In communities across the United States, domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, domestic abuse, or relationship abuse, remains one of the most prevalent safety issues. Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship, according to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline. Behaviors that are considered characteristic of relationship abuse include use of physical or sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation. During the course of an abusive relationship, many different forms of these behaviors can be occurring at the same time, and among the most common is intimate partner stalking.
The Department of Justice defines stalking as a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of others, or to suffer substantial emotional distress. There is a strong correlation between domestic violence and stalking – a study conducted in 2003 found that 74% of victims of intimate partner stalking reported violence or coercive control during a relationship, while another found that 81% of women stalked by a former or current partner were physically assaulted by that partner, as per the National Institute of Justice.
Even more alarming, 76% of women murdered by an intimate partner were stalked first, and 81% of women who survived a murder attempt were stalked, according to a study titled “Stalking and Intimate Partner Femicide” published in 1999. Further studies have shown that nearly half of domestic violence incidents go unreported, meaning the full scope of these issues may be even greater than studies have shown over the past several decades.
Domestic violence amounts to a public health crisis in the United States and given the dire stakes, state and local safety managers must take intimate partner stalking seriously. Partner stalking can occur in several forms, but the most common are:
- Physical Surveillance: a victim is followed, spied on, watched, or receives unwanted contact including phone calls.
- Proxy Stalking: the involvement of other people in tracking a victim.
- Cyber-stalking: includes the use of the internet, e-mail, or other electronic communication to stalk another person.
Specific steps can be taken to adequately address instances of stalking as part of a comprehensive safety plan, regardless of what form the behavior.
How To Protect Victims of Intimate Partner Stalking
On average, 20 people experience domestic violence every minute, and 1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner. Domestic violence is prevalent in every community, and affects all people regardless of age, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. Three common reasons victims don’t report domestic violence are because the incident seemed to be a personal or private matter, fear of offender retaliation, and a perception that local law enforcement could not, or would not, assist. It’s important for state and local safety managers to make sure community-members know resources are available if they or somebody close to them is a victim of domestic abuse and facing an incident of intimate partner stalking.
Nearly 19% of victims who report a stalker stopped say it’s because they, the victim, moved away, which suggests address confidentiality programs (ACP) are an an effective strategy to combat stalking. ACPs encourage victims to relocate as far from their stalker as possible and secure a confidential mailing address, usually a post-office box, instead of their physical address. First-class mail sent to the substitute address will be forwarded to the victim’s actual address.
By instituting an address confidentiality program, states can protect victims of domestic violence and intimate partner stalking from offenders who use public records such as voter or driver license registries, to locate them, as per the National Center for Victims of Crime. Thirty-six states have instituted address confidentiality programs, and the laws to determine eligibility vary from state to state. These programs tend to work best in conjunction with other safety strategies, but if available, can be a critical component of a victim’s personal safety plan.
Studies show that informal law-enforcement intervention, such as having a detective contact a perpetrator, can be an effective means to deter stalkers. Informal law enforcement intervention has proven to work best in situations where the victim and suspect had a prior relationship and the suspect is not suffering from a significant mental illness, according to NCJRS. Many victims reported that informal, rather than formal, justice system interventions, helped with the cessation of stalking. For example, 15% of victims reported stalking stopped after the assailant received a warning from the police, while only 1% report the stalking stopped after a formal justice system intervention.
Data also suggests that the formal justice system interventions, such as restraining orders, prosecutions, and arrests are too rare in stalking cases. This is due to anti-stalking statutes which require a credible threat of violence from a perpetrator against the victim, which often complicates cases of stalking or domestic violence in the criminal justice system and contributes to victim’s frustration. The small number of stalking cases which are prosecuted indicates that states need more comprehensive anti stalking statutes and that comprehensive domestic violence competency training for criminal justice professionals processing or managing these cases can enhance victim protections and increase offender accountability.
For victims of domestic violence to develop and implement a safety plan, the first and often most difficult step is reaching out for help from a domestic violence hotline, local law enforcement, or another agency or organization committed to helping victims. Most domestic violence cases involving a report of intimate partner violence originate when a victim calls 9-1-1 with a report of assault, battery, or a stalking incident.
Effective communication between first responders and victims of domestic violence could be the difference between life and death. Text-to-911 can be a powerful technological tool for empowering victims of domestic violence to reach out for help. In numerous cases, SMS Texting capability has helped first responders reach back out in family violence cases following a hang-up, allowing the caller to communicate the situation without putting themselves or their family in further danger by talking out loud. It is clear that in the majority of cases, a domestic violence victim will opt to communicate with 9-1-1 via text.