Stalking

Florida Statutes define stalking as:
Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another person commits the offense of stalking. This is a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by a maximum fine of $1000.00 and or 1 year in jail.

Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another, and makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in fear of death or bodily injury, has committed the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree, punishable by a maximum fine of $5000.00 and/or 5 years in state prison.

To “harass” means to engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress in such person and serves no legitimate purpose.

The term “stalking” is commonly used to describe specific kinds of behavior directed at a particular person, such as harassing or threatening another person. Virtually any unwanted contact between a stalker and their victim which directly or indirectly communicates a threat or places the victim in fear can generally be referred to as stalking.

A recent study by the National Institute of Justice found that stalking was far more prevalent than anyone had imagined. The report found 8% of American women and 2% of American men will be stalked in their lifetimes. The majority of stalkers had been in relationships with their victims. However, significant percentages had never met their victims, or were acquaintances, neighbors, friends or co-workers.

Stalking is not new. What is new is that, until recently it was not seen as a distinctly separate crime. Previously, stalking was referred to as harassment, annoyance or, in some cases, simply as domestic violence. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, numerous high-profile cases involving celebrities began to catch the attention of the media. With the release of films such as Fatal Attraction, Cape Fear, and Sleeping with the Enemy and coverage by the news media, “stalking” has become a household word.

Stalkers tend to fall into two distinct categories.Simple obsession stalkers are distinguished by the fact that a personal or romantic relationship existed between the stalker and the victim before the stalking behavior began. Simple Obsession Stalkers represent the second category and comprise 70 -80 percent of all stalking cases. While this kind of stalker may or may not have psychological disorders, all clearly have personality disorders.The Love obsession stalkers fixates on a casual acquaintance or a person unknown to the perpetrator. This type of stalker is often seen when celebrities are stalking victims.

Unfortunately, there is no single psychological or behavioral profile for stalkers. Every stalker is different. This makes it virtually impossible to devise a single effective strategy that can be applied to every situation. It is vital that victims of stalking immediately seek the advice of local victim advocates and law enforcement who can help to devise a safety plan and work to halt the harassment. Any persons who suspect or believe that they are currently being stalked should report all contacts and incidents to their local law enforcement authorities.

Personality Traits and Behavioral Characteristics of Stalkers:

Socially maladjusted and inept;

Emotionally immature;

Often subject to feelings of powerlessness;

Unable to succeed in relationships by socially-acceptable means;

Jealous, bordering on paranoid; and

Extremely insecure about themselves and suffering from low self-esteem.

Just as with most domestic violence cases, stalkers are the most dangerous when they are first deprived of their source of power and self-esteem; in other words, the time when their victims determine to physically remove themselves from the offender’s presence on a permanent basis by leaving the relationship. Stalking cases that emerge from domestic violence situations constitute the most common and potentially lethal class of stalking cases.

How Do I File a Complaint Under Florida’s Stalking Statute?

Contact your local law enforcement agency to report a suspected stalker. You will need to provide dates and times of specific behaviors in order to establish the pattern of harassing activity. This will establish “probable cause” the stalker engaged in conduct that is illegal under Florida’s stalking law. If a law enforcement official does not witness such conduct first-hand, it may be up to the victim to provide the evidence necessary. Documentation of stalking should be saved and given to law enforcement. Documentation of the actions of the stalker may be useful in future complaints, for evidentiary or to establish credibility. Documentation may take the form of photos of destroyed property, photos of any injuries inflicted on the victim by the perpetrator, answering machine messages saved on tape, letters or notes written by the perpetrator. A victim should keep a written log of any crimes or suspicious activities committed by the stalker.

What Can I Do?

While a stalking victim may not be in imminent danger, the potential always exists. Making a contingency plan may help. Suggested items to include in such a plan are:

Take all threats seriously.

Travel with others or inform a friend of your departure and expected arrival times.

Report all suspicious activity to law enforcement.

Keep notes, answering machine tapes or other items that document the stalkers actions.

Alert critical people, who may be useful in formulating a contingency plan, such as: law enforcement, employers, family, friends, or neighbors, and security personnel.

Preventive Measures

Install solid core doors with dead bolts on all exterior doors of your home.

Install adequate outside lighting.

Trim back bushes and vegetation around residence.

Maintain an unlisted phone number.

Notify local law enforcement, but also keep a written log of harassing calls and any answering machine tapes of calls with the stalker’s voice and messages.

Treat any threats as legitimate and inform law enforcement immediately.

Vary travel routes, stores and restaurants, etc., which are regularly used. Limit time walking, jogging, alone etc.

Inform a trusted neighbor or coworker about the situation. Provide them with a photo or description of the suspect and any possible vehicles he/she may drive.

If residing in an apartment with an on-site property manager, provide the manager with a picture of the suspect.

Have co-workers screen all calls and visitors.

For assistance with this crime or ant other occurring on campus contact the University Police Department at 329-1111 or 911 for emergencies. The Department’s Victim Advocate is also available 24 hours a day and can assist with dealing with a stalker.

For further information on this or others safety topics please contact the University of Florida Police Department’s Community Services Division at 392-1409.