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Public Safety Officials Say Stalking Is a Serious Crime

http://ozarkspub.vo.llnwd.net/o37/KSMU/audio/mp3/publicsafe_5826.mp3

The crime of stalking can lead to more violent crimes. That’s one reason the Missouri Department of Public Safety is raising awareness about what stalking is and how laws related to stalking have changed in recent years. KSMU’s Missy Shelton has this report.

For more information on stalking: gethelp@ncvc.org or 1-800-FYI-CALL.

According to the Missouri Department of Public Safety, one in 12 women will be stalked in their lifetime. And more than three-quarters of women who are murdered by their partners were stalked by that person prior to the murder. Last year, Missouri lawmakers passed and the governor signed into law a measure allowing anyone age 17 and over to seek an order of protection.Janet Amitin is a licensed social worker and a program specialist with the Missouri Department of Public Safety Crime Victims Services Unit. She explains how to identify stalking.

Amitin says, “If you’ve told someone, ‘Leave me alone. Stop contacting me.’ And they don’t, that’s a problem. Often times, women are told they’re overreacting. But you know when something is making you uncomfortable or scared. How do you when someone has crossed a line? It’s really up to that individual.”

Because identifying stalking can be somewhat subjective, Amitin recommends keeping records of incidents involving a possible stalker. She says that information will be valuable if the victim decides to contact the police.

Amitin says, “It’s difficult to recognize. It’s hard to investigate. It’s difficult to prevent and even assess the situation. It’s not one single act. It’s often a series of criminal and non-criminal acts. It’s important for victims to document what’s going on. If they have taped conversations, phone calls, emails, even just a log of information so they can present it to a law enforcement officer.”

Amitin says technology has made stalking easier. For example, she says stalkers can secretly place GPS devices underneath a victim’s car and then track the movement of the vehicle. She warns against posting too much personal information on social networking websites.

Amitin says, “I’ve heard people refer to Facebook as just a way to “stalk” anyone you want, as long as you’re friends with them and that individual posts information online. Sometimes people post that they’re going to the store. They know the time it was posted, they know where they’re going. People want to be extremely careful about who they’re friends with on friend sites like Facebook and be careful about what they post and who has their personal information.”

In 2008, Missouri lawmakers updated laws pertaining to harassment to include contact by phone and any electronic form of communication. Amitin says stalking should be taken seriously because it can escalate to violent crimes.