POSTED ON OCTOBER 25, 2006:
Creatures Walk Among Us
Stalkers, from Jason to Michael Myers to the gill man from the Black Lagoon, have nothing on the reality of dealing with actual perpetrators of violence.
Stalk on the Wild Side. ŇStalking laws seem ineffective because youŐre attempting to prevent the action of someone in a highly emotional state,Ó officials say. ŇThe laws are in place to influence people who arenŐt concerned with the consequences of their actions. You canŐt legislate human behavior, and thatŐs basically what this is.
Jamie* is a pretty, petite blonde with a warm smile, inviting eyes and an unassuming tone. She is friendly, welcoming upon meeting, and she seems genuinely happy -- almost to the point of perkiness. She is open and energetic, a single mom with a full-time job who makes it look easy. She very well could be Superwoman, and I'm still not convinced she's not. I know her weakness, though. Every super woman has one, and I know her secret.
Jamie is being stalked. She is literally being tortured on a daily basis by someone she has been close to for a very long time.
The News Hits Home
In the movies and on TV, stalkers are shadows lurking in the background. They are often portrayed as obsessive fans, irrational acquaintances who have some delusion about their victims' affection for them, and in some cases, they are.
In Jamie's case, though, her stalker is her ex-husband and the father of her daughter. And since their volatile separation and subsequent divorce more than three years ago, Jamie's ex has been making her life, and the lives of those she's close to, miserable.
He sends her 20 to 30 E-mails a day (that's on average--some days he sends none; some days more), follows her to her daughter's school and stalks members of her family as much as he does her.
He's physically assaulted her, been verbally abusive and made sickening threats toward her and her family, using her daughter as a tool for harassment.
Doug* (Jamie's ex) recently accused Jamie's father of sexually molesting Jamie's daughter, an untrue accusation that caused Jamie's family to become the subject of an investigation by the Department of Human Services, with whom they are active volunteers by way of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). The allegation was proved false, but not before damaging the family's reputation and causing them severe emotional anguish.
One night, Doug called Jamie at home demanding to speak to their daughter. It was 11pm, and the child was ill, so Jamie told him he couldn't speak to her until tomorrow. So Doug called back 100 times that night, just to harass Jamie.
The following week, he showed up at his daughter's school as Jamie was dropping the child off, which constituted a violation of the protective order filed against him.
He emerged from hiding behind his car and approached Jamie in the parking lot. As she tried to get into her car, he pushed her and spat in her face. He began yelling at her, then grabbed her throat and threw her onto the ground in front of the school's window, through which Jamie feared her daughter could see.
Because of the way stalking has been portrayed in the media, many women in Jamie's situation have a hard time realizing and admitting that they are, in fact, being stalked and not just the victims of domestic violence or abuse, which is heinous in itself. Jamie herself said she had a hard time realizing that she was being stalked.
She even had a hard time admitting that she was being abused at all.
"If you've been in a relationship and engaged and married to this person, you're already kind of desensitized to that behavior," she said. "You've lowered your baseline for what's acceptable behavior."
A majority of stalking cases reported in the United States are committed by what are referred to as "intimate partner stalkers," meaning that they have had intimate relationships with their victims and have begun stalking them at some point during the relationship or after its demise.
According to a 1998 poll conducted by the Center for Policy Research and cosponsored by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stalking is more prevalent than previously thought. In the U.S., eight percent of women and two percent of men have been stalked at some point in their lifetimes.
That's one out of 12 women and one out of 45 men, which equals out to about one million women and 371,000 men yearly.
Seventy-eight percent of stalking victims are female, and 87 percent of perpetrators are male.
Of those female victims, 59 percent were stalked by some type of intimate partner, 38 percent of those by current or former husbands. Based on these and other reported results, conductors of the poll concluded that, in the future, stalking studies and research should focus on intimate partner and acquaintance stalking.
Stalking is generally defined as "harassing or threatening behavior that an individual engages in repeatedly, such as following a person, appearing at a person's home or place of business, leaving written messages or objects, or vandalizing a person's property" (NIJCDC poll).
In Oklahoma, stalking is defined by S21-1173, put into law in 1992 and amended in 2000, which states that stalking is defined as any person who willfully, maliciously and repeatedly (meaning more than twice) follows or harasses another person in a manner that would cause or actually causes a reasonable person or a member of the person's immediate family to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested.
