Although the available data are limited, a recent Justice Center examination of Alaska State Trooper case files has revealed that the crime of stalking is probably greatly underreported by victims as well as underrecognized by law enforcement and hence not charged often enough in Alaska. A charge of stalking can be applied in a wide range of situations, and its parameters as a crime can be somewhat ambiguous for both victims and law enforcement. The available data show that a stalking charge is often made in conjunction with other charges, particularly when there has been a prior relationship—which is often the case, with stranger stalking fairly rare.
Stalking, by its nature and its legal definition, induces fear. Statistics from the National Violence Against Women Survey showed that even after the stalking ended, 68 percent of victims thought their personal safety had gotten worse, 42 percent were very concerned about their personal safety, 30 percent were very concerned about being stalked, and 45 percent carried something to defend themselves. Psychological counseling was sought by 30 percent of female victims and 20 percent of male victims.
Moreover, other studies have shown links between stalking and intimate partner homicide among female victims. For example, according to an analysis published in Homicide Studies in 1999, 76 percent of female intimate partner homicide victims had been stalked by their intimate partner in the past. Furthermore, 89 percent of female intimate partner homicide victims that were physically abused had also been stalked by their intimate partner in the past. Of all female intimate partner homicide victims, 54 percent had previously contacted police to report they were being stalked.
With funding from the National Institute of Justice, the Justice Center is working with the Alaska State Troopers and the Alaska Department of Law to learn more about the characteristics of stalking in Alaska.
In the first quantitative examination of the crime, data from all stalking incidents reported to Alaska State Troopers from 1994 to 2005 were collected to gather descriptive information. The research provides a first overview of a specific crime whose characteristics are not widely known beyond the justice community. The Alaska statutes defining the crime of stalking are presented on page 5.
To conduct this study, Justice Center researchers examined the total 267 cases with a stalking charge reported to Alaska State Troopers from 1994 to 2005. (Alaska stalking statutes went into effect in 1993.) The final sample for analysis comprised 210 cases (Table 1) covering a total of 222 stalking charges, 211 suspects, and 216 victims. Case outcome data were gathered directly from the Alaska Department of Law for a sub-sample of the stalking cases—only those reported from 1999 to 2004 (N = 92).
For the first four years included in this investigation (1994 to 1997), the number of reports averaged 22 per year. After that, the average number of reports dropped significantly, to 15 per year. Figure 1 displays the trend of reporting over time, from January 1994 to December 2005, using a three-month moving average. Seasonal variations from January to December in the trend of reporting were not quite statistically significant, but 23 percent of the reports were made in the months of June and October.
Over 50 percent of reports occurred in B and D detachments. B detachment includes five Alaska State Trooper posts (Wasilla, Palmer, Glennallen, Big Lake, and Talkeetna) while C detachment includes nine Alaska State Trooper posts (Coldfoot, Galena, Fairbanks, Nenana, Healy, Cantwell, Delta Junction, Tok, and Northway; see Figure 2). The units with the highest number of stalking reports included Fairbanks AST Enforcement (with 19% of reports), Palmer AST Enforcement (with 18% of reports), and Soldotna AST Enforcement (in E Detachment, with 12% of reports). Together, these three units had 49 percent of all stalking reports. Additional details are shown in Table 2.
Most cases (67%) were closed by arrest, meaning that at least one person was criminally charged, by a physical arrest, summons, warrant, or criminal complaint (see Table 1). Other cases (10%) were closed with a referral to the district attorney for a charging decision. Sixteen percent of cases were closed after the investigation because there were no suspects or because evidence was lacking. Only four percent of cases were closed unfounded (because there appeared to be no basis for the complaint). Finally, only three percent of cases were closed because the prosecution declined to pursue the case, even though a suspect was known.
The 210 stalking incidents reported to troopers from 1994 to 2005 included a total of 222 stalking charges. Seventy-seven (35%) of the 222 stalking charges were for stalking in the first degree (AS §11.41.260) and 145 (65%) were for stalking in the second degree (AS §11.41.270). For each stalking charge, thirty different forms of behavior were examined, shown in Table 3. On average, four forms of stalking behaviors were found per charge. The most common forms of stalking behaviors included standing outside or visiting the victim’s home (found in 54% of charges), making unsolicited phone calls to victims (found in 51% of charges), following the victim (found in 39% of charges), threatening to physically assault the victim (found in 36% of charges), harassing the victim’s family and friends (found in 28% of charges), trying to communicate with the victim in other ways (found in 27% of charges), standing outside or visiting the victim’s work (found in 20% of charges), physically assaulting the victim (found in 19% of charges), sending the victim unsolicited mail (found in 15% of charges), and vandalizing the victim’s home (found in 13% of charges).
