Stalking and Harassment

If you feel like your a victim of stalking or harassment or need help, call our hotline at (800) 688-6157. Our advocates are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your call is confidential. 

What is Stalking? 

Stalking is defined as a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. (SPARC) In addition to federal stalking statutes, all states and U.S. territories have laws to address stalking. 

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What is Harassment?

Harassment is broadly defined as "willful conduct directed at a specific person or persons which would cause a reasonable person mental injury or emotional distress."

Under the definition of stalking, are many behaviors that stalkers can use to intimidate their targets and cause them to suffer fear and distress, including but not limited to harassment. However, the West Virginia law pertaining to stalking (WVC §61-2-9a) addresses harassment as a crime separate from stalking.

The Crimes of 
Stalking and Harassment

 It is the cumulative pattern of behaviors that forms the "course of conduct" that can cause the targeted individual to be afraid and distressed. For example, a single e-mail or bouquet of flowers may not be frightening, but 150 e-mails, bouquets of dead flowers, and late-night threatening calls become something that cannot and should not be ignored.

Crime of Stalking

To be charged with the crime of stalking, someone must repeatedly (on two or more occasions) follow another person "knowing or having reason to know that the conduct causes the person followed to reasonably fear for his or her safety or suffer significant emotional distress."

Crime of Harassment

To be charged with the crime of harassment, someone must repeatedly (two or more times) harass or make credible threats against another person.  A credible threat is defined as "a threat of bodily injury made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat and with the result that a reasonable person would believe that the threat could be carried out."

Behaviors of Stalking and Harassment


According to West Virginia law, stalking is clearly identifiable as repeatedly following another person. But, unlike other crimes such as speeding and murder, there is no "master list" of behaviors that constitute harassment. Harassment is defined as "willful conduct," and includes numerous behaviors.

Facts about Stalking and Harassment

Examples of behaviors that constitute the crime of harassment:

Every harassment situation is different. Because involved behaviors may be viewed as innocent or even romantic, stalking and harassment can be difficult to prove, much less prosecute. Except for vandalism, threats and physical and sexual violence, each of the behaviors listed below, could alone be considered annoying and perhaps disturbing, but not necessarily criminal. It is the cumulative pattern of behaviors that forms the "course of conduct" that can cause the targeted individual to be afraid and distressed. For example, a single e-mail or bouquet of flowers may not be frightening, but 150 e-mails, bouquets of dead flowers and late night threatening calls become something that cannot and should not be ignored.

  • Surveillance or watching the victim (sitting in a car in front of the victim's house, going through the victim's trash, contacting the victim's family and friends, etc.).
  • Pursuing/following the victim.
  • Unexpected appearances where the victim works, lives, goes to school or visits.
  • Approaching or confronting the victim, perhaps even in violation of a protective order.
  • Telephone harassment, which might include playing disturbing music, hang-ups or threats.
  • Sending/giving unwanted gifts, letters or e-mails to the victim.
  • Monitoring of telephone calls or computer use.
  • Spreading rumors or otherwise defaming the victim's character.
  • Vandalism or other destruction of property.
  • Threat to the victim and/or her/his family, friends and pets.
  • Physical attacks.
  • Sexual assault.

Use of Technology to stalk (and harass):

Note: The term "stalking" is used to refer to both stalking and harassing behaviors in this section, since that is the inclusive term used in federal legislation. However, keep in mind that these crimes are separate under West Virginia law.

Technology has provided stalkers with tools to electronically stalk and harass their victims and has added new dimensions to the impact of this crime on victims.

This use of technology by stalkers for such purposes is sometimes referred to as "cyberstalking", here are some examples:

  • Stalkers can use hidden cameras to watch their victims or global positioning systems (GPS) to track victims.
  • "Spy phone" software programs and devices that utilize GPS allow stalkers to monitor victims' cell phone conversations and text messages.
  • Software is available that enables stalkers to remotely access victims' computers and know their every keystroke or each website they visited.
  • Stalkers can post comments and pictures about victims on message boards or social networking sites.
  • Stalkers can fill victims' e-mail with spam or send a virus or other damaging programs to victims' computers.
  • Stalkers can easily and legally obtain public information about victims through online searches, such as phone and address listings, court records, property records, subscriptions, etc. This information might later be used to gain access to victims' homes, pets, families and/or friends.

Who are the victims?

Anyone can be stalked. However, certain factors like gender and age, appear to increase the risk.

  • About 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men in the United States have been victims of stalking during their lifetimes. In West Virginia, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 15 men have been stalked during their lifetimes.
  • More than 1/2 of female victims and more than 1/3 of male victims are first stalked before the age of 25.

  • Many victims experienced their first stalking victimization between ages 18 and 24. About 1 in 3 females and more than 1 in 4 males. This fact is especially relevant to colleges. Many college campuses are ideal environments for stalking as they are like closed communities, where class schedules and other campus activities can be easily monitored. Over 4% of college students reported stalking victimization since enrolling at their college. Students who are transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming, questioning or with another identity report the highest rates, followed by female undergraduates, graduate/professional females, male undergraduate students and finally graduate/professional males.

