Stalking

The “relationship” began with a lunch break. Laura Black and Richard Wade Farley, employees at a high-tech defense firm, ESL, were introduced by a co-workers on a lazy afternoon in April of 1984. Black thought nothing of it; Farley claimed it was love at first sight and idealized Black as the perfect woman. For years, he followed her around town and attempted to win her love with gifts and letters (many including hand-drawn pictures of Black in a leotard). Farley’s desperation grew after he lost his job in 1986 for harassment. His letters mentioned guns, murders, and suicide. Black decided to secure a permanent restraining order. The day before the hearing, Farley donned army fatigues, a knife, a semiautomatic shotgun, a .357 magnum revolver, and a .22 automatic revolver and stormed Laura’s workplace. He intended to ask her to drop the restraining order, but he snapped on the way in and put his weapons to use, killing seven and wounding four. Among the wounded was Laura Black.

Farley was a stalker. Stalking, “the willful, malicious, and repeated following or harassing of another person”, is often referred to as “The Crime of the Nineties”. Stalking has only recently received legislative and public attention. The press has brought about legislative advances, but the current laws prohibiting stalking still give insufficient protection to victims.

The frequency and danger of stalking crimes cannot be disputed. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than a million women and 370,000 men are stalked each year, and about half never report it; the National Institute of Justice estimates that 8% of women and 2% of men have been stalked at some point in their lives. In Japan, there were 11,543 stalking complaints in the first half of 2000, and one Japanese survey found that 25% of women in their 20s and 30s had been stalked. In 1992, 1500 women were stalked and murdered by their former boyfriends. Stalking more frequently receives press in the case of celebrities; the stalker of Martina Hingis was recently convicted and jailed for that crime. Stalking is not just a fringe crime; it is a societal problem.

Even when not followed by violence, stalking causes great psychological damage to the victim. One example is Crystal Peterson of Independence, Oregon. She was stalked by an older man beginning when she was age seven. At first, her parents thought the love letters she received were from a young boy, but when the letters took on a darker and more violent tone, the Petersons took action. They kept their blinds drawn and hesitated to let their children play outside. One parent walked Crystal to school every day, and school authorities kept a constant watch over her. She slept near her mother, who kept fireplace pokers nearby at all hours of the night. The girl was robbed of her innocence and freedom. “I have to stay where they can see me during recess,” she complained. “If my friends want to play somewhere else, I’m left there all alone.” Fortunately, her stalker was apprehended, but many children and adults must go their entire lives fearing and mistrusting people, especially of the opposite sex, because of post-stalking trauma.

The aforementioned failure to stop stalkers is the precise problem with the law today. While there have been legislative advances against stalking, the problem is still not adequately addressed. Stalking only recently became a crime; the first anti-stalking law was enacted in California on January 1, 1991, after the stalking and murdering of actress Rebecca Schaeffer. By October 1993, every state in the nation had legislation against stalking. Starting in 1994, U.S. Congress passed a series of laws which became known together as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). On May 18, 2000, the Japanese Diet passed its first anti-stalking law.

These laws are sometimes too weak, too specific, or unconstitutional. Many state laws require the victim to be followed or assaulted before the police can make an arrest; this allows the stalker to wreak psychological terror without being arrested, and sometimes assaults cannot be prevented until it is too late. Sometimes bail is set too low; on December 9, 1998, a Ventura County hairstylist was stabbed to death by her former boyfriend, Roland Sheehan, after he was released on $20,000 bail. Sheehan had violated his restraining orders 15 times.

Other laws are too specific. In Kansas a person must be both harassed and followed for the stalker to be charged with a crime. This means the stalker can follow his victim everywhere but escapes litigation if there is no other harassment, and a person who floods another person with email, telephone calls, or letters cannot be arrested if they do not also follow their victim. Such loopholes allow a stalker to continue his behavior.

Conversely, stalking laws can run afoul of the Constitution. On July 16, 2000, U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen ruled that Michigan’s stalking law, among the nation’s toughest, is “unconstitutionally broad” and could undercut “the media’s ability to gather news”, “jeopardize commercial speech”, and hinder citizens’ rights to “redress political or legal grievances”.

There are problems not only in the writing of the law but also in their enforcement, which is lackluster. Among the problems is that some judges do not take stalking seriously. In one case, Brooklyn judge Lorin Duckman released Nenito Oliver, a convicted stalker and woman beater, from a court case for violation of restraining orders. Oliver argued to the court that he was not stalking his girlfriend but rather trying to retrieve his dog from her. Duckman believed him, saying “he has been in jail long enough for a person who is charged with these crimes. I want to know about that dog.” Three weeks later, Oliver came to his girlfriend’s workplace and shop her in the head with a revolver. Duckman was eventually dismissed. Not only judges, but prison guards, parole boards, and officials often consider stalkers harmless because they are courteous, model prisoners. Even in celebrity cases, stalkers are treated leniently; a German judge sentenced the man who stabbed tennis player Monica Seles in the back during a match to two years in prison but then suspended his sentence and let him go free.

The general public also lacks awareness of the issue. Society supports the idea of romantic pursuit. The Police’s 1983 hit “Every Breath You Take” was intended to depict an obsessed stalker, but it is usually heard as a love song. The Japanese Konjaku Monogatari tales written in about 1120 recount an aristocrat’s lifelong fixation on a beautiful court aristocrat who composes intricate plans to evade him. As long as society does not take stalking seriously, there will not be pressure to write laws against it.

The problem of stalking is serious and requires state acknowledgment. Stalkers cause physical and psychological damage to their victims, and new laws should be written accordingly and also enforced. The American people deserve as much.

Authors Cited: Goodnough, Landau, Silverman

Explore posts in the same categories: Law, Schoolwork

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