The primary location for stalking behaviors was most often the victim’s residence. As shown in Table 4, 45 percent of stalking behaviors occurred primarily at the victim’s home. Cyberspace was also a common location for stalking behavior, with 27 percent of charges occurring primarily in cyberspace. An additional 10 percent of charges occurred primarily on public roads and parking lots.
The 210 stalking incidents reported to troopers from 1994 to 2005 included a total of 211 suspects and 216 victims. Most suspects (91%) were male and most victims (89%) were female. As shown in Table 5, most suspects (78%) were white and most victims (86%) were also white. On average, suspects were 36 years old while victims were 33 years old; with 13 percent of suspects and 20 percent of victims under 21, 18 percent of suspects and 22 percent of victims between 21 and 30, 37 percent of suspects and 33 percent of victims between 31 and 40, and 31 percent of suspects and 25 percent of victims over 40. One in five suspects (20%) had used alcohol, but very few victims (2%) had. Drug use was very infrequent (1% or less) for both suspects and victims.
Relationships between suspects and victims are shown in Table 7. Half (54%) of the suspects were, or had been, in a romantic relationship with the victim, as an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend (29%) or current spouse (15%). In addition, 35 percent of suspects were friends or acquaintances of the victim, with acquaintances as the more prominent category. Very few suspects (4%) were currently living with the victim. Slightly over half of the relationships (55%) had ended prior to the stalking, and 58 percent had ended by the time the stalking was reported to law enforcement (these statistics were not calculated for strangers or family members).
Most suspects (55%) were not charged solely with a stalking offense. Stalking charges were often accompanied by other charges (Tables 8 and 9). On average, suspects had a total of 2.32 charges, including an average of 1.05 stalking charges and an average of 1.27 other charges. Overall, the 211 suspects were charged with 489 offenses (i.e., 222 stalking offenses and 267 non-stalking offenses). The most common additional non-stalking charges included assault, violating a protective order, and harassment. In addition to these additional charges, 38 percent of suspects had at least one aggravating factor (Table 10). The most common aggravating factors included violating protective orders and prior arrests for stalking the victim—present for 20 percent and 12 percent of suspects respectively. In addition, 22 percent of suspects had a prior arrest for stalking, assaulting, or harassing the victim. More specifically, 12 percent of suspects had a prior arrest for stalking the victim, 8 percent had a prior arrest for assaulting the victim, and 5 percent had a prior arrest for harassing the victim. Almost three quarters (74%) of the victims had previously contacted law enforcement to report harassing behavior by the suspect (e.g., to seek a protective order).
Overall, 75 percent of the 92 cases reported between 1999 and 2004 were referred; 55 percent were accepted; and 40 percent resulted in a conviction (Table 11). The likelihood of referring, accepting, and convicting varied substantially by legal factors (Table 12)—whether suspects violated protective orders, violated conditions of release, violated conditions of probation, had prior arrests for assaulting the victim, had prior arrests for harassing the victim, had multiple stalking charges, or had additional non-stalking charges. In general, these legal factors enhanced the likelihood of referral, acceptance, and conviction.
In particular, violating protective orders and having additional non-stalking charges were important legal factors. Cases with suspects who violated protective orders were 20 percent more likely to be referred for prosecution, were 19 percent more likely to be accepted, and were 41 percent more likely to result in a conviction. Cases that included additional non-stalking charges were 27 percent more likely to be referred, were 84 percent more likely to be accepted, and were 139 percent more likely to result in a conviction. In other words, cases that included additional non-stalking charges were 2.4 times more likely to result in a conviction than cases that did not include additional non-stalking charges.
It is important not to over-interpret these results because some categories are represented by extremely low sample sizes (e.g., only two suspects had a prior arrest for harassing the victim). Nonetheless, it is interesting to see the variation in the likelihood of cases being referred, accepted, and convicted. For example, although only six cases had suspects who had a prior arrest for stalking the victim, all six were referred for prosecution, all six were accepted, and all six resulted in a conviction. By comparison, only 34.6 percent of other cases resulted in a conviction. When suspects had a prior arrest for stalking the victim, they were 2.9 times more likely to be convicted.
