I try to start each day by combing the news for articles relevant to the work of my office. I thought I’d begin my comments by sharing a few of the stories I came across recently:
In Park Ridge, IL, a 31-year-old man was arrested and charged with cyber stalking. According to police, he sent more than 1,000 social media or text messages to the victim, some of which were inappropriate. He would also call the woman from her backyard and ask her to look outside while partially clothed, police said. Officers made an arrest the same day as the complaint.
In Cleveland, OH after ignoring several warnings from police, an 18-year-old man was charged with both felony and misdemeanor crimes for stalking his ex-girlfriend. The man repeatedly called and sent text messages to the 17-year-old girl. He also went to a home where she was babysitting and tried to force his way into the home. Both attend the same high school.
Athens-Clarke, GA police arrested a man for aggravated stalking after he tried to kick in the door of his victim’s residence in a housing project where he had been banned for two years, according to a police report. A police officer handling the case noted in the report that he will ask a judge to keep the suspect in jail until his court date because of his unwillingness to stay away from the victim.
Stalking is a complex crime that is often missed, misunderstood, and underestimated. Results of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), found that, conservatively, 6.6 million U.S. citizens were stalked in a year and that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men were stalked at some point in their lives. For those of you unfamiliar with this study or the alarming rates of stalking perpetration, I’ll review a few more facts. Although anyone can be a victim of stalking, females are nearly three times more likely to be stalked than males, and young adults have the highest rates of stalking victimization. For the overwhelming majority of victims, the stalker is someone known to them — an acquaintance, a family member, or, most often, a current or former intimate partner. The NISVS report also confirmed what law enforcement, prosecutors, victim service providers, and other professionals have been hearing from victims for years — that most stalking cases involve some form of technology.
These realities indicate that stalking is a serious issue for every community across the United States that requires a multidisciplinary approach – Fortunately, many of the agencies that are needed to appropriately address and respond to the crime of stalking are represented on this panel today.
We all know that stalking victims often require a broad range of services. A multidisciplinary approach encourages faster customized responses from the most appropriate providers. This, in turn, helps to improve the investigation and prosecution of cases, as well as victim safety. Community resources that may be necessary to address stalking include:
• law enforcement and the courts,
• victim advocacy organizations,
• mental health treatment providers,
• housing associations,
• local businesses and employers,
• telephone and internet service providers,
• schools and colleges,
• faith-based organizations, and
• domestic violence shelters.
The Department of Justice has focused on strengthening the criminal justice response to stalking through its implementation of the Violence Against Women Act. Since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, we have made significant strides in enhancing the criminal justice system’s response to stalking. Today, stalking is a crime under Federal law and under the laws of all 50 states, the U.S. territories, the District of Columbia, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
At the Office on Violence Against Women or OVW, we know that stalking is often a precursor to other forms of violence, including rape, sexual assault, and homicide. We have made stalking one of our four priority areas (the others being domestic violence, sexual assault, and dating violence). Because stalking can be challenging to recognize, OVW saw a pressing need to do more to train law enforcement, prosecutors, parole/probation officers, and victim service providers to recognize stalking, to aggressively investigate and prosecute cases, and to work to ensure victim safety and support.
To meet this need, in 2000 we launched a partnership with the National Center for Victims of Crime’s Stalking Resource Center (SRC) – and that partnership is ongoing. Their work has been phenomenal and critical for the field. Their training and technical assistance has aided many thousands and the “STALKING: KNOW IT. NAME IT. STOP IT.” awareness campaign has helped to maintain an ongoing dialogue, increase recognition of stalking as an important issue, and provide resources to those in need.
OVW and the Stalking Resource Center felt this forum would be an appropriate place to introduce a series of tip sheets we’ve developed for specific audiences including law enforcement, prosecution, and victim services. We have copies of these one-pagers at this event, and we will post them on the SRC and OVW web sites. We will also work with OVW’s stakeholders and national partners to distribute these to our constituents nationally. I want to thank the SRC publicly for this latest example of our very productive and proactive partnership.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to recognize DC’s Office of Victim Services for their pioneering work in this area. I look to DC as an example of coordination and collaboration and hope that communities across the country that have not deliberately tackled this issue will follow DC’s lead. I’m going to let the panel tell the story of how they got to where they are today and their charge in addressing, deterring, and one day we hope PREVENTING the crime of stalking.
We know the serious toll that stalking can take on the victims — emotionally, psychologically, physically, financially — every aspect of their lives can be impacted and jeopardized. But stalking does not impact the victims alone. Their families, neighbors, friends, and indeed their entire communities can feel the negative impacts of their experience. That is why we all must come together and be resolute in our commitment to ending this crime. If we are going to prevent stalking, we first have to put it on the nation’s radar. The stakeholders that I mentioned earlier need to be better educated about how to appropriately deter or respond to this crime and help protect potential victims.
I stand proudly with the SRC, DC’s Office of Victim Services, the esteemed panel members, every person in the room who took time out of your busy schedules to attend this important event, and the President himself in recognizing January as National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM). As the first President to proclaim January as NSAM, I’ll close with a quote from President Obama: “Though stalking can occur in any community, shame, fear of retribution, or concerns that they will not be supported lead many victims to forego reporting the crime to the police. As we strive to reverse this trend, we must do more to promote public awareness and support for survivors of stalking.”