partners or otherwise known to victims. Various research reports suggest that incidents of stranger stalking are very low, and in maximum incidents of stalking, people are involved who are somehow known to victims (Weller et al., 2012).
With the change of time, stalking also has been changed. Internet has become the new terminus of stalkers. With the emergence of social media and various social networking sites, the internet has emerged as a paradise for stalkers. Stalkers do not need to reveal their identity and they can stalk their favorite targets from any part of the world. With the emergence of internet and social networking sites, incidents of stalking have increased enormously and the problem has become graver for law enforcement and judicial system.
Today people spend enormous time on internet. They spend time on various social networking sites including Facebook, twitter, Instagram and various other sites. Users share their personal data on these sites and also share various moments of their personal and social life on these sites. Sharing picture of personal and professional life on Facebook and other sites has become a trend for social media users. Stalkers keep a close eye on these crucial information of their targets and they start harassing them in different ways (Pittaro, 2007).
Stalking affects individuals, police and the judicial system in various negative ways. Individuals are directly affected by stalking while police and legal system face new challenges due to increase in incidents of stalking. There are various types of stalking and on one hand, stalking affects behavior, personal, professional and social life of stalking victims while on other hand, it affects society in a larger context. Police and legal system are also affected by the increasing incidents of stalking in a substantial manner.
Police and Legal System on Stalking
After categorization of stalking as a crime, many people have file complaints of stalking before the police. Police probes the complaints and if these complaints are right, proper actions are taken. It has been observed in various cases that people also file false complaints against people they want to set their score. Police receive a number of frivolous complaints of stalking every year and present the accused before the courts to decide. Probing the incidents of stalking is a challenging task because of ambiguous nature of crime.
Police or other law enforcement agencies receive a number of complaints of stalking and threatening on the internet. Internet is limitless while police has jurisdictional and other limits. Police cannot easily probe a matter if someone is sitting in Ethiopia and stalking or threatening an American citizen. There are several cases of threats and stalking where stalkers are out of reach and police is unable to take actions against them. Police becomes helpless in such situation and when they fail in solving complains, they are criticized by people as well as higher authorities and the judiciary (Weller et al., 2012).
Our legal system also faces a complex situation in the cases of stalking whether it is the case of physical stalking or cyber stalking. In cases of stalking, it is difficult to prove for the prosecution that the accused has stalked the victim or not. It has been observed that people make frivolous complaints against others to set personal and professional scores. A number of false complaints are made of stalking by people when they are denied promotions or other favors. These allegations are made to harass accused or teach them lessons for not favoring complainants. Deciding such cases becomes difficult for courts and sometimes even false decisions are made (Baum, 2011).
Like police, it is very complex for courts to decide cases of cyber stalking. Courts cannot punish anybody unless he or she appears before a court of law. Cyber stalking is a complex issue sand if the person has appeared before the court, it is not difficult to decide cases and punish stalkers on the basis of evidences and witnesses. But, in cases where accused is from other countries, it becomes difficult for courts to decide such cases. The basic reason is that courts have jurisdictional limits.
Necessary steps to prevent stalking
There has been exemplary awareness among people on the issue of stalking and they have been raising their voices against incidents of stalking. Police and legal system also considers incidents of stalking on a serious note. There are certain steps that are required to be taken in order to eliminate incidents of stalking from the society. People of our society need to be more sensitized on the issue of stalking. Police and legal system should play a more active role in probing and solving cases of stalking (Ashworth et al., 2013).
A coordination and mutual understanding is required among different nations on the issue of cyber-crimes. Governments should cooperate and work together to ensure that not a single criminal or stalker remains unpunished who commits offences on the internet. If governments are ready to cooperate, all crimes of stalking and threatening will be solved. Criminals will think twice before stalking anybody. All these steps are necessary in order to make a stalking free society (Ashworth et al., 2013).
Having observed an overview and succinct analysis of the abovementioned subject, the paper concludes that stalking is one of complicated problems that causes problems and harassments to individuals. Stalking creates various complicacies for individuals, police as well as the legal system. Stalking is not new in our society and incidents of stalking have been occurring since a long time. It is only awareness that has increased in recent times and stalking has been categorized as an act of crime. The problem of stalking has become more complicated due to emergence of cyber stalking. Cyber stalking is a much complicated problem and it becomes difficult for police to trace stalkers. Internet is the easiest and the most powerful tool of stalkers. Monitoring internet has become inevitable and all the required steps should be taken by the law enforcement agencies in order to stop stalking while individuals should also take all necessary precautions to rescue themselves from stalkers.
Ashworth, A., Zedner, L., and Tomlin, P. (2013). Prevention and the Limits of the Criminal Law . New York: Oxford University Press.
Baum, K. (2011). Stalking victimization in the United States. Washington, DC: DIANE Publishing.
Bevans, N. (2014). Criminal Law and Procedure for the Paralegal. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
Devenney, J., and Johnson, H. (2013). Contract, Tort and Restitution 2012-2013. New York: Routledge.
Pittaro, M. L. (2007). Cyber stalking: An Analysis of Online Harassment and Intimidation. International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 1(2), 180–197.
Weller, M., Hope, L., and Sheridan, L. (2012). Police and public perceptions of stalking: the role of prior victim–offender relationship. Journal of interpersonal violence.