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“Know it. Name it. Stop it.” Stalking Awareness Month in AZ

GRAPHIC: Domestic violence prevention groups across the country are spreading the word about National Stalking Awareness Month.
GRAPHIC: Domestic violence prevention groups across the country are spreading the word about National Stalking Awareness Month.
January 23, 2013

PHOENIX - January is Stalking Awareness Month in Arizona, and a national campaign is under way to "Know it. Name it. Stop it."

State law lists stalking as a crime, but Caroline Fleming, executive director of the Custer Network Against Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault, says it's not an easy one to identify or prosecute because it's a series of events that instill fear. Those events could include repeated phone calls or texts, vandalism, animal abuse, unwanted gifts and "surprise" visits.

Fleming says education is important because stalking is a significant risk factor for future serious injury or death.

"There's just way too much of it going on, and a lot of times with domestic violence victims, their batterers stalk them after they get away."

Legal-aid attorney Margaret Reger says it isn't always easy to identify or prosecute stalking cases, because the law defines some types of behavior differently.

"There's a crime of harassment, which is an annoyance more than anything. Then there's terroristic threatening, which can be a one-time thing, of doing one thing that would just scare you to death. And then, stalking is a series of events; the person knows that they're being watched."

The Stalking Resource Center says stalking is linked to anxiety, depression and missed work time for people who experience it. Reger says it can be especially frustrating for the victim when friends, bosses and even law enforcement don't take their concerns seriously.

"I've seen them terrorized, shaking - they won't go out, they're afraid to go anywhere. It's really difficult to deal with a stalker. I've had clients lose their jobs over it. Employers don't like this."

A few legal options exist for dealing with a stalker, Reger says, including getting a "no contact" order, a restraining order or an order of protection, depending on the situation.

Fleming says the crime has become more complicated because of technological advances in computers, spyware, GPS devices and hidden cameras.

"It's becoming so much easier to follow people's movements through lots of different technologies, and they don't even maybe know that they're being watched."

The Stalking Resource Center reports that one in six women and one in 19 men have been a stalking victim at some point.

In Arizona, the penalty for stalking is up to 3 1/2 years in state prison.

Stalking statistics are online at StalkingAwarenessMonth.org.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