Suffolk getting an education on stalking laws

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 27, 2005

Suffolk News-Herald

It’s estimated that 1.4 million people are stalked every year. One in 20 women will be stalked in their lifetime. Every day, people are followed, harassed, threatened and physically injured by stalkers.

And the worst part? Sometimes no one knows until it’s too late. Only half of stalking cases are reported to authorities, and one-fourth receive a restraining order.

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&uot;Part of it is because people don’t always understand that it’s against the law for individuals to stalk,&uot; said Diane Bryant, the Suffolk Commonwealth Attorney’s office director of victim/witness services. &uot;Magistrates and police need to be educated on stalking.&uot;

In Virginia, stalking is defined as repeated conduct which places a person, or his or her family, in fear of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury.

It is a crime that can be committed against anyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or geographic location.

&uot;It may have only happened once, and the victim is concerned and upset about the other person’s behavior,&uot; Bryant said, &uot;but in order to get a restraining order, there has to be an established pattern of behavior, so it may be difficult, because there was just one incident.&uot;

An estimated 79 percent of women know their stalkers; half were in an intimate relationship with their stalker, and 80 percent of these relationships were abusive.

If someone calls and indicate they’re having a problem,

&uot;We would discuss what the pattern of behavior had been to cause them to have a concern. We would go over what the law says, and the pattern that needs to be established,&uot; said Bryant.

&uot;I would talk to them in terms of their relationship,&uot; she added, &uot;and advise them to let other people know that they are being stalked.&uot;

Deviating from a person’s normal habits is a good idea, Bryant said.

For example, if someone makes it a habit of leaving their home at the same time every say, they should change their time of going out. Letting someone know where they’re going is a good idea, as is traveling with a group, instead of going out alone. If a person thinks that he or she is being followed by a person in a car, they should get a description of the car- make, model, and color. If being followed while driving, head immediately to the nearest police station.

Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips &uot;Phil&uot; Ferguson would like to educate the citizens of Suffolk about this unique crime, and in observance of National Stalking Awareness Month, has placed a display and resource materials – including &uot;10 Things You Need to Know About Stalking&uot; and a &uot;Stalking Fact Sheet&uot; – in the lobby of the Godwin Courts Building.

Residents who feel they may be a victim of a stalker should contact Bryant at 923-2232 or call police at 923-2350.