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Mind and Body: January is National Stalking Awareness Month

Legal definitions of stalking vary, but a reasonable definition would be a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.

A stalker can be someone who you are/were in a relationship with, a co-worker, acquaintance or even a stranger.

These are general suggestions that may not be appropriate in every situation. Please pick and choose the ones that seem relevant to your situation.

Following these suggestions can’t guarantee your safety, but it could help make you safer.

General safety strategies include:

— Stop all contact and communication with the person stalking or harassing you but keep any evidence of the stalking (such as voicemails, texts, emails, etc. for future court cases or criminal actions). Responding to the stalker’s actions may reinforce and/or encourage his/her behavior.

— Carry a cell phone with you. Keep handy or memorize phone numbers to use in case of an emergency, e.g., the number of the local police station. If you ever feel you are in immediate danger, call 911. You may also be eligible for a free phone with free minutes from the Assurance Wireless Program, sponsored by Virgin Mobile.

— Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason, you may want to reach out for help, even if nothing immediately dangerous is happening.

— Have a safe place in mind to go in an emergency. You might go to a police station, place of worship, public area, the home of a family member or friend (unknown to the stalker), or a domestic violence shelter. If someone is following you, it is generally not a good idea to go home.

— Try not to travel alone. Always vary your routes to and from work or school, the grocery store and any other places regularly visited. By changing your daily routes, it could make it more difficult for someone to learn your routine. If you run or walk for exercise, you might want to get an exercise buddy to go with you.

— Be aware of how much identifying information you are posting on the Internet through social networking sites and online purchases.

You may want to select the highest security settings on any social networking accounts and think carefully before giving out your personal information through online purchases.

— Alert the three credit bureaus and ask to have a fraud alert put on your credit reports: Experian 888-690-8086, Equifax 800-525-6285, and TransUnion 800-680-7289.

A stalker may try to obtain your Social Security number and/or mother’s maiden name to use this information to obtain your credit information. Putting an alert on your credit could help to prevent this and possible fraudulent activity and/or identity theft.

Legal options

— Report all incidents and threats to the police immediately. When making reports to the police, keep a note of the name of the officer in charge of the case and the crime reference number, if applicable. You can also ask for a copy of the police report that is filed.

— Create a stalking log, which records the date and time of each incident as the incidents occur, what the stalker did or said, what actions, if any, you took and who was present. Ask witnesses to write down what they saw and get the witnesses contact information (name and phone number) in case you need the police or prosecutor to later talk to the witness.

— Save evidence of stalking or harassment. Keep all voicemails, text and email messages sent by the stalker. You can get hard copies of text messages by forwarding them to an email address and printing them out or you may be able to take photos or videos of the cell phone screen.

Another option could be to take the phone to the police and have them photograph the text messages or document them in another way. Some people may be inclined to try to show the messages to the judge on the phone itself but this may mean that the phone itself may be taken into evidence and kept during the court proceeding, thereby taking the phone away from you.

— Consider getting a protective order against the person stalking you. Most states allow you to apply for a protective order based on stalking if the stalker is an intimate partner.

Some states allow you to apply for a protective order based on stalking even if the stalker is not an intimate partner.

If you do get a protective order, carry a copy of it with you at all times.

Remember even restraining orders do not always prevent stalking from escalating into violence. Continue planning for your safety in other ways as well.

Information taken from www.womenslaw.org and www.stalkingawarenessmonth.org.

Clark County Health Department provides programs for the entire family, including Cooper Clayton, WIC, HANDS, family planning, well child care/immunizations and home health care. For more information, call 744-4482, or go to www.clarkhealthdept.org www.facebook.com/pages/Clark-County-Health-Department.