By Debra Thornblad
Twenty-four percent of New Hampshire residents that contacted the National Stalking Crisis Center live in Coos County. One in six women will be stalked at some point in their lifetimes (the figure for men in 1 in 19), 76 percent of those murdered by a current or former partner had been stalked by that person within the past 12 months. In 2012 the RESPONSE office in Berlin helped over 150 people.
Those startling statistics were presented a a program on stalking held recently at the Gorham Public Library by Donna Cummings from RESPONSE to Sexual and Domestic Violence and Gorham Police Lt. Jennifer Lemoine, who presented the legal aspects of the crime of stalking.
The stalking law in N.H. is a fairly new one, just 20 years old, and one of the most difficult to prosecute, Lemoine said.
“Victims don’t always work in their own best interests,” Lemoine said. “It’s usually someone they know and they don’t want to hurt their feelings.”
There are three parts to the stalking law that identify behavior by which someone may be found guilty of the crime. The law is, of course, full of legalese but essentially they are as follows:
*Purposely, knowingly or reckless engages in conduct targeted at a specific person that would place a reasonable person in fear for his or her life or that of a member of their immediate family and does, in fact, put that person in fear.
*Purposely and knowingly engages in conduct targeted at a specific person that the perpetrator knows will place that person in fear for her or her life or that of their immediate family.
* Engages in conduct that violates a previously issued protective order.
Lemoine said the best course of action if you are in immediate fear is to call 911. Police are immediately dispatched to an address even if the reason for the call is as yet unknown.
Relief is found in the courts, but can also be found through the police with an emergency order where there is probably cause (a threshold of only 51 percent belief there is a threat). It’s important to follow up with the courts as soon as possible, as an emergency order expires at 4 p.m. the next business day.
Police may arrest a perpetrator without a warrant if probably cause is found. They must arrest within 12 hours if the offense is a violation of a protective order. There is no bail for a person arrested for a violation of a protective order.
If a first time offender is found guilty, it’s a Class A misdemeanor. If this is the second or more offenses within seven years, he or she would be guilty of a Class B felony.
What some may not know, Lemoine said. Is that the age of the perpetrator or victim does not preclude the issuing of a protective order.
Both Lemoine and Cummings noted that the names of the victims of stalking or those working with RESPONSE are never released to the public.
Cummings said one of the ways a victim can help themselves is to keep a log of any encounter or suspected encounter (following, meeting at the store, etc). That will make their case stronger.
Sometimes the stalking laws are confused, and there may be overlaps, with harassment statutes. There are similarities between the two. When it comes to stalking or harassment, there are often other charges involved, such as assault and criminal threatening.
There may be some differences in what’s actually enforced state to state, Cummings said, but generally a stalking order from one state is recognized in all states. There are federal stalking charges as well.
Cummings said some victims have described stalking as a crime that has a beginning, but no end.
Factors that increase the likelihood of lethality include:
*A prior sexual relationship with the person.
*Prior criminal background
*Symbolic violence (such as killing a pet)
*Mental illness and personality disorders.