Stalking consists of any persistent and unwanted behavior that causes or intends to cause fear or harm in a victim and is illegal in all 50 states. According to Montana Code Annotated 45-5-220, “a person commits the offense of stalking if the person purposely or knowingly causes another person substantial emotional distress or reasonable apprehension of bodily injury or death by repeatedly:
(a) following the stalked person; or
(b) harassing, threatening, or intimidating the stalked person, in person or by mail, electronic communication, or any other action, device or method. For the first offense, a person convicted of stalking shall be imprisoned in the county jail for a term not to exceed one year or fined an amount not to exceed $1,000, or both. For a second or subsequent offense or for a first offense against a victim who was under the protection of a restraining order directed at the offender, the offender shall be imprisoned in the state prison for a term not to exceed five years or fined an amount not to exceed $10,000, or both. A person convicted of stalking may be sentenced to pay all medical, counseling, and other costs incurred by or on behalf of the victim as a result of the offense.”
Stalking behavior includes asking the victim’s friends, family, school or employer for personal information or searching for it on the Internet, to use it to keep track of a victim. Calling, emailing and texting repeatedly are also stalking. Showing up at the same place as your victim repeatedly is not a coincidence, it is stalking. Other examples of stalking include spreading rumors and misinformation about the victim and vandalizing a victim’s personal property.
These behaviors may not be illegal on their own and each behavior individually may not prove that you are being stalked. Stalkers often plan their actions carefully so they are less likely to be reported. However, it is the pattern of incidents added together that cause a victim to feel fear and may constitute stalking.
“Cyber-stalking” is another form of stalking and is also illegal. Any of the above mentioned behaviors done via the internet may fall under the definition of “cyber-stalking.” If you wonder where to draw the line between feeling like you have a secret admirer or are the victim of a stalker, consider if the attention you are receiving is wanted and flattering, or unwanted and you feel afraid or intimidated by the person.
Richland County Coalition Against Domestic Violence is here to assist victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and stalking with filling out applications for orders of protection and safety planning.
The coalition holds a women’s support group and offers limited short-term housing for victims and their children. Phone number is 433-7421, and the office is staffed Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The coalition can also be reached through the hospital at 488-2100 and law enforcement at 433-2919 or 433-2210.