After the Webinar: The Ins and Outs of Stalking Cases. Q&A with Jennifer Landhuis

Webinar presenter Jennifer Landhuis answered a number of your questions after her webinar, The Ins and Outs of Stalking Cases. Here are just a few of her responses.

 

Audience Question: Are there resources to help advocates or other providers that can help navigate different ways folks can safety plan around stalking through technology? 

Jennifer Landhuis: Great question on the technology piece. So, we have safety planning documents that are available on our website, and that is for stalking in general. For the tech pieces of things, there’s always a little bit of a hard line to walk when it comes to putting up information about tech-facilitated stalking because we have a public website. So, if we put information up about different forms of technology that are used to stalk victims, offenders can see that, too. So, what I would tell you is, we do a lot of training on the use of technology. We just got a new Department of Justice grant specifically on how law enforcement and prosecutors can identify this online technology and abuse. Reach out to us and we can always assist you with some individual technical assistance, or provide training on the use of technology to stalk. I would also encourage you to check out our friends at the National Network to End Domestic Violence  Safety Net Group. Safety Net offers a lot of really great resources. Their website is techsafety.org, and they have a lot of really great resources. They typically focus on intimate partner tech-facilitated abuse.  They’ve got a really ton of really great tech resources. And then watch SPARC’s website as we continue to delve into this brand new grant that we have for tech-facilitated safety plans and documents.

Host: We recently released an online course with the National Organization for Victim Advocates. I just shared that for sure, in case some of you are interested, it does talk extensively about cyberstalking.

 

Audience Question: Many of the people we work with are experiencing cyberstalking. We just talked about any information you can share on how to help in those cases and does online stalking have different outcomes and impacts compared to in-person stalking. 

Jennifer Landhuis:

So, I already talked a little bit about the resources. What I would tell you is oftentimes yes. Stalking that happens online can be a little bit more difficult to work within the criminal justice system in that oftentimes that element of impending fear and of harm to the victim is sometimes a little bit harder to prove. You might have judges or other decision-makers who are saying, “Well, it’s just a social media post.” Clearly, it’s stalking through technology. So absolutely those same safety mechanisms and those things about proving the SLII behavior, etc. are applicable. We have documents on our website that talk about the SLII framework with the use of technology. Those can be utilized in those particular situations, you’re oftentimes still going to have to prove the impending threats that the offender makes to the victim. And so that might be a little bit more difficult if there’s technology. But I also want to flip it and say, that sometimes it’s easier if there’s technology because there are screenshots or emails or something that can be used in these particular cases. So again, SafetyNet as part of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Council on Juvenile and Family Court Judges has a document about keeping tech evidence for court which we have linked to on our website, and then more materials that we will be putting out in addressing those particular issues as well. So just if you have specific questions about a particular case, that’s part of what SPARC can offer, certainly reach out to us.

 

Audience Question: So, we did have a question about stalking by an individual that’s an attorney. Sounds like they should reach out to you directly, is that right? 

Jennifer Landhuis:  I’m going to encourage them not to reach out to us directly, but probably to reach out to their local domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy program, or somebody within the court system about those specific behaviors. What I would tell you is, if you have somebody who’s nuanced with understanding that, it’s going to take a skilled person in your jurisdiction to help figure out how to address accountability.  I’m not in your jurisdiction. I don’t know what your judges are looking for. I don’t know what types of things are happening there, so I would encourage you to, reach out to the people within your jurisdiction to find out what particular elements can be helpful in those cases.

 

Audience Question: Do you have tips for determining actual stalking situations versus clients who are in a mental health crisis? Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the clients who came into our office alleging stalking are actually experiencing stalking or experiencing mental health difficulties. 

Jennifer Landhuis: Yeah, I would say that to tag off End Violence Against Women International…, Start by Believing. Start with thinking that this person is reaching out to you because stalking is happening. People want to think that somebody’s experiencing a mental health crisis when in actuality that stalking is happening. So as far as that goes, working with that particular person to find out what particular behaviors are happening. How often are they happening? Do they have other people who are witnessing what is happening?. And that can be difficult, because sometimes people are like, “Well, I had somebody come in and allege that the computer is talking to them so clearly, it’s a mental health crisis.” Well, if their stalker is using some sort of spyware it may appear like, the computer could is talking to them. So, starting with the belief in these particular situations and then asking those specific questions as part of the SLII framework can help you establish. Is there a course of conduct in this particular situation that would constitute stalking?

