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Stalking

WHAT IS STALKING?

Stalking is a crime. A stalker tries to control his or her victim through behavior or threats intended to intimidate and terrify. A stalker can be an unknown person, an acquaintance or a current or former intimate partner. A stalker’s state of mind can range from obsession to hatred. A stalker may follow or otherwise harass a victim off and on for a period of days, weeks or even years. Threats may be communicated to the victim in many ways. Not all threats must be direct threats. Stalkers sometimes use electronic means to communicate threats, including cell phones or computers. Stalking victims feel reasonable fear of bodily injury or death to themselves, family or household members, or may fear damage to property.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M BEING STALKED?

*The stalker may exhibit one or more of the following behaviors:

*Follow the victim and/or victim’s family or household members;

*Make telephone calls or send threatening mail, text messages or emails;

*Drive by or park near the victim’s home, office or other place familiar to the victim;

*Do damage to property – perhaps by vandalizing a car, harming a pet or breaking windows in the victim’s home; or

*Break into the victim’s home.

HOW IS STALKING PROVEN?

INTENT OF STALKER

The stalker must have the intent or the knowledge that his/her actions will instill fear or death or serious bodily injury to the victim or a member of the victim’s family or household or will otherwise terrify or harass the victim. Threats can be explicit (e.g., stating that he or she is going to kill the victim or family members) or implied (e.g., veiled threats, hurting a family pet or damaging or destroying the victim’s property). Threats may be conveyed by the stalker or by someone acting on behalf of the stalker.

CONDUCT OF STALKER

Generally, the conduct has to occur on more than one occasion and be directed towards the victim and/or the victim’s family or household members. However, there are some circumstances in which one incident will be sufficient to establish stalking (e.g., one incident of a person using electronic means to threaten to inflict bodily harm to a person or that person’s family constitutes cyber-stalking).

 WHAT IS THE LAW ON STALKING?

Two different Mississippi laws address stalking. Which law is applicable depends on the behavior of the stalker and the means used by the stalker.

MISSISSIPPI CODE ANNOTATED §97-3-107

Provides that “any person who willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows or harasses another person, or who makes a credible threat, with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury …” is guilty of the crime of stalking.

MISSISSIPPI CODE ANNOTATED §97-45-15

Is Mississippi’s cyber-stalking statute. Cyber-stalking involves the use of electronic means to communicate threats against a person, their family or against their personal property or to harass or terrify another person. The use in electronic communication of words or language threatening bodily injury for the purpose of extorting money constitutes the crime of cyber-stalking. It is also a crime under this statute to knowingly permit someone else to use your electronic communication device to harass or terrify someone.

NOTIFICATION REQUIREMENTS

Mississippi law provides that the jail or law enforcement agency has a duty, if provided a request for notice, to notify a victim of the release or escape of the offender. It is the victim’s responsibility to notify the jail or law enforcement of any change of address or phone number.

IF YOU ARE BEING STALKED:

The following tips and suggestions may help keep you safer and may also help in the prosecution of your stalker.

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS

If you feel uneasy, or if the stalker’s behavior makes you feel uncomfortable, take action. Do not feel embarrassed or downplay your fear.

NOTIFY LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT OR CAMPUS SECURITY

All stalking incidents should be reported to law enforcement and, if you are a student, to the campus security or school resource officer. Request that each incident be documented. Request a copy of the report from your local law enforcement agency. Give law enforcement any written correspondence and report any phone threats. Show them a picture of the stalker. Document dates any correspondence is received from the stalker. Know the name of the law enforcement officer in each incident.

KEEP A DIARY

Write a description of each incident, including time, date and place of each occurrence. Obtain the names and addresses of witnesses. Complete records are essential to the successful prosecution of stalking cases.

GET A PROTECTIVE ORDER

Depending on your relationship with the offender, you may be eligible for a domestic violence protective order. This is a civil court order that can help keep the stalker away from you and from certain areas near your home, your work, or your child’s school. In Mississippi, protective orders can be granted by certain courts to protect you from abuse, threats of abuse, stalking, or sexual assault by a current or former spouse, a current of former dating partner, someone with whom you have a child, or a family or household member who resides with you or who formerly resided with you. Contact the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 800.898.3234 or 800.799.7233 or your local domestic violence shelter to find out if you qualify for this kind of protection.

DO NOT HAVE CONTACT WITH THE STALKER

If the stalker calls, immediately hang up the phone. Do not talk to the stalker. Screen your calls. Write down the time and date the stalker calls. Keep recorded messages and give them to law enforcement.

SAVE RECORDINGS ON YOUR ANSWERING MACHINE

This may prove to be valuable evidence in the prosecution of your stalker. Contact your local law enforcement agency for more information on how to preserve this type of evidence.

SAVE ALL EMAILS OR TEXT MESSAGES

This information also may be useful in prosecuting your offender. Do not delete emails or text messages. Print out emails and save them. Ask your local law enforcement about the procedures for saving text messages or call the Office of the Attorney General’s, Cyber Crime Unit at 601.576.4281.

DO NOT GO OUT ALONE

You are in greater danger when you are alone. If at all possible, leave work or school with groups of people, and if you can, ask a friend to follow you home to make sure you arrive safely.

KEEP ALL CORRESPONDENCE

Make a copy of anything you receive from the stalker. Touching materials as little as possible will help to preserve fingerprints.

TELL EVERYONE

Give family, friends, co-workers and neighbors a description of the stalker. Show them a picture of the stalker. Ask them to document each time they see the stalker. Be sure your friends and family know where you are going to be and when.

STAY ALERT

Be aware of your surroundings and the people and things around you.

CHANGE YOUR ROUTINE

Vary routes of travel when you come and go from work, home or school.

PARK SECURELY AND IN WELL-LIT AREAS

Ask someone to escort you to your car.

BE AWARE OF VEHICLES FOLLOWING YOU

If you are followed, drive to a police station, fire department or busy shopping center and sound the horn to attract attention.

ALERT MANAGERS OR SECURITY AT YOUR PLACE OF BUSINESS

Provide a picture or description of the stalker.

HAVE A SECURITY CHECK OF YOUR HOME MADE BY LAW ENFORCEMENT TO ENSURE IT CAN BE LOCKED SAFELY

Secure all doors and windows in your home and vehicle.

MAINTAIN AN UNLISTED NUMBER

If Caller ID is available in your area, obtain the service for your phone.

DO NOT DISMISS ANY THREAT, WRITTEN OR VERBAL

Call the police or sheriff’s department and save any documentation.

MAINTAIN PRIVACY

Never give out personal information to anyone in places where the information can be overheard. Remove your phone number and Social Security Number from as many items as possible.

DEVELOP A SAFETY PLAN FOR YOURSELF AND FAMILY MEMBERS IN CASE OF EMERGENCY

Decide on a safe place to meet and someone to call if problems arise.

CARRY A CELL PHONE

TAKE A SELF DEFENSE CLASS

DO NOT POST PERSONAL INFORMATION ON SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES. (For example, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Stalkers can and do gain valuable information about where you are going to be from these sites.

IF AT ANY TIME YOU FEEL THAT YOUR LIFE IS IN DANGER, CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY!