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Somebody’s Watching Me – New WV Anti-Stalking Law on the Books

June 10, 2008

Charleston, WV – If you're being stalked, how do you prove it - or prove that it's a threat to your safety? This month, a new West Virginia law spells out the particulars, about what constitutes the age-old crime of stalking. It includes following someone home repeatedly, installing global positioning (GPS) equipment on their vehicle, and sending unwanted gifts more than twice.

Lois Manns with the West Virginia Stalking Resource Center says there's a reason the new law is very specific - it should assist authorities with prosecutions, prompt police to take complaints more seriously, and help potential victims realize that some situations are not purely coincidental.

"If you're seeing someone more often than you used to see them when you dated them, this maybe is not just routine."

In movies and books, following someone is often portrayed as the romantic whim of a secret admirer. But statistics paint a different picture: 76 percent of women murdered by a former intimate partner had been stalked in the year prior to their deaths. In the past, Manns explains, blame has fallen on the victim, who is accused of "flirting" or otherwise encouraging stalking behavior. She says the new law should help debunk those misperceptions.

"It can happen before, during, after, or in even the total absence of a relationship. Whatever fuels this comes from the stalker, not from the victim."

The new law makes it clear that stalking can happen even if the victim had no relationship with the criminal. The old law had an "intimate partner" requirement, that Manns says prevented many cases from being prosecuted. She also suggestes those who think they're being stalked should keep a written log that includes details of suspicious behavior, which will help in a criminal investigation. The toll-free hotline for help is 1-800-799-SAFE.

Deborah Smith/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - WV