Stalking affects as many as 3.3 million adults in the United States in a given year. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one out of seven of those individuals claim they were forced to move out of their home because of being stalked or harassed. But moving might not solve the problem of being tormented by a stalker, and there are many things to consider before taking such drastic action.
Know your housing rights
Let your landlord know you’re being stalked and ask them to install a camera system. If they decline, you can install a personal security system in your own unit. Thankfully, there are many easily installed, affordable home security solutions that can record encroachments upon your living space.
While landlords and property managers are not obligated to protect a victim of stalking on their property, they generally are not permitted to evict, deny residence to, or retaliate against a victim because of the actions of the stalker.
If you live in subsidized housing, including Section 8 rentals, the Federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) offers you additional protections, including the right to relocate to a different unit within the apartment complex and the right to break your lease without penalty. These VAWA protections do not extend to the renting population as a whole, but some states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maine, permit any victims of stalking and domestic violence to terminate their rental agreements early.
As the previous paragraph indicates, states have widely differing laws regarding stalking and housing, and some are far more comprehensive and offer far more protections than others. A local attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant law can help you understate the legal situation in your state.
Notify the authorities
And needless to say, you should let the police know about your situation. In some jurisdictions stalking is elevated to a felony offense depending on many different variables, such as whether the crime is committed because of a victim’s race or if the victim is a minor. In others, however, stalking is still considered a mere misdemeanor.
Depending on the state where you reside, the court can issue a stalking protection order that offers you extensive security. But you’ll need to prove unwanted contact before the courts and the police will get involved.
According to Oregon landlord-tenant lawyer Orion Nessly, “A stalking order requires at least two unwanted contacts, and you can seek one yourself through the courts, rather than the police. If you can show proof of the threatening messages and vandalism, it will help your case greatly.”
The more proof you have of a stalker’s activity, in any form, the stronger the case will be in court. Being stalked can be an overwhelming, paralyzing experience, and it’s easy to become exhausted and just wish it was over. But don’t give into such feelings.
It is vital that you record every instance of contact between you and your stalker. Stalking survivors recommend keeping a journal and carrying a portable recording device to capture every single interaction involving the stalker. Even events that may not seem illegal, such as unwanted flower deliveries or minor changes to your property (for example, moving patio furniture around to “mess with your head”), can be evidence in building a case against the stalker.
Sometimes personal safety requires you to take extreme measures, but uprooting your life and moving to a new home because of a stalker should be a last resort. With vigilance and organization on your part, stalkers can be caught, jailed, and otherwise prevented from endangering you and other victims.
Finally, if you are being stalked or harassed, there are many resources available to assist you at the National Victims of Crime: Stalking Resource Center.
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