Incorporate Assessments for Stalking Behaviors and Ensure Measures are Taken to Address the Problem
An estimated 312,000 Georgians are stalked each year (Elliott & Lemeshka, 2017) and based on national research, the majority of stalking behaviors are perpetrated as part of a larger dynamic of domestic violence.
Sixty-two percent of female and 43 percent of male victims of stalking report their stalker was a current or former intimate partner (Smith et al., 2017). Little is known of the extent of the problem of intimate partner stalking in Georgia outside of estimates and anecdotes.
Since 1975, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) has acted as the clearinghouse for Georgia-specific data on crimes and crime trends. The GBI administers the Georgia Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, which is part of a nationwide, cooperative statistical effort administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The UCR program collects data on known offenses and persons arrested in our state via the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC). GCIC collects information from the monthly crime and arrest reports of more than 600 state and local law-enforcement agencies (Georgia Bureau of Investigation, 2018a). Unfortunately, Georgia lacks a UCR code specific to stalking, thus little data is known about its prevalence within our state. Even after a legislative mandate expanded the family violence-specific data collected by the GBI in 1995, there is a lack of information about the crime of intimate partner stalking.
Georgia still has work to do in terms of understanding the crime of stalking. Perhaps to our detriment, the State’s definition of stalking is rather cumbersome. O.C.G.A. § 16-5-90 indicates that a person commits the offense of stalking when he or she follows, places under surveillance, or contacts another person at or about a place or places without the consent of the other person, for the purpose of harassing and intimidating the other person.
Under that law, “contact” is defined as any communication including but not limited to communication in person or by telephone, mail, broadcast, computer, computer network, or any other electronic device. O.C.G.A. § 16-5-90 also defines “harassing and intimidating” as engaging in a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes emotional distress by placing such person in reasonable fear for such person’s safety or the safety of a member of his or her immediate family, that establishes a pattern of harassing and intimidating behavior, and which serves no legitimate purpose. Importantly, Georgia’s law does not require an overt threat of death or bodily injury to be made to meet the threshold of stalking, but it does carve out certain restrictions on the “place or places” the crime of stalking can occur.
O.C.G.A. § 16-5-90 indicates the location where the offense of stalking takes place shall include any public or private property occupied by the victim other than the residence of the defendant. If the victim and stalker have been living in various states of togetherness or separation, as is often the case in an abusive relationship, this caveat can add a level of confusion for responding law enforcement officers attempting to determine what qualifies as the residence of the defendant. The same can be said of the required element of fear, which is often in flux, depending on the day-to-day activities of the current or former relationship of the parties.
While one benefit of Georgia’s law is that the behaviors included in the pattern of stalking are non-specific and grouped only as “surveillance” or “contacts,” many systems responders in our state lack training to properly identify and appropriately respond to stalking behaviors. What we know of stalking is the breadth of behaviors associated with it go well beyond the stereotypical stranger lurking in the shadows.
Glenda had been married to Rick for nearly 20 years by the time she filed a report with law enforcement about his stalking. She had taken many steps to address the problem before then, but her efforts had not curtailed Rick’s abusive behaviors. When she filed the report, Rick had added a tracking application to her cell phone. She returned to the police a month later and reported Rick had physically attacked her and told her he was going to get a gun. She also filed a report indicating just nights before, Rick had stalked her, entered her residence while she was asleep, strangled her and sexually assaulted her. The same day, Glenda filed for a Temporary Protective Order (TPO) against Rick.
While the TPO was in place, Rick continued to stalk Glenda. He showed up at events where Glenda was with their children, he repeatedly called her workplace, texted her and sent messages to her coworkers, followed Glenda and confronted her friends about what she had been doing, and posted signs around her neighborhood degrading her. She reported these incidents and Rick was arrested for multiple counts of aggravated stalking.
While incarcerated, Rick began to tell others of his plan to kill Glenda, a plan he followed when he was released from custody, sentenced with credit for time served. Upon his release, Rick again entered Glenda’s home without her knowledge, where he shot and killed her.
In fact, the Project’s in-depth study of this issue in the 2017 Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Annual Report revealed the tactics utilized by intimate partner stalkers fell into many categories. Building off a framework developed by researchers T.K. Logan and Robert Walker, the 2017 Report categorizes behaviors into stalking strategies including surveillance, life invasion, intimidation and interference through sabotage or attack. The Report also evaluates the presence of electronic stalking behaviors which commonly appear in each of the four strategies.
Stalking behaviors were known to be present in 58 percent of all cases reviewed by the Project but, like Georgia’s criminal stalking data, there is a lack of information about the rate at which victims of intimate partner stalking contact various responders in non-fatal cases. Data generated by the Project from reviewed cases has yielded surprising findings on the rate at which victims and perpetrators interact with various agencies and responders. In reviewed lethal stalking cases, both victims and perpetrators were more likely than those in non-stalking cases to be engaged with law enforcement, civil and criminal courts, prosecution, probation and parole, victim advocacy programs and FVIPs. Both victims and perpetrators in reviewed cases were also more likely to be employed and involved with their faith community than those not experiencing or perpetrating stalking behaviors. In light of our findings, it is also probable that non-lethal stalking victims and perpetrators are also engaged with these stakeholders at a higher rate. Given this, and considering the knowledge that intimate partner stalkers are the most dangerous type of stalker and stalking is a risk factor for homicide, Georgia must do more to ensure professionals in the field and on the bench are trained on both identifying and intervening in stalking cases.
STEPS GEORGIA CAN TAKE TO INCORPORATE ASSESSMENTS FOR STALKING BEHAVIORS AND ENSURE MEASURES ARE TAKEN TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM:
- Ensure responders from across the spectrum receive training on the issue of intimate partner stalking. The training should incorporate both the identification of stalking behaviors and how to respond to intimate partner stalking in accordance with best practices within their field.
- Develop or utilize existing screening tools for stalking behaviors which can be implemented at all points of contact with potential victims. Assessments such as the Stalking and Harassment Assessment and Risk Profile (SHARP) (available free of charge at CoerciveControl.org), Jacquelyn Campbell’s Danger Assessment (DangerAssessment.org), or the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment (ODARA) (odara. waypointcentre.ca) assess the big picture of the stalking situation by examining the course of conduct and provide a framework to educate victims about risks and safety.
- Ensure court outcomes for perpetrators of stalking appropriately reflect the severity of the behavior. Prior intimate partner stalkers are the most likely to recidivate, fail on conditional release, engage in both violent and non- violent re-offenses, and to commit new stalking offenses (Eke et al., 2011). Criminal sentences should be crafted with those findings in mind to enhance accountability for stalking offenders and to minimize the ongoing risk to victims.
- Consider legislative change to more comprehensively address the problem of stalking. Remove the qualification in Georgia’s stalking statute which eliminates the offender’s residence as a location at which the crime of stalking can occur, so as to allow for increased accountability for intimate partner stalkers acting against someone who also resides or resided in the residence.
- Provide referrals to a domestic violence advocate or program for ongoing supportive services and safety planning. Make brochures and information about local services to victims available to both potential victims and non- traditional responders who may be providing them support.