Whether your stalker is a stranger or someone you know, being a victim of stalking can be a terrifying experience. Fortunately, there are several legal options available for victims of stalking in Virginia.
In this article, we’ll briefly cover the Commonwealth’s stalking laws. We’ll also cover several different ways you can protect yourself from a stalker.
However, you should note that this article simply lists a few general tips that can help you stay safe.
Remember, you should always immediately contact the police if you ever feel that your personal safety is in danger.
What is Stalking?
Legally speaking, “stalking” relates to any conduct that intentionally places another person in reasonable fear of bodily harm on more than one occasion.
Specifically, as noted in the Virginia Code:
“Any person…who on more than one occasion engages in conduct directed at another person with the intent to place, or when he knows or reasonably should know that the conduct places, that other person in reasonable fear of death, criminal sexual assault, or bodily injury to that other person, or to that other person’s family or household member, is guilty of [stalking].”Virginia Code § 18.2-60.3
Under this definition, stalking cases are often based on concerning patterns of behavior that develop over the course of several incidents.
For example, simply running into your ex at the gym might not count as stalking.
On the other hand, an ex following you to your workplace every morning while making threatening statements may count as stalking.
Evidence of Stalking in Virginia
There are several red flags you should look out for if you believe you are being stalked.
For instance, you should take precautions if the individual in question is:
- Following you, or otherwise keeping track of your movements.
- Making unwanted contact of any kind, especially after you ask them to stop.
- Threatening you in any way, whether verbally or in written form.
- Enlisting others to stalk you, such as if their brother or friend is following you to your place of work.
- Blackmailing you, especially with the intention of soliciting further contact.
Documenting these red flags, and taking precautions to avoid them in the future, is critical to your personal safety.
What happens to convicted stalkers in Virginia?
Stalking is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia.
This means that a stalking conviction can lead to a fine of up to $2,500, as well as up to 12 months in jail. A second or subsequent offense of stalking is a Class 6 felony, which may entail additional prison time.
Stalking convictions also often result in permanent protective orders (also called “restraining orders”), provided the person being stalked asks for one.
These orders are valid for two years, and you can renew them indefinitely.
Finally, note that the Department of Corrections is required to inform you before your stalker is released from jail or prison.
How To Protect Yourself from Stalking
If you believe you are being stalked, your first priority should be your own safety. Stalking is a dangerous behavior that can quickly escalate to violence.
If you ever feel unsafe in any way, shape, or form, talk to the police immediately. The tips we provide below are simply additional actions you should take to help protect yourself from your stalker.
Tell Your Friends and Loved Ones
First and foremost, let your friends and family know that someone is threatening you.
This is especially true for people that you see on a daily basis, such as a roommate, work friend, or close family member.
While it can be disturbing to think about, these are the people who will contact the police if you suddenly don’t show up at home or work.
At the bare minimum, having a support network that can give you rides or walk you to your car is a great way to keep yourself safe.
Plan for the Worst
Similarly, it’s important to consider the worst case scenario, even if it seems unlikely to happen.
Start thinking about ways to escape from places you frequent in case your stalker shows up.
Simply knowing about a second stairwell or a back exit in your workplace may help you avoid your stalker should they show up unexpectedly.
Likewise, try to avoid going places by yourself while the individual is still stalking you.
Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask a friend to accompany you, even if you’re just walking to your car after work.
Record All Contact With Your Stalker
Never respond to any form of contact from your stalker. Tell them to stop contacting you, then block them on every platform.
Make sure to note the date and time that you told the person to stop contacting you.
Then, make recordings of any further contact between you and your stalker.
If you are unable to make a recording, write down all the details you can remember about how the stalker tried to contact you.
Once you’ve recorded the evidence, you should contact the police to file a police report that documents the incident.
Insist that the officer takes down the details of the contact when they log your complaint.
For example, ask them to make a note that you have previously told the person to cease all contact with you.
All of this will be important should legal action become necessary in the future.
File for an Emergency Protective Order
If you feel that you are in immediate danger due to your stalker’s threatening behavior, you may want to petition for an emergency protective order.
Emergency protective orders are legal documents that prohibit an individual from contacting you for a short period of time.
You should note that emergency protective orders are only valid for 72 hours.
If you’d like the order to last for longer, you must request an extension and attend a court hearing.
Violating a protective order is a serious crime in Virginia that can lead to both massive fines and a very real chance of jail time.
For this reason, requesting a protective order can be an effective way to protect yourself until you can establish a more permanent restraining order in front of a judge.
Seek Out Other Resources
Fortunately, there are many resources online for victims of stalking.
In many cases, these resources are available from law enforcement agencies or state government offices.
If you are a student, your school will most likely also have someone on staff who is trained to deal with stalkers.
The most important takeaway is that you should always take stalking seriously, whether it’s happening to you or someone you know.
Do not be afraid to report the stalker to the police, and seek out a lawyer if things begin to escalate.
In addition, do not hesitate to file for an emergency protective order if you feel that you need one, and make sure you alert the police if that order is broken.