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What qualifies as stalking?

If you've been accused of stalking, you may feel stunned. You don't think you did anything to warrant those accusations, and you can't believe you're going to wind up in court over this.

In some cases, this confusion stems from the fact that people have a very narrow idea of what stalking really is, whereas the law defines it in broader terms. It is important to understand exactly what constitutes stalking in a legal sense. It may include things like:

  • Sending repeated communications that are deemed intrusive and unwanted. These could be made by cellphone, by email or by regular mail.
  • Following an individual or waiting for him or her to arrive at places you know he or she frequents, such as work or a favorite restaurant.
  • Sending gifts and presents, such as flowers, that are unwanted. This may fall into the realm of stalking when it happens repeatedly.
  • Communicating with and harassing a person online. Stalking can happen on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.
  • Damaging property that the other person owns, such as a car, or threatening to do so.
  • Making threats that involve people in that person's life, from friends to family members to the person him or herself. Threats may also be targeted at pets.
  • Searching out and gathering extensive personal information about the person. This may be done online, by talking to friends and family members, by contacting coworkers and in a variety of other ways.

As you can see, you may have done something you felt was innocent, such as sending flowers and trying to contact the person online, and actually made that person feel as if you were stalking him or her. If so, it's very important to know all of your legal defense options.

Source: Justice Department, "Stalking," accessed March 23, 2018

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