No Rules Apply
Stalking is usually referred to, by professionals, as a set of behaviors and not a disorder of the psyche. However, stalkers often have pre-existing psychiatric disorders that contribute to the irrationality of their behavior, such as delusional disorder, schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia.
Nonpsychotic stalkers still often exhibit conditions like depression, adjustment disorder, substance abuse and narcissism.
In "Types of Stalkers," P.E. Mullen defines six major categories of stalkers (www.sexualharassmentsupport.org/typesofstalkers):
Rejected stalkers pursue their victims to avenge rejection; resentful stalkers are motivated by a sense of grievance to frighten and distress the victim; intimacy seekers see stalking as a means of attempting to establish an intimate relationship with the victim, believing they are meant to be together; the eroto-manic stalker believes the victim is in love with him and that the imagined romance will eventually become a permanent union; the incompetent suitor, despite poor social/courting skills, believes he is entitled to a relationship with his victim; and the predatory stalker spies on the victim in preparation of an attack, usually sexual in nature.
Stalkers reduce their victims to objects, disallowing the stalker from feeling remorse, regret or empathy for his victim, believing the victim deserves his punishment or attention. Stalkers often lie to defame their victims, further isolating them and giving the stalker more power.
Jamie believes Doug is a sociopath--not the serial killer version of a sociopath you see on TV, but an actual sociopath, a term that has recently been renamed to Antisocial Personality Disorder.
According to DSM-IV, individuals diagnosed with ASPD express a limited range of human emotions, which contributes to their lack of empathy for their victims.
Sociopaths tend to have strong superegos, feel a sense of entitlement and that no rules apply and show no indication of concern when it comes to physical pain or punishment for their actions.
Sociopaths often lie and manipulate others to achieve personal gain, are reckless and irresponsible, are aggressive and refuse to cooperate with social norms, even when their behavior is unlawful and could result in arrest.
Many are very adept at using the law to their benefit, however.
People such as Doug can also be a menace to normal society when unchecked. Indeed, when knowledge of Leah's situation became known, other similar and possibly related stories have come to light. An individual bearing a striking similarity to Doug, known as "Caveman" by neighbors in a serene midtown neighborhood, is typical of these walking time bombs, "creatures who walk among us," passing themselves off as law-abiding, productive citizens while, at the same time almost instinctively one step ahead of the law.
Neighbors and city police recall this individual's non-adaptability to civic norms--even things as simple as an irrational reluctance to walking his dogs on a leash--for instance, and, when confronted on the subject, becoming verbally and physically violent to the extent of assaulting at least one neighbor on several occasions recently.
In these instances, when Tulsa Police were called, this individual convinced the attending police that the victim himself was responsible for the disturbance.
The case finally went to mediation on the advice of Tulsa Police.
Upon mediation, "the Caveman" cowardly sent his current girlfriend in his place and the case went unresolved.
Perps and Stalkers such as these are extraordinarily adept at using conventional methods of skirting the legal process, using past experience with the law as a way to avoid prosecution as they continue to abuse the legal system in the mainstream posing as "productive citizens."
Jamie said she's studied the disorder and find that it matches Doug's personality perfectly.
"I've been very cautious about not trying to jump into his head and think I know him," Jamie said. "I know I don't know what's running through his head, and I don't presume to know that. But I can tell you, by the fruits of what he's done, he is a sociopath."
The irresponsibility and recklessness that mark stalking crimes make them difficult for lawmakers to prosecute and terrifying for the victims--they never know when their stalkers might strike, and when they do, they have usually left the scene by the time police arrive.
Steps to Stop Stalking
Oklahoma first passed an anti-stalking law in 1992, and all 50 states in the U.S. have similar laws, proving stalking is a crime that demands attention and punishment.
Oklahoma's anti-stalking law defines stalking as stated above and outlines punishment for perpetrators who violate protective orders set forth by the court.
The first violation of a protective order is a misdemeanor crime, punishable by a fine of no more than $1,000 or no more than one year in prison or both. Sometimes, though, first time offenders receive probation rather than jail time.
