When you hear the word stalking, the first thing to come to your mind may be the high profile cases where celebrities have people peering through their windows, breaking into their homes, or just some crazy person snooping around watching their every move. Although this is true, a person who is separated from a spouse or in a relationship where their partner shows up randomly and unwanted at sporting events, play dates, a friend’s home or their job and receives outrageous amounts of phone calls and texts may also be the victim of a stalker as well.

Although the word stalking is often times used jokingly and in casual conversations, it is a crime in all 50 states.  January has been designated as National Stalking Awareness Month in an effort to bring awareness and educate people about this crime that affects an estimate of 6.6 million people a year in the United States, according to The National Center for Victims of Crime.

The National Center for Victims of Crime defines stalking as “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”

Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-277.3A, stalking is defined as two or more acts including but not limited to, acts in which the stalker directly, indirectly, or through third parties, by any action, method, device, or means, is in the presence of, or follows, monitors, observes, surveils, threatens, or communicates to or about a person, or interferes with a person’s property.

(2) Harasses or harassment. -- Knowing conduct, including written or printed communication or transmission, telephone, cellular, or other wireless telephonic communication, facsimile transmission, pager messages or transmissions, answering machine or voice mail messages or transmissions, and electronic mail messages or other computerized or electronic transmissions directed at a specific person that torments, terrorizes, or terrifies that person and that serves no legitimate purpose.

(3) Reasonable person. -- A reasonable person in the victim’s circumstances.

(4) Substantial emotional distress. -- Significant mental suffering or distress that may, but does not necessarily, require medical or other professional treatment or counseling.

Offense. -- A defendant is guilty of stalking if the defendant willfully on more than one occasion harasses another person without legal purpose or willfully engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person without legal purpose and the defendant knows or should know that the harassment or the course of conduct would cause a reasonable person to do any of the following:

(1) Fear for the person’s safety or the safety of the person’s immediate family or close personal associates.

(2) Suffer substantial emotional distress by placing that person in fear of death, bodily injury, or continued harassment.

A violation of this section is a Class A1 misdemeanor. A defendant convicted of a Class A1 misdemeanor under this section, who is sentenced to a community punishment, shall be placed on supervised probation in addition to any other punishment imposed by the court. A defendant who commits the offense of stalking after having been previously convicted of a stalking offense is guilty of a Class F felony. A defendant who commits the offense of stalking when there is a court order in effect prohibiting the conduct described under this section by the defendant against the victim is guilty of a Class H felony.

According to Article 120a , Uniformed Code of Military Justice, stalking is defined as a person who:

wrongfully engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear death or bodily harm including sexual assault, to himself or herself or member of his or her immediately family

who has knowledge or should have knowledge that the specific person will be placed in reasonable fear of death or bodily harm, including sexual assault, to himself or herself or member of his or her immediately family

who acts induce reasonable fear in the specific person of death or bodily harm, including sexual assault, to himself or herself or member of his or her immediately family; is guilty of stalking and shall be punished as a court-martial direct.

With a lot of misconceptions and varying definitions from one state to another, still there are some common behaviors associated with stalkers. These behaviors are:

making unwanted phone calls

sending unsolicited or unwanted letters or e-mails

following or spying on the victim

showing up at places without a legitimate reason

waiting at places for the victim

leaving unwanted items, presents, or flowers

posting information or spreading rumors about the victim on the internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth.

Robin Spann, Fort Bragg Victim Advocate Coordinator, said for our program we do not see stalking a great deal, but we do see it.

“When couples take out protective orders against each other, there are certain criteria that are put in the protective order stating that they are not to contact each other.  But we do see couples who do try to text each other, which is a violation of the protective order,” said Spann.

“At the early part of a relationship, for us working with victims of domestic violence, we tend to see that young couples do not see this type of behavior as inappropriate. They think it is cute that their partner wants to know that they are safe all the time and want to know where they are,” she said.  “Sometimes it is not about cuteness it is about having control.  As the relationship grows the partner begins to realize that this is not the norm. They then begin to say, ‘I will call you and let you know where I am, you do not need to put a tracking device on my phone.”

With the increase use of smart phones and social media, perpetrators do not have to work hard to keep an eye on their victims.

“If they [victim] are concerned about stalking, their use of social media is a key thing. Everything is about checking in, these days,” said Jeff Trevers, Sexual Assault Response coordinator for Garrison Command. “If you are friends with friends of your partner this allows them to share information with the perpetrator that they can use to inform the other partner of his/her whereabouts. Be limited and mindful of your use of social media because this is how people locate you easily.”

Fort Bragg’s Sexual Assault Prevention Response Program and Victim Advocates recommend that victims of sexual assault, rape and domestic violence as well as stalking victims have a safety plan in place for their safety and the safety of the their love ones.

Ashley Jones, Fort Bragg Victim Advocate recommends the following items for the safety plan:

Coming up with a code to share with a friend or someone that you trust that you can text in the event you are in a stalking situation

Stay calm is the offender comes around to avoid confrontation

Keep personal belongings in one location (i.e. purse, cell phone,  keys, wallet)

Stay in the living room area for easy access out the home

Avoid kitchen, bathroom, and garages to prevent a physical attack

Limit the number of friends who are aware of the situation

Open your own account (spare change for temporary hotel/lodging)

Keep clothes in your vehicle or friends house in the event that you have to leave home in an emergency situation

In previous years the education and awareness approach used by the Army focused on the victim. More recently the approach has changed to focus more on the perpetrator.

“With the old approach, the victim felt that they were being punished or that they just wanted the perpetrator to stop committing their actions.  In both domestic violence and the SARP program, as well as for stalking, we have found the perpetrator approach more useful,” said Jeff Trevers, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for Garrison Command. “Instead of saying these are things that constitute stalking; instead we now say if you are doing these types of behaviors you are a stalker.”