  • Stalking victimization is not a crime that occurs only to young adults. Over half of stalked males and nearly half of stalked females first experienced stalking at age 25 or older and a little more than 1 in 5 of stalked females and nearly 1 in 8 stalked males were under 18 when they were first stalked.

Is stalking dangerous?

  • Stalking behaviors should always be taken seriously. Stalking can be violent and escalate over time (Stalking Resource Center). It most likely will not stop if it is just ignored. In fact, ignoring the behavior sometimes seems to cause the behaviors to increase in frequency and/or become more disturbing or bizarre. Stalkers have physically assaulted, sexually assaulted and/or murdered their victims.
  • In addition to the harm that stalkers directly might cause, it is important to also consider the impact that stalking can have on victims’ wellbeing. In some instances, the emotional agony caused by the stalking can contribute to self-harming behaviors and even attempted and completed suicide.
Who is a Risk?
  • Being stalked by an intimate partner presents an increased risk of danger for victims. Partner stalkers are more likely to physically approach their victims, be more insulting, interfering and threatening, and use weapons. Their behavior is more likely to escalate quickly. They are more likely to re-offend even after criminal justice intervention.
  • Stalking can be extremely dangerous for female victims if it involves an intimate relationship that has recently ended.
  • The risk of violence is also heightened when stalkers make direct threats of violence, are jealous of their victim’s relationships with others, and use illegal drugs.
  • Stalking is considered an indicator or precursor behavior to intimate partner homicide.

How are victims impacted?

Victims react differently to stalking and harassment, but the key element is always fear. The tactics that stalkers use can create enough distress that their victims fear for their own lives or safety or for that of a family member, friend or a pet.
Additional ways that stalking can impact victims include:

  • Being stalked can affect one's ability to trust others and cause victims to be constantly on alert, feel vulnerable, stressed and anxious (National Center for Victims of Crime, 2004). Sometimes the stalking behavior is random and mild at first, and then it may grow more pervasive and threatening. Victims may initially overlook or minimize what later is determined to be stalking.
  • Victims often find themselves changing their routines to avoid their stalkers' actions. Changes can include anything from varying routes or methods of transportation to changing telephone numbers or taking time off from work or school. According to Baum et al. (2009), more than half of stalking victims lose five or more days from work and others experience issues with their employers (including termination) because of the stalking.
  • When any form of technology is involved in stalking, victims may become fearful of or uncomfortable when using devices that had been part of their lifestyles. Stalkers may ruin some victims' enjoyment of social networking sites or chat rooms by spreading rumors or posting inappropriate material. Stalkers may use cameras or other devices to invade victims' privacy so the victim feels she has no safe place.
  • Some victims have relocated to evade their stalkers. Some have even changed their social security numbers. Getting a new identity may seem ideal, but it can generate other unintended consequences that should be considered. Employment, credit eligibility and other factors can be adversely affected when social security numbers and names do not match.
  • Many stalking victims seek counseling as a result of their victimization. Victims have reported feelings of powerlessness, exaggerated startle reflex, panic attacks, hyper-vigilance, chronic sleep disturbances, appetite disturbances, persistent nausea and excessive fatigue.
  • Stalking can have a financial impact on victims, from the loss of work and increased expenses such as attorney fees, costs associated with damage to property, child care costs, moving costs and costs of changing phone numbers. In other instances, stalkers may have committed identity theft, opening or closing accounts and charging merchandise and services to victims' credit cards without their consent.

If you are a victim, this is what you can do:

Stalking is unpredictable and dangerous. No two stalking situations are alike. No guarantees exist that what works for one person will work for another, yet you can take steps to increase your safety.

  • If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
  • Trust your instincts. Don't downplay the danger.
  • Take threats seriously. Danger generally is higher when the stalker talks about suicide or murder, or when a victim tries to leave or end the relationship.
  • Contact the rape crisis center hotline in your area. An advocate can help you create a safety plan, provide information about related laws, weigh options such as seeking a protection order, and refer you to other services.
  • Develop a safety plan.
  • Don't communicate with the stalker or respond to attempts to contact you.
  • Keep evidence of the stalking. When the stalker follows you or contacts you, write down the time, date, and place. Keep emails, text messages, phone messages, letters, or notes. Photograph anything the stalker damages and any injuries the stalker causes. Ask witnesses to write down what they saw.
  • Contact the police. West Virginia and federal laws make stalking and harassment illegal. The stalker may also have broken other laws by actions such as assaulting you or stealing or destroying your property.
  • Consider seeking a protective order that tells the stalker to stay away from you.
  • Tell family, friends, roommates and co-workers about the stalking and seek their support.
  • Tell security staff at your job, school, housing community, etc. Ask them to watch out for your safety.

​​​Source Data: 

National Center for Victims of Crime: Stalking and Resouce Center

West Virginia Foundation for  Rape Information and Services:

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A good safety plan will have all of the vital information you need and will help walk you through different scenarios.
Or call our hotline, (800) 688-6157.
 Our advocates are available 24 hours a day, 
7 days a week. Your call is confidential.