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Stalking and Domestic Violence

Domestic violence situations may also involve stalking of the victim by an estranged partner. Stalking usually involves:

  • Repeated threatening or harassing behaviors, such as phone calls,
  • Following or shadowing a person,
  • Appearing at a person's home or place of employment,
  • Vandalizing property, and
  • Any other activity that makes a person fear for his or her safety.

Stalking laws vary greatly from state to state, with some requiring a minimum of two acts (or other proof that the event was not an isolated occurrence) and others specifying that the threat of harm must be imminent. Some states also classify activities such as lying-in-wait, surveillance, and non-consensual communication as stalking.

In its 1998 research on state codes and stalking, the National Institute of Justice defined stalking as "a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated visual or physical proximity, nonconsensual communication, or verbal, written, or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear," with "repeated" meaning on two or more occasions. There are three types of stalking:

  • Erotomania, which is often committed by a female and is a delusional obsession with a public figure or someone out of the stalker's reach;
  • Love obsessional, which involves an individual stalking someone with whom they think they are in love; and
  • Simple obsessional, which is stalking by someone the victim knows.

Domestic violence stalking fits into this last category and is usually perpetrated by an ex-spouse or lover, employer or co-worker.

Stalking Legislation

The following examples of state legislation on stalking illustrate differences in definitions of (and punishment for) stalking.

District of Columbia:  Stalking refers to more than one incident of willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following or harassing or without a legal purpose, willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following or harassing another person with the intent of causing emotional distress or creating reasonable fear of death or bodily injury. Harassment refers to engaging in a course of conduct either in person, by telephone, or in writing, directed at a specific person, which seriously alarms, annoys, frightens, or torments the victim or engaging in a course of conduct either in person, by telephone, or in writing, which would cause a reasonable person to be seriously alarmed, annoyed, frightened, or tormented. Such an offense can be punishable by a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment of up to 12 months or both (Title 22, Section 504). A second offense occurring within two years can result in a fine of up to $750 and/or imprisonment for up to one and a half years. A third offense is punishable by a fine of not more than $1500 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.

Tennessee:  (a)(1) A person commits the offense of stalking who intentionally and repeatedly follows or harasses another person in such a manner as would cause that person to be in reasonable fear of being assaulted or suffering bodily injury or death.

(A) "Follows" means maintaining a visual or physical proximity over a period of time to a specific person in such a manner as would cause a reasonable person to have a fear of an assault, bodily injury, or death;

(B) "Harasses" means a course of conduct directed at a specific person, which would cause a reasonable person to fear a sexual offense, bodily injury, or death, including, but not limited to, verbal threats, written threats, vandalism, or physical contact that was non-consensual;

(C) "Repeatedly" means on two (2) or more occasions.

(b) (1) Stalking is a Class A misdemeanor.

In Tennessee, if there is a subsequent violation of this law within a seven-year period, the offense becomes a class E felony. A subsequent violation denotes a class C felony.

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