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Overview of Stalking

Tutorial on the crimes of stalking and harassment for New Mexico judges

Nature of the Problem

New Mexico has a significant problem with stalking which results in a sizeable adverse impact on the structure and stability of individuals, families and communities. Stalking offenses affect the criminal justice system by straining already-stretched resources of law enforcement and the courts.

Judges acknowledge that stalking cases are challenging to handle, from both a legal and emotional view. Cases involving intimate partner stalking are difficult to hear because they involve the disintegration of a once seemingly healthy relationship. Equally difficult, if not more so, and oftentimes puzzling are cases where the victim and offender had little or no personal relationship predating the stalking.

Regardless of the factual nature of a case, judges are under significant pressure to deal with both the victim and the stalker in a manner that is fair and professional to all involved, while simultaneously taking into consideration the protection of the victim and the public.

In New Mexico, 1 in 4 adult women or 20% of this population, and 1 in 14 adult men or 7% of this population, have been stalked in their lifetime. These stalking rates are significantly higher than the national averages of 12% of adult women and 4% of adult men. In 2005, 17,1777 stalking victims each experienced an average of 14.3 incidents, resulting in an estimated 245,631 total stalking incidents.

Statewide, 48% of stalking victims were sexually assaulted, 44% were injured, and 16% sought medical treatment. Additionally, 31% of stalking victims reported a weapon being used by the stalker and 48% reported the incident to law enforcement officials. An even smaller percentage, 26%, of stalking victims sought a protective order from the courts against their stalker.

In terms of relationship, 33% of victims were stalked by an acquaintance, 28% were stalked by a stranger, and 27.5% were stalked by an ex-romantic partner (from Incidence and Nature of Domestic Violence in New Mexico VI: An Analysis of 2005 Data from the New Mexico Interpersonal Violence Data Central Repository (2006)).

The targets of stalking behavior report approximately half of the incidents to law enforcement authorities. The reasons for this lack of reporting vary from the targets not thinking the problem is criminal, not believing that law enforcement can provide assistance, or fear that reporting will result in more dangerous types of stalking. Still others may not report due to their minimization of the risk the stalker poses or placing blame on themselves for the stalker's behavior (from Tjaden, P., and N. Thoennes (2000). "Stalking in America: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Police Response," In C. Brito and E. Gratto (eds.), Problem-Oriented Policing: Crime-Specific Problems, Critical Issues, and Making POP Work. Washington, D.C.: Police Executive Research Forum).