Stalking is Serious

    Protect Yourself and Your Family

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    Anyone can be a victim of stalking, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or age. I think we all know that intellectually, but take a moment and ponder what that really means. It means no one is immune from being a potential stalking victim. Not you, not your spouse or significant other, not your kids. Learn what to do if you or a loved one is targeted.

    First, let’s define what we’re talking about here. Stalking is a term that is sometimes used a bit loosely, but it has a rather narrow legal definition. In Virginia, stalking is defined as acting toward another person so as to place that person in reasonable fear of death, criminal sexual assault, or bodily injury. It also applies if the act is directed at the target person’s immediate family. A person can be found guilty of stalking if the intent was to cause that kind of fear, but the crime also applies when the alleged stalker should have known that the behavior would elicit that kind of a fearful response.

    The punishment for stalking gets more serious as more offenses are committed, and a guilty verdict also means that the stalker will be judicially prohibited from contacting the victim or the victim’s family or household members.

    So, what to do if you or a loved one is at risk? Take action. Assert your rights.

    If you are afraid for your immediate safety, call 9-1-1. If you are in your car, they may have you drive to the nearest police station. And don’t be embarrassed or shy about asking for help from law enforcement. They are there to help protect our safety.

    Tell the police. If you are the victim of stalking, report what happened to the police. Request a warrant for the arrest of the stalker each time you note that the law has been broken. Only one half of all stalking cases are reported by the victims to the police. Reporting is the fastest and most effective way of getting the help you Need, so don’t hesitate to turn to the authorities for help.

    If a warrant is issued, file for a protective order (also known as a restraining order), which is a court order that instructs the stalker to stay away from you. If the stalker is a family member or lives in your household, you’ll need to contact the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.

    Write it all down. Keep meticulous records of what has happened, including names, dates, details of the event, where it occurred, and who was present. Save phone records and any paperwork supplied by the police. Keep a paper trail.

    Call the Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-838-8238. They have a lot of resources. Make use of them.

    Tell people. Tell your mom, your friends, your supervisor at work, your neighbors, and people at any school you or a family member attends. Be sure to request that everyone keep your private information confidential and report any suspicious activity to you and the police, as appropriate.

    Most importantly, know that you have rights, and the authorities are there to help. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, one in every fourteen women is victimized by stalking during her lifetime, and one in every fifty men is stalked as well. That means at some point in your life, at the very least you will most likely know someone who is being stalked. Helping someone take the steps listed above can hopefully prevent a situation from resulting in even more harm.

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    Kelly Hall
    Kelly Hall, Esq., is a full-time mom and part-time attorney. She practices law in Richmond.