What is Stalking?
Stalking can happen to anyone. It is serious, dangerous, and can get worse over time. Stalking involves following someone in a way that causes the victim to be afraid or upset, for instance:
- Following someone on foot or by car
- Watching someone at work or at home
- Sending unwanted letters or emails
- Making unwanted telephone calls or
- Leaving unwanted cards, flowers or gifts
There are many ways that victims are stalked. Many abusers use the Internet and other high-tech methods to follow and contact victims. Some of these methods include spyware, GPS devices, webcams hidden in the victim's home and unwanted emails.
Most of the time, a stalker is a current or former intimate partner of the victim. According to the Stalking Resource Center's Stalking Fact Sheet:
- 66% of female stalking victims are stalked by their intimate partner
- 41% of male stalking victims are stalked by their intimate partner
Stalking by an intimate partner is dangerous.
Stalking by an intimate partner - current or former spouse, boy/girlfriend, lover - is especially dangerous. Unlike a stranger, an intimate partner often has access to the victim's home, property, friends, and family. Someone a victim lived with, was married to or dated knows things about them that others do not, like routines, habits, fears, and weaknesses. The local domestic violence program has advocates who can help victims plan for their and their families' safety.
Defiant Trespass Letter
A defiant trespass letter is a letter to the stalker from or on behalf of the victim that tells the stalker not to come near the victim's home, work, or school. It clearly tells the stalker that the victim does not want to have contact with them. The defiant trespass letter can be a powerful tool because it gives the stalker and the police written notice that contact by the stalker is unwanted. This kind of letter is most effective if the victim can prove the stalker received it and if the police are given a copy. A victim can prove the stalker received the letter by mailing it "certified mail with return receipt requested" at the U.S. post office. (The victim pays a small charge - a few dollars, and fills out a special card for this service.) The copy to the police can be sent by regular mail or hand delivered.
While this strategy may work to end the stalking, a victim must be careful not to reveal more information to the stalker than is necessary. An attorney or local domestic violence advocate can provide more information.
Stalking is a Crime in Pennsylvania.
Stalking is a serious crime in Pennsylvania. There are two basic elements to the crime:
• The stalker must complete at least two acts of unwanted stalking behavior, no matter how close or far apart in time they are, and
• The victim must experience reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or substantial emotional distress.
The county District Attorney makes the final decision whether to file criminal charges in any criminal case, including stalking. It is possible that the District Attorney may choose not to file criminal charges in a stalking situation.
Protection from Abuse (PFA) Orders and Stalking
Although stalking is a crime victims may be able to get another form of protection against the stalker. A PFA Order is an important tool for many stalking victims. A PFA Order allows the police to arrest the stalker even if the police did not see the stalking behavior. The process for getting a PFA differs in every county. The PFA law requires the court to accept a victim's PFA petition without charging a filing fee.
Victims must prove the following two things in order to get a PFA:
1. The victim is either related to the stalker, is/was married to the stalker, has child(ren) with the stalker, or has/had an intimate relationship with the stalker (either sexual or dating), and
2. The victim was followed or contacted by the stalker for no lawful reason and is afraid that the stalker will cause the victim serious bodily injury.
Victim/Witness Protection Orders and Stalking
If a criminal complaint is filed against the stalker, a victim may be eligible for a victim/witness protective order. This is a type of order that prosecutors may request for victims and witnesses in any criminal case, including stalking cases. A victim/witness protective order will allow police to arrest the stalker more quickly. The court may order the stalker to stay away from your home, work, school or even your neighborhood altogether. The requirements for a criminal victim/witness protective order are:
- A criminal complaint must be filed;
- The prosecutor must request the protection from the court; and
- The court must find there is substantial evidence that the victim/witness has been or is likely to be intimidated.
Stalking victims should know that victim/witness protective orders are sometimes hard to get and the order only lasts until the criminal case is decided. If criminal charges are not filed or if the prosecutor does not ask the court to issue a victim/witness protective order, there are still the other options previously described:
- A Protection From Abuse Order - your relationship with the stalker must meet certain legal definitions in order to qualify for a PFA.
- A Defiant Trespass Letter - Formal notice that you do not want to be followed or contacted. It should be sent to the stalker and to local police.
PCADV Works to Fight Stalking
PCADV's member programs work in every county to provide domestic violence victims and families with emergency shelter, housing options and other services to help victims gain financial stability and independence.
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If you fear for your immediate safety, call 9-1-1 or your local police.
Contact the domestic violence program in your area for free and confidential help.
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Any attorney helping a domestic violence victim may contact the PCADV legal department at 888-235-3425 for information on law and legal procedures. (This is not a helpline for victims.)
The information provided on this website is intended for informational purposes only. The information provided under this topic is not legal advice, does not create an attorney-client relationship, and is not a substitute for contacting an experienced attorney. Read our full legal disclaimer.