Stalking Awareness Month

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Stalking is a crime that affects some 1.5 million women and men every year, but where do you draw the line between annoyance and danger? Even experts say it can be tough.

Advocates and law enforcement say it's just hard to tell who's a stalker. Many seem to be charming or maybe the opposite, they could be awkward or socially inept, but there are things you can do.

On San Matteo Court in Tallahassee, police surrounded a house where a man accused of violating a domestic violence injunction is holed up. Eventually the man was arrested without incident and then charged with aggravated stalking of his ex-girlfriend.

Kelly Otte, Refuge House Executive Director says, "It's very serious and very prevalent. It's very hard to prove. What the stalker is doing is trying to get the message across: 'I can hurt you, I can get to you'. The victim is living in terror."

But what exactly is stalking?

Jim Tyson of the Leon County's Sheriff's Office says, "A lot of people don't realize it's not just somebody sneaking around the woods. That's not a stalker, it's just regular people that are basically harassing people, that's stalking."

The National Center for Victims of Crimes says that more than one million women and almost 400,000 men will be victims of stalking.

Eighty seven percent of stalkers are men and stalking cases can last from 1.8 years to 2.2 years. Also, 61 percent of stalkers will obsessively phone their victims. Thirty three percent will send or leave letters or items. Twenty nine percent will vandalize the victim’s property and nine percent will threaten or even kill pets.

Kelly Otte adds, "The idea is to get in there and psychologically terrorize the victim, and it can be very devastating for the victim."

Law enforcement says to contact them immediately if you feel you could be the victim of stalking, and advocates warn that sometimes stalking can be the smallest thing, and then it grows, so keep a log of everything that happens and go to police with it.

Penalties for stalking could be anywhere from a misdemeanor to a felony, and deputies say they take this crime very seriously and make plenty of arrests for stalking.