Stalking and Domestic Violence

Domestic violence situations may also involve stalking of the victim by an estranged partner. This may involve repeated, unwanted phone calls meant to harass the other spouse, showing up to a spouse's place of work uninvited, or sitting outside your spouse's house (perhaps in your car). The methods used to stalk someone are less important than it being a pattern of malicious behavior.

This article explores stalking and domestic violence, the link between the two, and laws meant to protect victims and potential victims of these offenses.

Stalking: The Basics

Stalking is typically defined as a pattern of behavior meant to cause fear or apprehension in the victim. It usually involves the following:

  • 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.

The National Institute of Justice defines 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.

Generally, there are three main types of stalking:

  • Erotomania - Often involves a person who has a delusional obsession with a public figure or someone out of the stalker's reach.
  • Love Obsessional - Involves an individual stalking someone with whom they think they are in love.
  • Simple Obsessional - Stalking committed 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 and Domestic Violence: State Laws

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.

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

California

  • Defined as an act in which the perpetrator "willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another and makes credible threat with intent to place another in reasonable fear for own safety or safety of his/her immediate family."
  • Punishable by up to one (1) year in county jail and up to $1,000 in fines. If the perpetrator has been convicted of a spousal or child abuse felony or violated a protection order, then the punishment can increase to two to five (2-5) years in state prison.

Florida

  • Defined as "willful, malicious, and repeated following or harassing."
  • Punishable by up to one (1) year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Upon violation of an injunction or restraining order, the judge must impose a minimum sentence of twenty-one (21) months in prison and can impose a sentence of up to five (5) years in prison or probation.

Texas

  • Defined as "Knowingly engaging in conduct on more than one occasion that they know or reasonably believe the victim will view as threatening, causes fear, and would cause a reasonable person to fear."
  • Punishable by two (2) to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Repeat offenses are punishable by two (2) to 20 years in prison.

Seeking Relief From Stalking and Domestic Violence: Restraining Orders

If you're the victim of domestic violence or stalking, you'll probably want to consider filing for an order of protection (i.e. restraining order). The laws and procedures for obtaining a protective order vary by state.

Concerned About Stalking and Domestic Violence? Get Professional Legal Help

If you or someone you love is in danger of stalking or domestic violence, be sure to contact law enforcement right away. If you have questions about the stalking laws in your state, it is best you speak with a skilled family law attorney who specializes in domestic violence cases.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified family law attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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