January is Stalking Awareness Month

The Advocates for Victims of Abuse Organization would like to remind everyone that January is Stalking Awareness Month.

Stalking is a very serious crime that is often under-reported. Those that have reported the crime are numbered at over 3 million people in the United States every year. Stalking victims are often stalked by someone they know or a person they were once in a relationship with. It is estimated that in every 1 out of 5 stalking cases, violence escalates and a weapon is used.

Stalking behavior may include, and is not limited to, unwanted phone calls, sending unsolicited or unwanted letters or e-mails, following or spying on their victim, showing up at places without having a legitimate reason, waiting at places for the victim, leaving unwanted items, presents or flowers, and posting information or spreading rumors about the victim online, in a public place or by word of mouth.

With the ever-growing field of technology, there’s a new way of stalking “cyber stalking”. Cyberstalkers often begin their stalking behavior in ways planned to cause distress to the victim, or make them the subject of harassment by others. They may pretend to be the victim and post offensive comments or send offensive messages in their name. They may send hateful communications to family, friends and coworkers, either posing as the victim or “anonymous”. The victim’s computer may be hacked or their email accounts broken into, or the password is changed and the victim locked out of their own accounts. Recently, the Department of Justice showed that technology, including Internet services such as email and instant messaging along with other technology, like GPS and computer spyware like IP sniffers, have been used to harass one in four stalking victims. That converts into about 1.2 million victims whose stalkers have used some form of technology to find them no matter where they are.

Nevada Revised Statue 200.575 states “A person who, without lawful authority, willfully or maliciously engages in a course of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated or harassed, and that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated or harassed, commits the crime of stalking.” The NRS under Section 3 has been amended to include technology to say “A person who commits the crime of stalking with the use of an Internet or network site or electronic mail or any other similar means of communication to publish, display or distribute information in a manner that substantially increases the risk of harm or violence to the victim shall be punished for a category C felony as provided in NRS 193.130.” Stalking IS a crime and should never be taken lightly.

The fear a stalking victim feels has additional consequences. Anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression are only a few of the serious side effects a victim may experience, and these issues rarely go away when the stalking stops. Many will suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which can take years to overcome. Victims of stalking may be eligible for the Nevada Victims of Crime Program, more information can be found at their website: www.voc.nv.gov or by contacting an advocate at AVA.

If a person believes they may be a victim of stalking or cyberstalking, contact your local law enforcement. Save any information such as emails, texts, virus scans that show positive for a tracer, etc. Emails and logs can be traced by ISP. Remember: No one has the right to harass or threaten anyone or make them fear their safety. For more information, please contact the Stalking Resource Center at the National Center for Victims of Crime at www.ncvc.org or AVA at www.humboldtava.com

As the old proverb says, “A life lived in fear is a life half lived”. It’s our hope that by working together for our community’s safety and well-being that we may help those in need to no longer live in fear.