A second offense within 10 years of the first can earn the perpetrator a felony conviction and a punishment of a fine of no more than $2,500 or a prison term in the state penitentiary of no more than five years or both. A third offense constitutes a felony crime punishable by a fine of no less than $2,500 and no more than $10,000 or imprisonment in the state penitentiary for no more than 10 years or both.
State Representative Sue Tibbs spoke recently at a Stop Stalking Conference, hosted by T.K. Wolf, Inc. and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services at the West Campus of Tulsa Community College. There, Tibbs addressed the inadequacy of Oklahoma's anti-stalking laws and their enforcement.
"Stalking laws seem ineffective because you're attempting to prevent the action of someone in a highly emotional state," Tibbs said. "The laws are in place to influence people who aren't concerned with the consequences of their actions. You can't legislate human behavior, and that's basically what this is.
"We can only go so far with the law, and people go outside of it every day. We have laws against robbery and murder, and they still happen. But we can send a message through these laws and through prosecution of crimes."
Tibbs said the key to improving anti-stalking laws is to work for stronger prosecution of criminals who break those laws. She said the laws in place are good ones, but prosecution needs to be better to make those laws work.
Officer Jason Willingham of the Tulsa Police Department said stalking is an extremely difficult crime to prosecute because it's difficult to prove. Stalkers will claim first amendment rights when it comes to being in a certain place at a certain time, but if the perpetrator's victim has a protective order in place, then it is a crime and he can be arrested.
Oftentimes, though, a stalker is gone before police arrive at the scene. In that case, witnesses are needed to prove his contravention and aid in arrest.
Willingham said it is important for a victim to document every instance where she feels violated, or even nervous about a situation. Write down anything that happens, he said, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
The first step a victim should take to defend herself from a stalker is to file a protective order against the perpetrator. To do that, Willingham said, go to the third floor of the downtown post office, room 3190, Monday through Friday at 9am or 2pm.
The party filing the order will have to fill out an affidavit stating why she needs the protective order, detailing any communication she's had with the perpetrator, the history of the harassment and why she feels she's in danger.
According to Womenslaw.org, which offers guidelines for filing protective orders, petitioners should bring with them information about their abuser -- a photo, all possible addresses (home, work, parents' home, deputies might find him to serve the order), phone numbers, a description of the defendant's car with license plate information and any history of drug use or gun ownership.
She should use very description and direct language when filling out the paperwork, and use details and dates when possible. The Website recommends not signing the form until the clerk has looked it over and notarized it.
She then goes before a judge, explaining the situation and impending danger she feels. If the judge is convinced of the threat, he will put an emergency protective order in place.
A final court date will be set, the defendant will be subpoenaed, and then both parties and their respective attorneys will appear in court and have the opportunity to testify their sides of the story before a judge. At that time, a judge, if convinced that the stalking is actually taking place, may issue a final protective order, which will be in place for three years.
If the stalking ensues, extensions may be made, keeping the protective order in place as long as is needed.
Willingham said that, if the defendant violates the protective order in any way, even if it is phoning or e-mailing the plaintiff, or physically coming near her, she should detail the occurrence in a journal, keeping an accurate record of every violation of the order. She should also file a complaint with the Tulsa Police Department or the Sheriff's Office.
It's a lot of work for someone who is being victimized. Besides the emotional trauma and real threat of physical violence, the victim also is trying to live as normal a life as possible.
Willingham said it's important for victims to file a complaint every time the order is violated and to not give the perpetrator "another chance." If she does, Willingham said, the defendant will continue to violate the order.
"It can also hurt your case in court," Willingham said. "If you wait until he's violated the order three or four times, you'll create doubt in the mind of the court and of the District Attorney and they might be less apt to prosecute the case.
"You have to want to help yourself. You have to make this work for you," Willingham said.
When The Law Works Against You
Although that seems like logical advice, Jamie has found, in her situation, it isn't quite that easy.
Jamie has had a protective order in place against her ex-husband since they separated three years ago, and he violates it almost every day.
Jamie keeps a detailed diary of every occasion she sees or talks to Doug. She keeps every e-mail he sends and records every telephone conversation.
