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A Personal Hell
March 10, 2004
by Lori Cutshall

It's every parents nightmare; your child is hurting. He or she is in trouble. They are afraid. Terrified, in fact, because of the actions and deeds of someone else. A friend (we'll call him John) has an eighteen-year-old daughter. She is in pain. She is in fear for her life. Her nineteen-year-old ex-boyfriend is stalking her.

It began after the girl broke off the relationship. As with most instances of stalking and harassment, her personal hell started with the boy driving by her place of employment. She works the drive-thru window at a fast food chain restaurant, and he would drive through often - several instances repeatedly in one evening - threatening her. The management of the fast food shop had the good sense to obtain a court order banning him from the premises. So, he switched tactics. He parked in an adjacent lot. He watched. He stalked. She was terrified.

Finally, one morning at the inconvenient hour of 6 a.m., he called her. He left several threatening messages on an answering machine. Things so vile, John would not repeat them. The police were subsequently called. Reports were taken, and the answering machine tape placed into evidence. The calls were traced via a court order to a cell phone registered to the ex-boyfriend's brother. At first, the boy denied it. Then he told police his brother made the calls. Ultimately, he confessed.

At the initial hearing, John was barred from attending. John, you see, has a temper. Any father would in this case. It's understandable to want to rip the head off anyone who has hurt your child. Any parent can sympathize. And there's nothing worse than a father feeling helpless to protect his daughter from an evil he cannot defeat.

In the state of Tennessee, the stalking laws are briefly as such: § 39-17-315: Stalking A person commits the offense of stalking who intentionally and repeatedly follows or harasses another person in such a manner as would cause that person to be in reasonable fear of being assaulted, suffering bodily injury or death.

This is considered to be a Class A misdemeanor. Only on the second offense is stalking considered a felony, and only a Class C felony (Class E if it's a different victim, although the pattern already suggests itself).

The ex-boyfriend was placed on a year's probation and an order of protection was issued for the girl. The police department has told John there was nothing more they can do - unless the order of protection is violated. So, John's daughter lives in fear. She is afraid to call the cops if she sees her ex because of reprisals from her stalker. It is a common fear faced by victims of this particularly damaging abuse. Statistics reported by the Stalking Resource Center, a division of The National Center for Victims of Crimes, states that one out of every 12 women will be stalked during her lifetime and 1,006,970 women are stalked annually. But only 55 percent of stalking victims report the crime to authorities.

A stalker is difficult to stop. Laws are in place to help the victim, but they are often inadequate in the initial stages. Stalkers do not quit until they're forcibly stopped, usually by incarceration. And in too many cases they continue harassing their victim after they have been arrested, charged and released after serving time. For a stalker, it's about control. They want their victims to be fearful, and powerless to stop them. And with the way most state laws are written, the victim usually is left powerless. As the police officer told John, they can do nothing unless the protection order is violated. Too many cases, however, that practice is too little, too late.

There has been a recent headline plastered all over the local papers in our area. Woman missing, car found near river. On Monday morning, February 16, 2004, a vehicle was found abandoned under a bridge at a local river, nose-in, running in gear with the driver's side door closed and the driver's side window down. Her wallet was found in the glove box. There were no signs of a struggle. Two days later, Wednesday, February 18, her body was found approximately two miles down river from where the car was located. She went missing on Sunday night. The last person to see her alive was reported as being her employer.

In a disturbing twist, the woman's roommate is the brother of John's daughters' stalker.

Just a car accident? An innocent coincidence? Or is this just another case of too little, too late?

The police are investigating the death as a homicide. Statements released to the press have been vague, and the only mention of the dead woman's alleged boyfriend is his description as a roommate.

Tougher laws are needed. Right now. Immediately. On February 17, the Alabama Senate voted 34-0 to pass a bill to strengthen the state's stalking laws. The senator sponsoring the bill, a victim of stalking herself, the amendment to the law would change the definition of a "credible threat" to include a threat communicated directly or indirectly. It also would allow the stalker's subject to be in "reasonable fear of death or bodily harm." Would this proposed change have occurred if the State senator sponsoring it would not have been a victim?

Waiting for something to happen could be literally gambling with a life. The law enforcement agencies hands are tied under the current applications of the laws in place. The victim lives in constant fear. The parents and other family members are sidelined.

Ask yourself this question: What would you do if it was your daughter, your sister, your friend? Why wait until it is?

It's time to toughen all stalking laws. For the benefit of everyone.

Lori Cutshall is a freelance editor, writer, and web designer living in the Volunteer State.

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