Speaking of Women's Rights: Stalking Awareness Month

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Stalking Awareness Month

By Joshua Bam

After the fight, James Bateman was convicted of simple assault. His girlfriend at the time decided to dump the abuser and move on. But that’s not the end of the story. 

A few months after the breakup she reported that she started receiving text messages from Bateman. Some of them were pictures of her boyfriend’s vehicle with corresponding threats, according to the Yakima Herald; one was a picture of a pistol.  She said that Bateman told her that if she didn’t break up with her boyfriend, he would post a “compromising” video of her online. And she reported that he made threats to her physical safety over the course of 150 unwanted text messages.

In July 2015, she took her cellphone to a police station in Benton County, Washington. Investigators scanned the texts, which lead to a felony charge against Bateman for cyberstalking with a domestic violence allegation. Bateman’s trial was set for November 16, 2015. The case is still ongoing, Bateman is currently out on $10,000 bail.

Yes, you read that right. A cyberstalker who is charged with threatening violence against two victims over the course of 150 texts is out on bail while his criminal trial is pending.

Unfortunately, this scenario is far too indicative of the time we live in. 

January is Stalking Awareness Month, the perfect time to begin changing the status quo. In 2016, approximately 7.5 million people will be stalked in the U.S. The majority of victims will be stalked by someone they know, and about 11% will have already been stalked for five years or more. 

Most organizations and laws classify stalking as an intentional incident of threatening, harassing, following, surveillance, or coercive behavior that occurs more than once and causes you to fear for your safety, the safety of someone you know, or your property. Stalking is a serious crime. In today's world, cyberstalking—or electronic communication with the intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass another person—is just as serious. 

In December, Legal Voice shared the story of Karen’s experience with cyberstalking and nonconsensual pornography. She was faced with an abuser who sent threatening text messages, and then posted her intimate images and personal information online. When she sought help, no one treated her abuser’s actions as a crime.

But stalking is a crime under the laws of all 50 states. Some states treat the crime as a felony; others don't. In fact, every state's stalking laws are a bit different. Some states require victims to experience actual fear of death or bodily harm; others say reasonable fear is enough. And, just like it happened in Benton County, many perpetrators accused of stalking can post bail and roam free while their criminal trial is pending.

Here’s a not-so-fun fact: Three out of four women killed by their partners were being stalked by those partners before the murder. Three out of four. And even if the stalking doesn’t lead to physical violence, the psychological impacts are often severe.

We must make sure stalking victims get the protection they need. Washington State offers a protection order created specifically for victims of stalking who experience more than “unlawful harassment” but do not qualify for a Domestic Violence Protection Order. Stalking victims can further protect themselves by enrolling in the Address Confidentiality Program, filing a civil or criminal lawsuit, or requesting a notification of the stalker’s release from jail or prison. More information on these options is available in the Legal Voice memo, Are You Being Stalked? Tips for Protection.

During Stalking Awareness Month (and all year round), education is key. With a complete understanding of the realities of stalking—how common it is, what it actually looks like, and what can happen if left unaddressed—we can better empower stalking victims to protect themselves and help to end the stalking before a physical attack occurs.

Josh is a managing partner at Benchmark Legal where he practices business, commercial, and tax law. He volunteers his time as a site manager with the UWKC Free Tax Preparation Campaign and serves on Legal Voice's Self Help Committee. Josh is also currently the president of Seattle Select Attorneys Association.