In 2019, Illinois enacted a new law to expand anti-stalking and harassment laws to include digital contact and social media. This protection extends to any form of digital communication between the perpetrator and their victim. To understand this and other anti-stalking and harassment laws, it is important to have a clear understanding of what type of behavior and contact is defined as stalking.
WHAT IS STALKING?
The legal definition of stalking continues to develop as different issues and claims arise. In general, it is defined as repeated and intentional following of or attempted contact with an individual, who has not consented to such, with the intent of causing anxiety, fear, and/or harm to that individual. In the state of Illinois stalking is defined in three ways:
- Knowingly engaging in behavior that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of others.
- Knowingly surveilling someone without their consent or legal authority on at least two occasions and creating fear or anxiety in the victim.
- Confining or restraining a victim without cause or permission. This is also known as aggravated stalking and is treated as a significantly more serious crime than the other forms.
These definitions cover not only continuously contacting an individual, but also keeping surveillance on an individual without their consent.
FORMS OF STALKING
The word “stalking” often conjures up thoughts of an unknown stranger lurking around someone without their knowledge. While this may be the situation sometimes, stalking is often committed by someone who knows the victim. Social media allows perpetrators to stalk a victim with no physical contact at all. In the modern age of social media communication, a victim can be stalked by someone they have never met who resides hundreds of miles away. Recent Illinois law recognizes this and offers victims of cyberstalking the same legal protections as any other victim of stalking.
In Illinois, cyberstalking is defined as repeated, unwanted social media contact. This definition includes direct messaging, comments, replies, and any other form of social media communication directed at the victim. Like other forms of stalking, the perpetrator must knowingly engage in the online behavior or contact that creates the anxiety or fear within their victims. Since cyberstalking is defined as a form of traditional stalking, victims have access to the same protections and perpetrators can face the same punishments. Someone who is convicted of cyberstalking can face felony-level charges for their behavior, just like other forms of stalking.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU BELIEVE YOU ARE A VICTIM OF STALKING
Stalking is a serious crime that can be both intimidating and dangerous. It is important that if you believe you are being stalked you get help as soon as possible. Alerting family and friends about your concerns can make the experience much easier. You can also contact an attorney to pursue an order of protection or no contact order. Critically, if you feel as though you are in immediate danger, you should contact local police.
If you are being stalked, you may want to stay with a loved one rather than a location that is familiar to the stalker. If the stalking is occurring digitally, you may want to block the perpetrator and contact the social media platform’s support staff to inform them of the harassment. Additionally, documenting all the instances of harassment can be helpful if you decide to seek legal protections. This is particularly true if you are experiencing cyberstalking. Social media posts, messages, and even accounts can be deleted without notice, so screenshots can be helpful when documenting your experience as a victim.
Illinois has various legal actions you may pursue to protect yourself against the perpetrator. One option is to obtain an Order of Protection. An Order of Protection is applicable if the perpetrator is a family or household member, which may include individuals with whom you have been in a romantic relationship. An Order of Protection can offer a wide variety of remedies including the requirement that the perpetrator stays away from locations where the victim frequents and that they cease all contact with the victim. Another legal option is obtaining a Stalking No Contact Order, which applies if the perpetrator does not fall under the category of “family or household member” required for an Order of Protection. A Stalking No Contact Order offers the same protections and remedies as an Order of Protection. Both forms of protection are first awarded on a temporary basis, and then after review, may be extended to last up to two years. These legal protections can offer victims security and comfort in dealing with this experience.
If you believe you, or someone you know, is a victim of stalking, take the necessary steps to ensure safety. Contact Sherer Law Offices for more information on the protections available to you and with assistance seeking an Order of Protection or No Contact Order.
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