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Strengthening Antistalking Statutes

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2002
7 pages
Publication Series
This document describes antistalking statutes.
Stalking is a crime of intimidation. Stalkers harass and even terrorize through conduct that causes fear or substantial emotional distress in their victims. Although stalking behavior has been around for many years, it has been identified as a crime only within the past decade. Most laws at the State level were passed between 1991 and 1992. Significant variation exists among State stalking laws. These differences relate primarily to the type of repeated behavior that is prohibited, whether a threat is required as part of stalking, the reaction of the victim to the stalking, and the intent of the stalker. Most States have broad definitions of the type of repeated behavior that is prohibited, using terms such as “harassing,” “communicating,” and “nonconsensual contact.” Most States currently define stalking to include implied threats or specify that threats can be part of the pattern of harassing behavior. Stalking is defined in part by a victim’s reaction. Many States have revised their statutes to make stalking a “general intent” crime, rather than requiring proof that the defendant intended to cause a reaction on the part of the victim. Exceptions made under the State stalking laws include certain behaviors commonly described as “constitutionally protected activity.” Many State codes include an offense of aggravated stalking or define stalking offenses in the first and second degrees. Most of the cases challenging the constitutionality of stalking laws focus on one of two questions: whether the statute is over-broad or whether it is unconstitutionally vague. At least one State has grappled with the question of whether a person can be charged with attempted stalking. Current issues under consideration are cyberstalking, bail restrictions, and lifetime protection orders. As more is learned about effective response to stalkers, laws will continue to evolve. 57 notes

Date Published: January 1, 2002