Updating Vermont’s Stalking Law

Stalking is a serious problem in Vermont and nationwide. It involves severe intrusions on the victim’s personal privacy and autonomy, causes a long-lasting impact on the victim’s quality of life, and creates risks to the security and safety of the victim and others even in the absence of express threats of physical harm. Stalking conduct often becomes increasingly violent over time and there is a strong connection between stalking and domestic violence and sexual assault.

In Vermont, 3 out of every 4 stalking civil protective order requests are denied, most often due to the inflexible and confusing language in the definition of stalking. The definition law enforcement uses is from a different era.  The modern stalker is usually not “lying in wait.”  Rather, he (or she) is using technology to monitor, observe, and threaten victims.  This year, the legislature modernized this definition and provided further protections to victims.  The updated stalking law includes provisions that mirror those included in a Model Stalking Code from the National Center for Victims of Crime.  It defines stalking as a course of conduct that the person engaging in the conduct knows or should know would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety, the safety of another, or would cause a reasonable person emotional distress.  It defines the course of conduct as engaging in two or more acts where a person follows, monitors, surveils, threatens another person by any direct or indirect action, method, device or means.

The law will change other elements of the crime of stalking, relieving prosecutors from having to prove that there was no legitimate purpose for the alleged stalking behavior. It does not require an offender to make an express or overt threat; he or she need only act in a manner that would cause a reasonable person in the victim’s circumstances to feel threatened.  It clarifies that the stalker need not have had the intended to cause the victim’s fear, but that he or she knew or should have known that a reasonable person in the victim’s circumstance would have felt that fear.

The bill would ease the way for individuals to obtain protective orders against stalkers and for law enforcement to prosecute stalkers.  It would improve a victim’s ability to prevent the severe intrusions on their personal privacy and autonomy that stalking causes.