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New Resource Center Offers Stalking Awareness and Prevention Resources

Tweets, Facebook posts and press releases reminding law enforcement officers that January 2019 is National Stalking Awareness Month may also remind them that they may lack knowledge and information about how to investigate and handle stalking cases.

A new online resource center funded by the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) can help them meet that need. OVW is part of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC) website launched on Nov. 28, 2018 with a goal of ensuring first responders and other allied professionals have the specialized knowledge needed to identify and respond to the crime of stalking. SPARC Director Jennifer Landhuis says that OVW has funded SPARC as the national resource on stalking and “as such, we provide professionals with access to information on stalking as well as updated resources and trainings.” Those resources include a section specifically tailored to law enforcement, which includes resource documents and a link to information on law enforcement-specific training.

“Rather than just suggesting that victims keep a journal of incidents that have been occurring, the incident and behavior log can assist victims in determining what information is important as well as discerning where an incident occurred. Because stalking often occurs in multiple jurisdictions, this allows for a responding officer to determine if there may be reports at other law enforcement agencies,” Landhuis says, adding that the resources on the law enforcement page are only the beginning of what SPARC plans to make available.

“Additionally, many law enforcement agencies have specific protocols on responding to domestic or sexual violence crimes, but often do not have those same types of protocols in place for stalking crimes,” she says. “The Safety Planning document, as well as the SHARP risk assessment, the only risk assessment specifically for stalking crimes, allow officers to provide additional information to the victims they are working with, as well as providing insight into items they may want to map. The Response Tips is a brief document that agencies can share during a roll call training to remind officers of key pieces of information that are important in stalking investigations.”

Stalking investigations differ from those into other types of crimes because rather than requiring a single incident to establish probable cause, stalking requires a pattern of behavior or course of conduct consisting of two or more incidents, according to the website. To further complicate stalking investigations, incidents in that pattern, such as sending gifts, may not be criminal acts on their own. Rather, these incidents only become criminal when considered along with context and intent. In many states, stalking statutes also require that the incidents invoke fear or emotional distress in the victim, which can be difficult to determine because stalking behaviors are often contextual in nature.

Also, there is a distinction between stalking and harassment: Generally, the element of fear separates the two. Harassment is typically irritating and bothersome, sometimes to the point where a victim feels deeply uncomfortable. However, victims of harassment are not typically afraid of their perpetrators, Landhuis says.

While SPARC offers in-person training on those issues and more, the website also provides two self-contained training modules that can be downloaded and used by anyone.

“As the only Office on Violence Against Women comprehensive training and technical assistance provider, it isn’t possible for SPARC to provide training everywhere in the country,” Landhuis says. “We wanted to provide ready-to-teach modules that organizations could just download and use in their training efforts. As a nation, we are still struggling to have the gender-based violence field and society as a whole understand exactly what stalking is and why it is a crime. Our training allows for the information and resources to be shared in a way that increases the likelihood that information is getting out, increases awareness and we hope leads to increased resources and information for stalking victims.”

The training consists of “Know It, Name It, Stop It: Public Awareness Training Module,” intended for a broad audience that can be offered in a variety of settings, and “Stalking Identification and Response,” a session targeted toward criminal justice practitioners and allied professionals. The website also offers resources for victims, victim service providers and prosecutors; an FAQ; resource materials for National Stalking Awareness Month; and links to upcoming webinars. Landhuis says that in addition to the current National Stalking Awareness Month offerings, more webinars will take place throughout the year, and all webinars will be recorded and archived for on-demand access.

“We plan to add resources and information on an ongoing basis, so law enforcement agencies and other first responders can check back frequently for new information,” she says.

Visit the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center here. Resources specific to National Stalking Awareness Month can be found here.

Article photo: iStock.com/Laurence Dutton, iStock.com/piola666

About The Author

Becky Lewis has written professionally for nearly 40 years, the past 12 as a technical writer/editor with the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center System and its Justice Technology Information Center. She writes for SchoolSafetyInfo.org as well as for TechBeat.

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