ST. GEORGE — For the month of January, which is known as National Stalking Awareness Month, local advocacy organizations are educating the public about what stalking is and what to watch for.
Stalking is a serious crime that can result in a civil stalking injunction, according to the Utah State Court System, or fines and jail time if stalking continues. Stalking is considered two or more incidents of behavior including observing, following or photographing another person in a manner that causes that person to fear for their safety or the safety of someone else, said Nadine Davis, victim advocate at St. George Police Department Victim Services.
When a person comes to Victim Services with concerns about stalking, the department can provide resources ranging from helping with filing a report to providing a person to talk to, Davis said. Most people come in after experiencing unwanted contact from another person and just want it to stop, she added.
“Normally, we’re contacted when it’s basically come to a point where they’re concerned about the amount of contact,” Davis said. “Sometimes a person just wants the other person to stop, and therein lies what an officer can and can’t do.”
There is no one-size-fits-all charge or solution for stalking because every case is different. Once a report is filed, a police officer must determine evidence and evaluate whether the case constitutes stalking or not. Nationally, in 32% of cases, the officer warns the offender to stop and 20% of the time, officers suggest a protective order, Davis said. Sometimes, no action is taken other than providing advice to the potential victim on how to protect themselves, such as securing the home.
Only 7% of stalking cases nationwide lead to an arrest, Davis said, and 5% of victims are referred to victim services. Last year, victim services contacted or attempted to contact 216 people who had reported stalking or harassment in St. George, she said.
The Dove Center of St. George is a nonprofit organization that has been advocating for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence locally since 1994. For National Stalking Awareness Month, the center launched a social media campaign including statistics and information about stalking. There are a few things the center tells people to watch out for when they’re concerned about stalking, said Markee Pickett, the center’s communications manager.
“We talk about ways to make them feel safe and ways they can take back control of their life,” Pickett said. “We teach them how to keep track of the amount of experiences they’re going through … so if they’re receiving texts from an unwanted person and they tell them, ‘Stop contacting me, I don’t want you contacting me anymore,’ we go through that process of how to document the stalking instances.”
The Dove Center can also help with counseling, victim advocacy and obtaining a stalking injunction, Pickett said. In 2019, the Dove Center served 1,307 people and 21% reported cases of stalking. In 2020, the center served 1,107 people and 22% reported stalking, Pickett said. It can be difficult to find the line between stalking and a generally annoying person, but Pickett referenced the Utah criminal code section on stalking, which describes the offense as at least two incidents of unwanted calls, texts, gifts or visits at work or elsewhere. The victim must also tell the stalker that they do not want to be contacted anymore, Pickett said. A person can be stalked through social media or in person.
The majority of stalking cases are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, Pickett said, adding that 41% of stalkers are current partners of victims the Dove Center works with, while 46% are former partners. Less than 2% are strangers.
“I know it’s hard to differentiate between when a line is crossed, but if a victim or a survivor generally does not want to be contacted by this person, that makes them feel unsafe and that’s a big issue,” Pickett said.
Editor’s note: This article was fixed to say that 41% of stalkers are current partners of victims the Dove Center works with.
Update, Jan. 25, 4:33 p.m. Information about the number of St. George cases added.
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