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Responding to Stalking Victims: Perceptions, Barriers, and Directions for Future Research

Abstract

Stalking cases have long presented challenges for the criminal justice system. The end result has been low conviction rates for stalking offenses and frustration for stalking victims. To date, little is known regarding the perspectives of criminal justice and community advocacy agencies in working with stalking perpetrators and victims and how these could inform practice and future research. We conducted interviews with individuals in the different agencies involved in the Cuyahoga County, Ohio criminal justice system and well as the victim service organizations that work with stalking victims in the county. We collected information about their perceptions of stalking victims, what obstacles exist to addressing their needs, what changes are needed to increase the charging and prosecution rates for stalking cases, and how different system players draw distinctions between stalking and domestic violence offenders. Key findings include the significant discrepancy perceived between the public’s view of stalking and actual stalking behavior, the varied views of what constitutes a typical stalking victim, the wide range of needs of stalking victims, the challenges to charging and prosecuting stalking cases, and the burden placed on victims in these cases. We conclude by discussing obstacles that exist for victims seeking help from the criminal justice system for stalking behavior and provide suggestions for education and training that could lead to more effective stalking policy and practice. The study concludes with recommendations for future research on stalking.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This situation only very recently changed with the opening of the Cuyahoga County Family Justice Center in 2015.

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank all of those who participated in the interviews for sharing their time and perspectives as well as the editors and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Wendy Regoeczi.

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Appendices

Appendix 1

  1. 1.

    Please describe what you view as the characteristics of typical stalking victims.

  2. 2.

    What differences do you feel exist between the characteristics of actual stalking victims (that meet the legal definition) and the public perception of stalking victims.

  3. 3.

    Please define the typical stalking case handled by your agency (think of your classic stalking victim in your office – what do they look like?).

  4. 4.

    In your experience, what do stalking victims need? What do they come to you for? What remedies are they seeking? What are the obstacles to achieving this?

  5. 5.

    What is the threshold for taking a report from a stalking victim? When does the behavior crossover into the criminal realm?

  6. 6.

    In your view, why is it common for law enforcement to call the offender and advise them to stop their behavior as their first step in addressing stalking?

  7. 7.

    In your view, what are the obstacles to identifying where domestic violence relationships end and stalking begins?

  8. 8.

    Given that many stalking victims are stalked by a previous partner, and the victim may have already taken many steps to remain safe after leaving a domestic violence situation, what other advice do you give victims of stalking? How do you address the needs of the victim when the only solution may be to put the burden to change behavior on them (e.g. change their phone number, delete Facebook account)?

  9. 9.

    How do you hold an offender accountable in a stalking case?

  10. 10.

    In your view, what changes could be made to increase charging and prosecution in stalking cases?

  11. 11.

    In what ways can victims be helping in gathering evidence in stalking cases?

  12. 12.

    What kinds of evidence do investigators require to pursue charges in a stalking case?

  13. 13.

    What research could be conducted that would be helpful to your work with stalking victims?

  14. 14.

    What is needed to drive system-level change in addressing stalking in our community?

Appendix 2

Ohio Revised Code Section 2903.211 Menacing by Stalking.

  • (A) (1) No person by engaging in a pattern of conduct shall knowingly cause another person to believe that the offender will cause physical harm to the other person or a family or household member of the other person or cause mental distress to the other person or a family or household member of the other person. In addition to any other basis for the other person’s belief that the offender will cause physical harm to the other person or the other person’s family or household member or mental distress to the other person or the other person’s family or household member, the other person’s belief or mental distress may be based on words or conduct of the offender that are directed at or identify a corporation, association, or other organization that employs the other person or to which the other person belongs.

  • (2) No person, through the use of any form of written communication or any electronic method of remotely transferring information, including, but not limited to, any computer, computer network, computer program, r-computer system, or telecommunication device shall post a message or use any intentionally written or verbal graphic gesture with purpose to do either of the following:

    1. (a)

      Violate division (A)(1) of this section:

    2. (b)

      Urge or incite another to commit a violation of division (A)(1) of this section.

  • (3) No person, with a sexual motivation, shall violate division (A)(1) or (2) of this section.

  • (B) Whoever violates this section is guilty of menacing by stalking.

    1. (1)

      Except as otherwise provided in divisions (B)(2) and (3) of this section, menacing by stalking is a misdemeanor of the first degree.

    2. (2)

      Menacing by stalking is a felony of the fourth degree if any of the following applies:

      1. (a)

        The offender previously has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a violation of this section or a violation of section 2911.211 of the Revised Code.

      2. (b)

        In committing the offense under division (A)(1), (2), or (3) of this section, the offender made a threat of physical harm to or against the victim, or as a result of an offense committed under division (A)(2) or (3) of this section, a third person induced by the offender’s posted message made a threat of physical harm to or against the victim.

      3. (c)

        In committing the offense under division (A)(1), (2), or (3) of this section, the offender trespassed on the land or premises where the victim lives, is employed, or attends school, or as a result of an offense committed under division (A)(2) or (3) of this section, a third person induced by the offender’s posted message trespassed on the land or premises where the victim lives, is employed, or attends school.

      4. (d)

        The victim of the offense is a minor.

      5. (e)

        The offender has a history of violence toward the victim or any other person or a history of other violent acts toward the victim or any other person.

      6. (f)

        While committing the offense under division (A)(1) of this section or a violation of division (A)(3) of this section based on conduct in violation of division (A)(1) of this section, the offender had a deadly weapon on or about the offender’s person or under the offender’s control. Division (B)(2)(f) of this section does not apply in determining the penalty for a violation of division (A)(2) of this section or a violation of division (A)(3) of this section based on conduct in violation of division (A)(2) of this section.

      7. (g)

        At the time of the commission of the offense, the offender was the subject of a protection order issued under section 2903.213 or 2903.214 of the Revised Code, regardless of whether the person to be protected under the order is the victim of the offense or another person.

      8. (h)

        In committing the offense under division (A)(1), (2), or (3) of this section, the offender caused serious physical harm to the premises at which the victim resides, to the real property on which that premises is located, or to any personal property located on that premises, or, as a result of an offense committed under division (A)(2) of this section or an offense committed under division (A)(3) of this section based on a violation of division (A)(2) of this section, a third person induced by the offender’s posted message caused serious physical harm to that premises, that real property, or any personal property on that premises.

      9. (i)

        Prior to committing the offense, the offender had been determined to represent a substantial risk of physical harm to others as manifested by evidence of then-recent homicidal or other violent behavior, evidence of then-recent threats that placed another in reasonable fear of violent behavior and serious physical harm, or other evidence of then-present dangerousness.

    3. (3)

      If the victim of the offense is an officer or employee of a public children services agency or a private child placing agency and the offense relates to the officer’s or employee’s performance or anticipated performance of official responsibilities or duties, menacing by stalking is either a felony of the fifth degree or, if the offender previously has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to an offense of violence, the victim of that prior offense was an officer or employee of a public children services agency or private child placing agency, and that prior offense related to the officer’s or employee’s performance or anticipated performance of official responsibilities or duties, a felony of the fourth degree.

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Boehnlein, T., Kretschmar, J., Regoeczi, W. et al. Responding to Stalking Victims: Perceptions, Barriers, and Directions for Future Research. J Fam Viol 35, 755–768 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-020-00147-3

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Keywords

  • Stalking
  • Prosecution
  • Charging
  • Investigation
  • Domestic violence