Stalking and Harassment
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.
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.
Fact: Sexual assault and abuse includes the following:Rape—sexual intercourse against a person's will Forcible sodomy—anal or oral sex against a person's will Forcible object penetration—penetrating someone's vagina or anus, or causing that person to penetrate her or himself, against that person's will Marital rape Unwanted sexual touching Sexual contact with minors, whether consensual or not Incest (sexual intercourse or sexual intrusion between family members) Any unwanted or coerced sexual contact Other sexual crimes include: Sexual harassment Solicitation of minors through the Internet Possession of child pornography
Myth: "It can't happen to me.""Fact: Yes, it can. Sexual violence can happen to anyone – regardless of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or religion. Victims of sexual assault include infants, adults in later life, people of color, LGBT individuals, individuals with disabilities, women and men. In West Virginia, it is estimated that 1 in 6 adult women and 1 in 21 adult men will be a victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault in her/his lifetime. According to a National Crime Victimization Survey in 2000, teens 16 to 19 are 4 times more likely to be victims of rape than the general population. Ages 12-24 are the highest risk years. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 15% of victims are under the age of 12.
Myth: "Sexual violence can sometimes be the victim's fault.""Fact: Sexual violence is NEVER the victim's fault. It doesn't matter if someone was dressed seductively, drinking or using drugs, out at night alone, on a date with the perpetrator. No one asks to be raped. The responsibility and blame lie with the perpetrator, never with the victim. The absence of injuries often suggests to others that the victim failed to resist and, therefore, must have consented. Often, rapists only need the threat of violence to control their victims. They also sometimes use drugs to incapacitate their victims. Some victims submit to the assault for fear of greater harm. Submitting does not mean the victim gave consent. Each rape victim does whatever she/he needs to do at the time in order to survive.
Myth: "If a child I know was being sexually abused, she/he would tell me right away.""Fact: Because they are confused by the abuse, feel responsible, or are being threatened by the abuser, children don't automatically tell a parent. Be sure to talk frequently and openly about sexual abuse with your child. The more they know and the more comfortable they feel talking to you, the more willing they may be to report sexual abuse.
Myth: "Males should be able to prevent their rape.""Fact: Many people mistakenly believe that men should be able to prevent the assault by putting up a fight. A common belief is that if a man failed to fight off an attack, he is weak. No rape victim – male or female, gay or straight – should be judged for failure to stop an assault. Some people also believe that if the victim is homosexual or had an erection during the assault, he enjoyed it. A sexual response is physiological and not within the victim's control – just because his body reacted sexually does not mean he enjoyed the abuse.
Myth: "Rape can't happen in a dating relationship.""Fact: Rape is rape, no matter what the relationship is between the victim and perpetrator. Rape is not just committed by strangers. In 2009, 46.6% of assaults were committed by an acquaintance, 7.4% of those were by an intimate partner. Everyone has the right to change their mind – including about sex. One form of sexual contact does not necessarily open the door to other sexual activity. Even if two people have had sex before, one does not have the right to force sex on the other. There are many ways a person can be forced into sexual activity. Sometimes perpetrators use physical force or a weapon, but more often they use coercion, manipulation, or psychological pressure.
Myth: "Most rapes are committed by strangers.""Fact: It is a common misconception that most sexual assaults are committed by strangers. You are more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone you know – a friend, date, classmate, neighbor, or relative – than by a stranger. Familiar people and places are often more dangerous. More than 50% of all rape/sexual assault incidents were reported by victims to have occurred within 1 mile of their home or at their home (RAINN). 4 in 10 take place at the victim's home. 2 in 10 take place at the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative. 1 in 12 take place in a parking garage. In West Virginia (WV-IBRS, 2009): 70% of reported sex offenses occurred at a residence or in a home. Nearly 82% of all sexual assaults were committed by someone known to the victim. 46.6% of assaults were committed by an acquaintance, 7.4% by an intimate partner, and 27.6% by 'other' family (e.g., in-law, sibling).
Myth: "Most rapes are false reports or 'regretted sex'.""Fact: According to studies, false accusations of rape only account for 2%-8% of all reported sexual assaults – no higher than false reports for any other crimes.
Myth: "When an individual commits rape it's because she/he is 'turned on' and has uncontrollable sexual urges.""Fact: Forcing someone to engage in a sexual act against her/his will is an act of violence and aggression. The perpetrator is using sex as a weapon to gain power and control over the other person. Most sexual assaults are planned in advance, making the excuse implausible that what a victim was wearing seduced the offender, therefore causing the rape.