January 31, 2011
For stalking are many. They include the desire for contact and control, obsession, jealousy, and anger and stem from the real or imagined relationship between the victim and the stalker. The stalker may feel intense attraction or extreme hatred. Many stalkers stop their activity when confronted by police intervention, but some do not. The more troublesome stalker may exhibit a personality disorder, such as obsessive-compulsive behavior, which leads him to devote an inordinate amount of time to writing notes and letters to the intended target, tracking the victim’s movements, or traveling in an attempt to achieve an encounter.
The potentially dangerous consequences and the terrifying helplessness victims experienced led to calls for legislation criminalizing stalking. California enacted the first anti-stalking law in 1990. Eventually, all 50 states and the District of Columbia passed legislation that addresses the problem of stalking. Initially these laws varied widely, containing provisions that made the laws virtually unenforceable due to ambiguities and the dual requirements to show specific criminal intent and a credible threat. Many states have amended these stalking statutes to broaden definitions, refine wording, stiffen penalties, and emphasize the suspect’s pattern of activity.
In most states, to charge and convict a defendant of stalking, several elements must be proved Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. These elements include a course of conduct or behavior, the presence of threats, and the criminal intent to cause fear in the victim.
A course of conduct is a series of acts that, viewed collectively, present a pattern of behavior. Some states stipulate the requisite number of acts, with several requiring the stalker to commit two or more acts. States designate as stalking a variety of acts, ranging from specifically defined actions, such as nonconsensual communication or lying in wait, to more general types of action, such as harassment.