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Stalking: What Does it Take for Prosecutors to Hold Stalking Offenders Accountable?

NCJ Number
Date Published
8 pages

This brief provides an overview of prosecutorial decision-making in cases that involve the stalking of an intimate partner.


The study defines “stalking” as “a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would make a reasonable person fear for the safety of themselves or others.” Anti-stalking laws exist in all 50 U.S. states, territories, and tribal and military codes. This brief focuses on a study that examined prosecutorial decision making in stalking cases based on a dataset of 268 arrests and non-arrests for domestic violence (DV) and stalking reported by the Rhode Island law enforcement agencies between 2001 and 2005. The study focused on 1) the victim, offender, and situational case characteristics that influenced the prosecutor’s decision to accept or reject stalking cases; and 2) the case characteristics that influenced prosecutors to charge a defendant with stalking rather than another DV-related offense. The strongest predictor of the prosecutor’s decision to accept a stalking case for prosecution was the alleged victim’s demeanor. Cases in which the victim was fearful were four times more likely to be accepted for prosecution. Also, cases in which the stalking behaviors occurred in public were three times more likely to be accepted for prosecution. The study’s overall conclusion is that stalking cases are likely to be prosecuted when the offenders’ behavior terrorizes the victim and jeopardizes the safety of the community. Based on these findings, this study recommends questions that both law enforcement investigators and prosecutors should pose in making investigative and prosecutorial decisions in allegations of stalking. Suggestions are offered for additional research on this issue. A suggested resource is the Stalking, Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC).

Date Published: January 1, 2020