New technology has made stalking easier, and more dangerous and distressing for its victims.

January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and therefore a good time to learn more about this dangerous crime. This year’s theme from the National Center for Victims of Crime’s Stalking Resource Center is “Stalking: Know it. Name it. Stop it.”

According to Maine law, stalking is a “course of conduct, directed at or concerning a specific person, that would cause a reasonable person to suffer serious inconvenience or emotional distress, fear bodily injury or death to self or a close relative, fear damage or destruction to property, or fear injury or death of a pet owned or cared for by the victim.” It is stalking when there are two or more acts which meet these criteria, whether those acts are direct or indirect (such as threats implied by conduct).

While many people think of stalking as something that happens to celebrities, the fact is that 1.4 million people are stalked in the United States each year. Over their lifetimes, 1 in 12 women and 1 in 45 men will be stalked, and the average duration of the stalking is 1.8 years. Two-thirds of stalkers pursue their victims at least once a week, many daily, and most use more than one method.

Today’s technology has created new venues for stalkers to use to monitor, track, threaten and harass their victims. GPS devices in cell phones, mounted in automobiles or unknowingly attached to automobiles allow stalkers to know where their victim is at any time. Some stalkers gain access to their victim’s computer, which allows them to get personal information about the victim and track their online activity and communications. (Surveillance hardware and software is available for as little as $30). And text messaging allows for the transmission of threats directly to the victim in a more immediate and frightening way.

Stalking is not only intrusive and creepy, it is extremely dangerous. Eighty-one percent of women stalked by a current or former intimate partner are also physically assaulted by them; some 31 percent are sexually assaulted. Three of four women murdered by an intimate partner had also been stalked by their killer.

Stalking causes fear, anxiety, depression, insomnia and a feeling of helplessness. Most stalking victims live in constant fear and rearrange their lives to try to reduce the stalker’s access to them or their loved ones. They often change phones and e-mail addresses, move from one location to another, vary their routes to work or other activities and change jobs or work schedules. More than one-quarter of stalking victims lose time from work as a result of the stalking, and 20-30 percent of stalking victims seek psychological treatment.

If someone you know tells you that they think they are being followed, monitored, watched and/or threatened, take it seriously! Their lives may depend on it, and your support and assistance can make the difference in their ultimate safety and well-being. What may start as seemingly minor stalking behavior can escalate to physical or sexual assault, or murder.

Fortunately, help is available from the Sexual Assault Crisis Center and the Abused Women’s Advocacy Project. Both have stalking kits available which contain a cell phone programmed to dial 911, a disposable camera to document any contact or damage caused by the stalker, a notebook to keep a journal of stalking incidents, a whistle and a flashlight.

Both agencies have advocates to help victims get protection orders and/or report stalking to law enforcement. Advocates can also help victims to develop safety plans to maximize the safety of the victim and relieve some of the psychological impact of the crime. And advocates can provide emotional support for the victim for as long as it is needed.

The National Center for Victims of Crime’s Stalking Resource Center has a great deal of information about stalking (some of which was presented here). That information can be found at Locally, help for stalking victims is available from the Sexual Assault Crisis Center, 1-800-871-7741, or the Abused Women’s Advocacy Project, 1-800-559-2927.

Dealing with stalking only takes three steps: Know it. Name it. Stop it.

Marty McIntyre is executive director of the Sexual Assualt Crisis Center in Auburn. E-mail [email protected]

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