I watched the episode below of the television series, Stalked, several years ago and it forever changed my understanding of stalking.
This episode is based on real life events. The print from the mirror being licked, in particular, helped me better understand the fear and the invasion of privacy that stalking victims experience. The constant fear of being watched and repeated acts of unwanted conduct is psychological torment. Whereas an incident of physical abuse is limited in time to the actual act itself, even if it recurs, stalking, and the anxiety it produces, takes place on a 24 hour, never ending continuum. For example, the opposing party in one of my recent divorce cases was physically abusive towards my client, but his repeated phone calls to her after the separation disturbed her even more than the hitting and shoving. He would repeatedly call and text client, as often as ninety times within a 90-minute period. His contact would occur all throughout the day, as early as 9 a.m. and as late as 2 a.m. He would show up in places where he knew she would visit, like the gym. To make matters worse, it can be difficult to get legal relief as a stalking victim because the harassment is harder to prove than physical abuse. There is usually less evidence and stalkers often use technology to conceal their identity.
I recently participated in a webinar, SPARC: Identifying and Responding to Stalking, presented by the Stalking Prevention Awareness and Resource Center. Here are three tips from the webinar that I find helpful when serving our South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) clients who are victims of stalking:
- A web-based service that lets you know who is behind an anonymous blocked Caller ID: www.trapcall.com. When a call is declined, the phone rings back and unmasks the calling number, providing you with information about who is calling and where they live, even before the call is answered. It stops spam callers and automatically blocks spam, telemarketing and robocalls. Stalkers often call victims from apps that assign them different phone numbers. It also allows the person who was called to record incoming calls, which can be used to provide police and attorneys with proof of harassment. Note that this is a paid service.
- Stalkers often use apps to change the number shown on the Caller ID to make it appear that it is a friend or family member of the victim that is calling. This is known as spoofing. One way to prove spoofing is to obtain the phone records from the victim, the supposed calling friend or relative, and the suspect. The victim’s record will show the “friend” called, the friend’s records will show that no call was placed. The suspect’s records will show a call to a spoof service. Financial records or a review of the suspect’s app store on a cell phone can reveal the purchase of apps used to stalk victims.
- Victims should usually be advised to have no contact at all with the offender. If a stalker calls the victim 59 times, and the victim answers the 59th call, it reinforces to the stalker that they only have to call 59 times the next time and they will be rewarded by the victim’s answering. However, stopping all contact may not be the best advice in all situations. Victims are in the best position to know how to keep themselves safe. It may be safer for them to have limited contact to minimize the threat. Telling a client to change their phone number may escalate the threat of physical harm if the stalker then acts out due to a loss of control or contact. Telling a victim to move or change their number may put them at more risk if they can still be found at their place of employment or a relative or friend’s home.
Because of the challenges facing the staking victims, it important for those of us who represent and assist them to stay informed on the dynamics of stalking and ever-evolving tactics that stalkers use. If you are a victim of stalking, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. To apply, please call our statewide Intake Office at 1-888-346-5592. You can call between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm, Monday through Thursday. We also have an Apply Online option for a limited number of legal issues: http://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.