STOP MENACING BY STALKING IT IS A CRIME
Stalking is a form of terror. It can be a sign of pending danger and can change a victim’s way of life. Thousands of Ohioans feel this terror every day. Law enforcement agencies and court orders cannot stop every instance of harassment, but when there is repeated stalking, the law now allows police and courts to respond. We hope that the following information will help you to understand the law and what it can do for you.
WHAT IS MEANACING BY STALKING?
Under Ohio law, as of November 1992, menacing by stalking is the act of a person who, on more than one occasion, follows, pursues, or harasses you. If an offender, knowingly engages in a pattern of conduct that the offender will cause physical harm to you or cause mental distress to you.
“Pattern of Conduct” means two or more actions or incidents closely related in time, whether or not there has been a prior conviction based on any of those actions or incidents.
“Mental Distress” means any mental illness or condition that involves some temporary substantial incapacity or condition that would normally require psychiatric treatment.
Therefore, a person whom on more than one occasion, follows, pursues or harasses you in a threatening manner may be guilty of menacing by stalking under Ohio Law.
WHO DO STALKERS TARGET?
Anyone could be targeted by a stalker. Often, stalkers are former spouses or partners. A stalker might target a public figure, a celebrity, a child, a casual acquaintance, or a complete stranger.
Victims have said that stalking has changed the way they live their lives. A stalker may intrude by following a victim to and from home, make harassing phone calls, or send threatening mail.
WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR MENACING BY STALKING CONVICTION?
A first offense of menacing by stalking is a misdemeanor of the first degree, with a sentence of up to six (6) months in jail and/or $1000 fine. A second or subsequent offense of menacing by stalking can be up to a felony of the fourth degree with a sentence of up to eighteen (18) months and/or $5000 maximum fine.
A stalker may be released on bail before trial is held. Before setting the amount and conditions of bail for the alleged stalker, the court must consider his prior history of violating court orders, the potential threat he poses to any other person, and whether setting a high bail will interfere with any treatment or counseling he is undergoing.
COULD A STALKER BE CHARGED WITH SOME OTHER CRIME?
Often a stalker commits other crimes in addition to stalking. This may include such crimes as domestic violence, harassment by telephone, burglary, or other crime. You should report all of the facts to the police and prosecutor, who can decide what criminal charges, might be filed.
WHAT STEPS SHOULD YOU TAKE IF YOU ARE A VICTIM
Call the Police
This is the first thing you can do when stalking incident occurs. Explain what happened and what threats were made against you.
If you have incidents which occur at your residence, your job, or even where you go shopping, report these incidents to the police agency responsible. Coordinating efforts between different agencies also helps to further show a pattern or conduct.
KEEP A NOTEBOOK OR CALENDAR
Record all of the detailed information about each encounter with a stalker. Your notes can refresh your memory later, should you need to speak with police or testify in court. Be sure to include the date, time, location, full description of the person, words spoken, actions taken during the incident, actions you took afterward, and names of witnesses. You may wish to tape record threats made over the telephone or other encounters.
CONTACT YOUR COUNTY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
Some counties in Ohio have a victim witness coordinator who can be helpful to you and keep you informed about your case if charges are filed.
SEEK A PROTECTION ORDER
Protection orders are court orders intended to keep the stalker away from you by making it illegal for them to have contact with you. A municipal court can issue an anti-stalking protection order or a temporary protection order (TPO) upon the filing of menacing by stalking, menacing, aggravated menacing or aggravated trespassing criminal charges and a motion for a protection order. A TPO is issued when the stalker is a family or household member, such as a former spouse or partner; and anti-stalking order is issued when the stalker is a stranger of other non-family or household member. Also, if the stalker is a family or household member, a domestic relation court can issue a civil protection order (CPO) without the filing of any criminal charges. To find out what kind of protective order you can get, contact a private attorney, legal aid, the county attorney, or the clerk of courts. A person who violates a protection order can be found in contempt of court and jailed or fined. Also, a person who violates a protection order is guilty of a criminal offense, usually a misdemeanor, but sometimes a felony, and is subject to criminal prosecution. All police and sheriff’s departments must maintain a record of all protection orders and must enforce any valid protection orders. For further information, call a domestic violence program if your stalker is a former spouse or partner.
SHOULD YOU TAKE ANY EXTRA PRECAUTIONS?
It is very hard to prevent crime, but you may be able to reduce the risk by taking extra precautions.
Your first defense against stalking is to have a heightened awareness of what is happening around you. You may want to tell others about the threat as well --- neighbors, family, and co-workers. Ask them to keep an eye out for strange occurrences.
Other steps you can take are to lock your home, preferable with deadbolt locks. Lock your car while you are driving and when you park. Check to see that no one is hidden in your car before you get in. Park in well-lit areas. Avoid walking alone in dark areas at night or in isolated areas at any time of the day.
WHAT IF THE STALKER IS A FORMER SPOUSE OR PARTNER?
If you are being stalked in a domestic violence situation, there is a network of domestic violence programs throughout Ohio that may be able to help. These programs offer free confidential advice and counseling. Most provide shelter to victims who are not safe in their own home. These programs also offer advocacy with the criminal justice system. If you are low-income, your local legal aid office may be able to assist you in obtaining a civil protection order. To find the domestic violence program or legal aid office nearest you, call the Ohio State Legal Services Association (OSLSA) at 1-800-589-5888.