Comparisons with National Data
Few national statistics on stalking are available. The current primary source of information on the offense is the National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS). While the numbers are not directly comparable, in looking at the NVAWS statistics and the Alaska figures presented here, we can note several points. First, stalking seems even more underreported and, possibly, underrecognized by law enforcement in Alaska than in the country as a whole. Second, it is likely that this is particularly true among Alaska Natives. Third, it is likely that the prosecution of stalking is more effective in Alaska than nationally.Based on NVAWS results, an estimated 2.2 percent of men and 8.1 percent of women in the United States have been stalked at some point in the past (for a total of over two million men and over eight million women). Annual stalking estimates (rather than lifetime estimates) are obviously much lower, with 1.0 percent of women and 0.4 percent of men stalked per year. Nationally, this equates to over one million women and over 370,000 men stalked in a given year. Although we must do so with great caution, we can use these statistics to estimate the prevalence of stalking in Alaska.
Using the annual NVAWS statistics that 1.0 percent of women and 0.4 percent of men are stalked (derived from a sample of 8,000 women and 8,000 men), and assuming that annual rates in Alaska would be similar to annual rates in the U.S., we can estimate that around 2,100 adult women and 900 adult men are stalked in Alaska in a given year (see Table 13). Further NVAWS estimates suggest that nationally 55 percent of female stalking victims and 48 percent of male stalking victims report to law enforcement. If similar reporting patterns emerged in Alaska, around 1,100 women and over 530 men in Alaska would report a stalking incident in a given year (see Table 14). Alaska’s numbers are much lower than those for the rest of the country, something that may be a factor of underreporting by victims or underrecognition by law enforcement.
More accurate estimates of stalking prevalence and reporting patterns will be available only through additional research; nonetheless, even in the absence of this additional research, it is clear that stalking is greatly underreported in Alaska. In 2005, only 17 stalking incidents were reported to the Alaska State Troopers, and statewide from all jurisdictions only 30 stalking cases were referred to the Alaska Department of Law.
The underreporting may be particularly true among Alaska Natives. NVAWS statistics show that “American Indian/Alaska Native women reveal significantly more stalking victimization than women of other racial and ethnic backgrounds.” While 8.2 percent of white women reveal being stalked at some point in their lifetime, 17.0 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native women revealed being stalked at some point in their lifetime. American Indian/Alaska Native women (and men) were the most likely persons to indicate having been stalked at some point in their lifetime—over two times more likely than for whites. This was true for both women and men. (It is important to note that the NVAWS figures do not represent actual reports to law enforcement, but rather self-disclosure of incidents that may or may not have been reported to the police.) By comparison, according to the study, the rates of stalking reported to Alaska State Troopers were 6.6 times higher for white women than for Native women and were 9.1 times higher for White men than for Native men (see Table 15)—rates contradicting national figures. Although these statistical extrapolations are fraught with untested assumptions, it is nonetheless clear that stalking is underreported in Alaska, particularly for Alaska Natives.
But, while stalking may be underreported in Alaska, prosecution seems to be somewhat more effective. The Alaska Department of Law secured convictions in the cases accepted more often than occurred nationally: while NVAWS results showed that 54 percent of accepted cases resulted in a conviction, 72 percent of the 51 cases accepted by the Alaska Department of Law between 1999 and 2004 resulted in a conviction.
Reporting and Early Intervention
While we do not have any data on why stalking is so underreported, law enforcement hypothesizes that stalking may be underrecognized by victims. NVAWS statistics show other factors may also come into play. Of the victims that did not report to police, 20 percent believed it was not a police matter, 17 percent believed that police could not help, and 16 percent were afraid of reprisal from the stalker. Of the victims that did report to police, 50 percent were not satisfied with police actions and 46 percent thought that police actions did not improve the situation.
Law enforcement might be trained to capitalize on opportunities for early recognition of stalking patterns. Efforts might also be undertaken to raise public awareness of stalking as a crime and report it as such and to further train law enforcement to recognize the signs of stalking. This will increase the likelihood that suspects who violate stalking statutes are reported to law enforcement and are appropriately charged.
André B. Rosay is an associate professor with the Justice Center. Greg Postle is a researcher with the Justice Center. Katherine TePas is a program coordinator with the Alaska State Troopers. Darryl Wood is an associate professor with the Justice Center. The project discussed in this article was supported by Grant No. 2005-WG-BX-0011 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.