digging up the roots of gender-based violence

Tag Archives: intent

The Basics: Unconsented Contact, or Stalking is a Synonym for Hunting

At Uproot, we occasionally do a short intro piece on some of our subject matter. January is Stalking Awareness Month, so we’re featuring this post to bring some understanding to a complex issue.

huntingtigerStalking is a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause any reasonable person to feel fear. Stalking is also what hunters do to their prey.

Far too often, stalking isn’t taken for the serious problem that it is. Many people, my co-workers included, will use it to mean, “I was looking for you to ask you a question” or “I have been waiting for you” or even to clarify that “I am only coincidentally following you right now”. Stalkers intend to make their chosen victim feel afraid. I am sure that when my co-workers are coincidentally following me to the bathroom, their goal is to get to the toilet in time rather than make me afraid.

We also shouldn’t overlook that stalking necessarily means a course of conduct, that is, a pattern of behaviors. Giving unwanted gifts. Showing up uninvited. Doing unsolicited “favors”. Driving by the victim’s house over and over again. In most states, stalking laws include language indicating that multiple incidences are necessary. In Michigan, the law states there must be 2 “unconsented contacts” in order for stalking to have occurred. “Unconsented contact”, according the Michigan criminal code means “any contact with another individual that is initiated or continued without that individual’s consent or in disregard of that individual’s expressed desire that the contact be avoided or discontinued.” So, unconsented contact means that the stalker never asked for consent OR the victim actually said, “stop it!” and the stalker ignored the directive.

So, what are the behaviors that stalkers use to terrify their chosen victims? They are legion, for sure, but here is the breakdown from the Michigan criminal code. Most states have similar legislation.

Following or appearing within the sight of that   individual.
Approaching or confronting that individual in a public place or on private property.
Appearing at that individual’s workplace or residence.
Entering onto or remaining on property owned, leased, or occupied by that individual.
Contacting that individual by telephone.
Sending mail or electronic communications to that   individual. There is specific cyber-stalking legislation too, but this should   be understood to include Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
Placing an object on, or delivering an object to, property   owned, leased, or occupied by that individual.

Another thing to think about is intent vs. impact. The stalker knows what they are doing is wrong, even if they make excuses. They especially know that what they are doing is wrong if they’ve been told to knock it off. Even so, the law says that what matters is how the stalker’s behavior makes the chosen victim feel, or how a reasonable person would feel when targeted by the stalker with the same behaviors. But it isn’t just a matter of the law, it’s also a matter of human decency and basic respect for individual autonomy. Impact trumps intent.

If you or someone you know is being stalked, you can get help. HAVEN has a 24-hour crisis and support line, staffed by people who want to help. 1-877-922-1274.

Cristy Cardinal is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has worked in the field of ending gender-based violence since 1997. Cristy has three kids, all of whom she is happy to share (gross or funny or weird, whatever) stories about any time. She is an avid fabric artist in addition to being a loudmouth feminist. Cristy is the 2012 winner of the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence Wave of Change Award, honoring excellence in social change and prevention of gender-based violence.