Stalking and Domestic Violence
By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Hal Armstrong, Esq | Last reviewed December 02, 2021
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Domestic violence situations often involve the stalking of the victim by an estranged partner. This can take many forms: repeated, unwanted phone calls, showing up to a place of work, or sitting in the car outside someone's house. The method used to stalk someone is less important than the pattern of malicious behavior.
This article explores the links between stalking and domestic violence and the laws meant to protect victims and potential victims.
Stalking: The Basics
Stalking is defined as a pattern of behavior meant to cause fear or apprehension in the victim. It may involve the following:
- Repeated threatening or harassing behaviors, such as frequent phone calls and text messages
- Following or shadowing a person
- Appearing at a person's home or place of employment
- Vandalizing property
- Any other activity that makes a person fear for his or her safety
The National Institute of Justice defines stalking as "a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated visual or physical proximity, nonconsensual communication, or verbal, written, or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear," with "repeated" meaning on two or more occasions.
Generally, there are three main types of stalking:
- Erotomania: This is a delusional obsession with a public figure or someone out of the stalker's reach.
- Love Obsessional: This involves stalking someone, often a complete stranger, with whom the stalker delusionally thinks they are in love.
- Simple Obsessional: This involves stalking someone with whom the stalker has a prior or existing personal or romantic relationship.
Domestic violence stalking fits into this last category and is perpetrated by a spouse, ex-spouse, lover, boyfriend, or girlfriend.
Stalking and Domestic Violence: State Laws
Stalking laws vary greatly from state to state. Some require that the stalker has committed a minimum of two acts. Or they require that the victim provide proof that the event was not an isolated occurrence. Other states specify that the threat of harm must be imminent. Some states classify activities such as lying-in-wait, surveillance, and non-consensual communication as stalking.
The following examples of state legislation on stalking illustrate differences in definitions of (and punishment for) stalking in domestic violence legislation:
- Domestic violence is defined as an act in which the perpetrator willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another and "makes a credible threat with intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her immediate family."
- If found guilty, the offense is punishable by up to one (1) year in county jail and up to $1,000 in fines. If the perpetrator has been convicted of a spousal or child abuse felony or has violated a protection order, then the punishment can increase to two to five (2-5) years in state prison.
- Domestic violence is defined as willful, malicious, and repeated following or harassing.
- If the stalking includes making a credible threat against a person, then it is considered aggravated stalking and is charged as a felony, with more severe punishment.
- If found guilty, the offense is punishable by up to one (1) year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If a stalker violates an injunction or restraining order, the judge must impose a minimum sentence of twenty-one (21) months in prison and can impose a sentence of up to five (5) years in prison or probation.
- Domestic violence is defined as knowingly engaging in conduct on more than one occasion that they know or reasonably believe the victim will view as threatening, that causes fear, or would cause a reasonable person to fear.
- If found guilty, the offense is punishable by two (2) to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Repeat offenses are punishable by two (2) to 20 years in prison.
Seeking Relief From Stalking and Domestic Violence: Restraining Orders
If you're the victim of domestic violence or stalking, you may want to file for an order of protection (i.e. restraining order). The laws and procedures for obtaining a protective order also vary by state.
Concerned About Stalking and Domestic Violence? Talk to a Lawyer.
If you or someone you love is in danger of stalking or domestic violence, contact law enforcement. If you have questions about your state's stalking laws, speak with a skilled family law attorney who specializes in domestic violence cases.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified family law attorney to make sure your rights are protected.