She said during the first two years of her divorce, she would spend approximately 30 hours per week journaling, printing E-mails, marking them as evidence and filing them. Even now, she said, she still spends almost 20 hours a week covering herself and keeping a paper trail of his indiscretions to counteract his lies.
At the time of publication, believing she had enough evidence to force Doug's arrest, Jamie was facing about 15 hours of work going through files and gathering evidence to present to her lawyer to make a case. It's an endlessly frustrating and exhausting situation.
"I'm constantly in this position where I'm the victim, but people in authority always look at me as if I'm the one who's dubious. You have to prove yourself every single time," Jamie said. "I'm always the one who has to pull up all the evidence to show that I'm being tortured by this person, which is another burden in itself. And there's no way out of any of this because he has my daughter."
Doug uses their daughter as a guise for harassing Jamie, and he's allowed to contact her if the reason for the contact is related to their child.
He also uses the opportunity to hurt, harass and threaten Jamie. Even when he is blatantly in violation of the order, and Jamie journals it and takes it to the police department, she is told that they can't make an arrest because the evidence is somehow related to their daughter.
Even when it's not, Jamie is told that, because there were no witnesses to the violation, her journaling alone isn't sufficient evidence to make an arrest. It will simply supplement her case in court.
Jamie understands why the laws require a witness and can appreciate that, to an extent; if Doug were lying about Jamie harassing him, she wouldn't want him to be able to make a case against her without adequate evidence.
So, on one occasion, Jamie saw Doug's car parked outside of her daughter's school as she was dropping her off. Knowing she needed a witness in order to press for an arrest, she asked another mother inside the school to come outside with her and be a witness to Doug's presence. The car's windows were so heavily tinted that there was no way the witness could see inside the vehicle and guarantee it was Doug.
"So I walked pretty close to the car, like within 10 feet, and I (motioned for him to roll down the window), and so of course he immediately rolled down the window and asked what I was doing," Jamie said. "And I said, 'I just wanted her to see that it was you,' and we walked off.
"So I go in to file the violation and the officer actually said to me, 'if you're really scared of this person, why would you do that?'
"Well, you do things to protect yourself and you overcome your fear. How else would I get up every day? And that's why the system is so frustrating."
At one point, Doug was arrested. The violation complaints had finally piled up enough that the D.A. saw cause for arrest.
"I had been in constant contact with the assistant district attorney," Jamie said. "They knew my addresses, my contact info, everything. When it came to the court date, they sent my subpoena to notify me to a house I hadn't lived in for six months that was completely vacant. The officer wrote 'served house, house was vacant.' They didn't even look through the files to look for my new address or anything, so I missed that court date because I wasn't notified.
"The D.A. sent me a letter saying I can reopen the case at any time, but, you know, it's so much trouble to do all that again, because basically I have to start the whole process over again, and I am tired."
On top of everything, Jamie works full time. She works while her daughter is at school, before she goes to school and after she goes to bed so that when her daughter is at home, Jamie is free to be with her and give her as normal a life as possible.
What gets her through these seemingly impossible situations are her faith, her church and her family.
"The way I get through it is my faith and my church. I have to have this sense of knowing someone's watching out for me and this is somehow going to work out for the better.
"Not just this abstract thought of it, but really have a belief system. Otherwise, I don't know how I would have gotten through it. I wouldn't probably be doing as well as I am," Jamie said.
She also said she's determined to make it her life's mission to help women in similar situations and to find a way to make the system work for women and not against them so that stalkers are prosecuted and women are safer.
Women in situations similar to Jamie's can turn to the Ann Patterson Dooley Family Safety Center, 3010 S. Harvard, for education, counseling and legal help.
The center partners with Domestic Violence Intervention Services (DVIS) and DVIS Legal Services, RSVP Safety Shepherd Volunteers, the D.A.'s office, the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries, TPD and the YWCA of Tulsa Multicultural Center to offer advocates for immediate and long-term assistance, chaplain services, counseling, access to the D.A.'s office, forensic nurses, lawyers for family matters and divorce and police officers.
The center provides, in one location, quick, safe and confidential information and resources for women who are the victims of stalking or any other kind of abuse. The center is open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. For more information visit www.fsctulsa.org.
The way to improve the system, said Rep. Tibbs, is for more victims of stalking to come forward, share their stories and force the change.
*names have been changed
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