 

Audience Question: Can the assessment be sent to victims to complete on their own, especially since the level of risk can change? 

Jennifer Landhuis: I would not encourage that the assessment be sent to victims to complete alone, because it’s really traumatic to fill it out by alone. So, I recommended that they fill that with somebody. So, they come in and talk with an advocate, etc., while they’re doing it, because just sending them a link: 1. their computer could be monitored by the offender and now you’ve just tipped off the offender, and 2. thinking about as you look at these particular situations, you’re asking questions that are very trauma-inducing, so from a trauma-informed standpoint, I would definitely do it with them rather than send them a link. If you want to send them a link, if they’ve been through it before, just reiterate to them that the computer can be monitored. And the questions are pretty traumatic, so they want to make sure that they have somebody who’s going to support them through that process.

 

Audience Question: I come from the world of forensic sciences. Are you aware of any forensic interview models that are available for these cases? 

Jennifer Landhuis: Excellent question. So not ones that are, marketed as forensic models. What I would tell you to do is go to our website and under the law enforcement resources, there are two guides, one for identifying stalking on calls for service, and one for stalking interviews and reports. Taking both of those documents can be really great first steps in doing forensic interviewing with these particular situations.

 

Audience Question: What are your thoughts on repeated “welfare check calls”, separated people making repeated requests for law enforcement to check on the children of the other partner? 

Jennifer Landhuis: So, we call that concept “swatting”.  It’s calling 911 to check in on somebody or using CPS or another entity.. It’s a stalking tactic that we see a lot of offenders engage in because they’re using it to either keep tabs on the other party or to induce fear in the other party.  Having some kind of documentation from child protective services or health and welfare or the Law enforcement agency can be really helpful for example if that victim needs to go forward and try to look at a civil protection order. Perhaps the agencies themselves need to tell the offender to stop calling. We see swatting as a common tactic, just like in domestic violence cases.

 

Audience Question: Any suggestions for convincing prosecuting attorneys that online stalking is a real threat? 

Jennifer Landhuis: Great question. So, two things, number one, we have a prosecution guide on our website about prosecuting stalking. And the second thing is, SPARC sits in an office called AEquitas. AEquitas is full of former prosecutors who do gender-based violence work. So, these are individuals who have done prosecution work for years and years and years. They’re literally on the other side of our house. And they provide really great resources. So, if there’s a particular case that you’re working on, and you need some thoughts or strategies as far as what that might look like for prosecution in your particular jurisdiction, you can certainly reach out to us. We might involve someone from AEquitas to help strategize about that. But the laws are going to be really different, depending on where you’re at and what the level of understanding is of your prosecutor. But there are some really great resources out there. So, look at AEquitas’ website. it’s aequitasresource.org.

 

Audience Question: Is there any research or legal distinction between online stalking and harassment intended to be ongoing, or is that type of behavior done with the intent of running a victim off a platform? 

Jennifer Landhuis: I mean, the question and the crux of that will be what’s the intent of the offender? Who’s, of course, not going to tell you what their real intent is? What has been the impact on that particular person? And are they engaging in that behavior to instill fear or emotional distress? So, that’s where it differs from sometimes what people call online harassment, but also understanding that online harassment is probably stalking too. But if the effort is to just get somebody to get off of a platform that might be different than the effort in this particular situation happening, and someone is feeling emotional distress or fear of this person as part of that impact. So, there’s going to be some nuances to those particular situations. There’s not been a ton of research that has been done on those particular things, but certainly, something that we see lots of offenders engage in in trying to bully that person off a particular platform. Or use a platform to engage in stalking behavior.

 

Click Here to Watch a Recording of The Ins and Outs of Stalking Cases.

 

 

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