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Reasonable Fear

QUESTIONS FOR RHONDA SAUNDERS

FROM COURT TV!

 

Q. Are certain types of people more likely to be stalkers!

A: Anybody can be a stalker. People think stalkers have a particular look or profile. We have transients who are stalkers, but there are also police officers, judges, students, doctors who are stalkers. You can't tell by appearance alone. Gender is also overlooked. Although the majority of stalkers are male, there are female stalkers who are just as devious and dangerous.

Q. What are some celebrity cases you've death with?

A. I have handled the stalking cases of celebrities like Madonna, Steven Spielberg, Anna Nicole Smith, Jeri Ryan and Gwyneth Paltrow. In the Paltrow case, she was stalked by a fan who found her parents' address and confronted her mother while she was gardening! Paltrow was terrified but even more so for her family.

Q. Are celebrities more vulnerable to stalking?

A: It's the opposite actually, but you hear more about the celebrity stalking cases. The majority of stalking cases involve regular people, and of these most are related to cases of domestic violence against women. There have been studies done that show that most women who leave abusive relationships are stalked by former boyfriends or husbands.

Q. What should people understand about stalkers?

A: It's hard to say why some people stalk or develop their fixations. But we've found that stalkers can be driven by obsession, revenge, ego or rejection. Anything can trigger them. Also, stalkers never think their crimes are their fault. They blame the victim. They even blame the police. They never take responsibility. Stalkers don't get rehabilitated. They come out and stalk again.

Q: What has changed in the way stalkers are prosecuted?

A: Plenty. The justice system is just beginning to understand that people are dying because of stalking, and that stalkers are dangerous criminals, not just "pests". When California enacted the first stalking law in 1991 the law was very weak. Stalking was made a misdemeanor, which did nothing for the victims. State legislators complained that it would cost too much money to provide more prison space to house stalkers! It took another two years of lobbying to strengthen the law. We were able to get stalking classified as a felony and punishable by up to five years in prison.

Q: Are restraining orders useful in deterring stalkers?

A: A restraining order is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it's a tool for law enforcement and the victim. Without it a stalker can sit across from you at work or school. A restraining order allows police to arrest a stalker on the spot. It also puts the stalker on notice that the victim is afraid, whichis crucial element needed in prosecuting a stalker, that the victim feared for his or her safety. On the other hand, a restraining order can make a stalker angry; we are talking about the ego and rejection factor here. In a case I prosecuted a man stabbed his estranged wife to death after she took out a restraining order against him.

Q: Has the Internet made it harder to prosecute stalkers?

A: Not at all. The problem is the amount of personal information a stalker can get easily about anyone from the Internet. And we are seeing more cyber-stalking cases. Before, it took time to send threatening letters. Not any more. In actress Jeri Ryan's case, her stalker flooded Paramount Studios with e-mails that shut down their system in a day. People are more frightened in cyber-stalking cases because they don't know who their stalkers are. The unknow factor paralyzes them.

Q: Are there ways to protect oneself from being stalked?

A: Be vigilant about your privacy. For example, have a postal office box address printed on your personal checks instead of your home address. Don't give out personal information unless absolutely necessary. If you're in a relationship and your partner is possessive - calls and follows you around excessively - he or she is likely to turn into a stalker. In a study, 30% of married women who were stalked after their marriage ended had been stalked during the initial relationship.

Q: What are mistakes people make when confronted by a stalker?

A: One thing is being too nice to the stalker - talking to them or trying to reason with the. We're brought up to be polite, and stalkers capitalize on that. A stalker will call or send a message: "Meet me on the corner or have coffee with me and I'll never bother you again." The victim agrees, thinking this will resolve the problem. It only reinforces the stalker's mindset that he or she has power over the victim.

Q: What should people do if they are being stalked?

A: These are only suggestions not necessarily the only things to do:

* Victims need to document the "whens", wheres" and hows" of the stalking.

* Don't throw out evidence, such as letters or gifts from the stalker. Put them in a plastic bag and give them to the police. Save phone messages.

* Alert Your neighbors. Neighbors can warn you if they notice strangers or unfamiliar cars lurking in the area. Neighbors can also serve as witnesses during prosecution.

* Trim down or get rid of shrubbery around the house. Crouching behind shrubs is a favorite tactic stalkers.

* Alert your workplace. Stalkers know that the workplace is the easiest place to find their victim because the victim likely can't afford to change jobs. Get your job to circulate a photograph of the stalker to security personnel and receptionists. Request a change in your parking location or escorts to walk you to your car. Companies are now more supportive of employees dealing with stalkers.

* Take a self-defense class.

* Change your driving routes. If you feel you're being followed don't drive home where you'll be vulnerable. Drive to a police or fire station.

* If you're not getting a response from police, as to speak to a supervisor and insist that they take a field report. It sets up a record that can later be used when prosecuting the stalker.

* Finally, don't blame yourself. Blame goes to the stalker.

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