Rob McKenna, Washington State Attorney General and candidate for governor has proposed strengthening the state’s anti-stalking laws, Tri-City Herald, January 23, 2012. The key points would give them parity with the domestic violence laws and include: civil protection orders, electronic monitoring as a condition for release from custody, and stronger penalties. The proposed laws are aimed at stalking situations that did not include romantic involvement (covered by the domestic violence laws). However, I believe the proposed laws, as well as the exiting domestic violence laws, miss a critical point. Stalkers are not rational people. In the mildest cases they could be characterized as ultra-infatuated, “If only he/she knew how much I like/love (the victim) they would like/love me back. These people just need a good, legal, public slap in the face to bring them to their senses. They are aggravating but not dangerous.
The stalkers whom the laws are aimed at are so obsessed and so irrational that the “relationships” end in violence, far too often murder or murder/suicide. (If we could only get the stalkers to reverse this order) Adding or increasing jail time as a penalty does not seem like much of a deterrent for someone willing to commit suicide. The only thing society can do is physically isolate that person until they are cured (if possible) of their obsession – before they commit the violent crime. By “cure” I don’t mean six or ten weeks of group therapy and then turn them loose. That would likely just serve to build up emotional pressure and guarantee a violent end. Society’s first responsibility is to protect its law-abiding citizens and secondly to rehabilitate the mentally unstable, when possible.
The difficult part is recognizing and drawing lines between: – the aggravatingly infatuated, a restraining order is sufficient; – the mildly disturbed but not violent, electronic monitoring will keep them in line; – and the truly dangerous, only incarceration will assure the safety of their victim. There is no perfect answer. We are caught between two constraints. The first is we are a society that values individual freedom. We do not want a set of hair-trigger laws that could easily be abused and result in over-penalization. Neither do we have unlimited resources that can unerringly identify and restrain the all of the truly dangerous. However if just a few more hours of police resources were devoted to addressing complaints of stalking, maybe many hours of violent crime investigation could be saved…along with the victims.
While this is not a problem of the magnitude of world hunger or international terrorism, for the victims of stalkers, domestic or not, it is every bit as bad as 9/11 was for those victims and their families. Reducing this problem would contribute to a better world for our Grandchildren.