Congressional Briefing on 10 Years of VAWA
Remarks by Susan Herman
me say thank you, Carole Black and Lifetime, and let me also acknowledge Kris
Rose, who is representing Diane Stuart, from the Office on Violence Against
Women. Thank you very much for the work that you do.
My name is Susan
Herman, and I serve as the executive director of the National Center for Victims
of Crime. At the National Center, we work with victims of any kind of crime, all
crime, violent, nonviolent, anything. But when you open your doors to any kind
of crime victim, that means that about 75 percent of the work that you do
involves violence against women. So we are quite enmeshed in these issues. It is
what we do every day.
I thank you, Lifetime Television, for your
tremendous efforts, keeping issues about violence against women before the
public and our lawmakers, and I thank the members of the Congressional Women's
Caucus for convening this briefing to take stock of our progress over the last
These markers are important. It is important to see where we've
come from, what we've accomplished, and what we need to do in the future. And I
thank all of you for staying through this briefing. It that may be a little
longer, but it's a terrific briefing.
I'm also pleased to be here today to be on this panel. We
call ourselves the "And" panel. This is the
Violence Against Women Act, it's about domestic violence and sexual
assault and stalking and it's OK to be second, because it's better to be
second than not be in the room.
I'm here to talk about our fight against
stalking, a crime that is serious, pervasive, and all too often deadly. And what
I'd like to do at the beginning is I'd like to unpack that statement. What is
stalking is serious. Contrary to public myth, stalking is about a lot more than
somebody following a celebrity around town trying to get an autograph. Stalking
is usually defined as a series of acts directed against a specific person that
would make a reasonable person afraid.
Now, sometimes, each of those acts
in that series of acts - sometimes, each of those acts constitutes a separate
crime. A woman's tires are slashed, her house is burglarized, her yard is
trashed. Each action, a separate crime. Sometimes, though, and this is what
makes it tricky, sometimes the isolated acts are not criminal, and, out of
context, they may appear innocuous, or harmless.
For example, it may seem
harmless for a woman to get a dozen roses delivered to her door. It sounds nice.
We all might like that. But if the woman has received a message before that
says, "the day I kill you, I'll send you a dozen roses," you can understand how
that would induce fear.
Now imagine how that victim feels when she moves
to a confidential location and receives another dozen roses. Now imagine how she
feels telling the police that she's being stalked and someone's sending her
roses. Honestly, put yourself in her shoes. Do you want to be the one that calls
the police and says, "I fear for my life"? "How do you know that?" "Because
someone's sending me roses."
Why is this an important concept and an
important image to have in your minds? Because we haven't learned how to see
stalking and recognize it the way we as a society have learned how to see
domestic violence. Take yourself back 20 years and imagine we were talking about
those broken bones, those bruises, that depressed woman, all those things you're
getting in the emergency room. That's not just broken bones and bruises, that's
domestic violence. We taught people how to identify it and see it, and then we
taught people how to do something about it.
We don't yet know how to see
stalking. And there are lots of reasons for that. It's understandable, but we
have to face the fact that we're a good 25 years behind how people have learned
how to look at and talk about and relate to other kinds of violence against
Stalking is Pervasive
let's move to the second part of the statement. Stalking is pervasive. The
latest research tells us that in the United States, one in 12 women and one in
45 men will be stalked in their lifetime. One-point-four million people in
America are stalked every year. The vast majority are female victims stalked by
someone they know.
As troubling as these numbers are, I would challenge
them because they are too low. The
numbers reflect an outdated definition of stalking that emphasizes people
following you around and communicating with you inappropriately; the popular
conception of stalking which takes you away from a whole range of dangerous
stalking behavior--some of which co-exists with domestic violence and abuse. What
happens in domestic violence situations? A series of acts that terrorize women
in their homes, a series of acts directed against a person that instill fear.
That's how we now define stalking.
So, don't tell me only one in 12
women is a victim of stalking. I'm telling you, almost every woman that is a victim
of domestic violence--and that's one in four--has been stalked. Then there are people
who have been stalked outside of that context. It is pervasive. That's what I'm
trying to tell you. It's not just the celebrities - it includes almost all
domestic violence victims and a large percentage of sexual assault victims, too.
It is pervasive.
Stalking Can Be Lethal
stalking can be lethal. It's not innocent. It's not just obsessional love that's
about somebody showing up all the time and maybe trying to crawl in your house
through the window. It can be lethal. Stalkers not only terrorize their victims,
but all too often they murder them.
Seventy-six percent of female
homicide victims that were killed by an intimate (and that's just people we knew
were killed by an intimate) had also been stalked by that intimate partner in
the year prior to their murder. For seventy-six percent, the murder came after
Fifty-four percent of those victimss -- that's a lot of people --
fifty-four percent of those victims had reported the stalking to the police
before the stalker killed them. Now, what we know is that stalking was only
recently criminalized. Somebody says, I was stalked, not everybody knows how to
deal with that. They don't recognize it. But if we can make these links and say
domestic violence includes stalking and stalking is often lethal, maybe it will
make a difference. It doesn't matter whether part of it is getting roses, this
guy is threatening this woman, and she knows if something is not done, she's
going to be killed. Seventy-six percent of them are killed, that's what we
Stalking isn't new, but it's only recently been criminalized.
California passed the first law in 1992. That's not a long time ago. It's fairly
recent. It's understandable that our law enforcement and our social service
agencies haven't caught up yet, but we have to build on the work that we've done
in the domestic violence and the sexual assault world and not take another 25
years to catch up. Let's build on what we have learned; weâ€™re not starting from
One of the greatest accomplishments of the Violence Against
Women Act is simply recognizing that stalking is a form of violence
against women. Now we talk about domestic violence, sexual violence and stalking. By including stalking in the purpose areas for violence against
women grants, the act aimed a spotlight on stalking and raised public awareness
about these dangers.
also provided crucial funding for training and support of all kinds of people
working on these issues. In 2000, the Office on Violence Against Women funded
the Stalking Resource Center at the National Center for Victims of Crime, to
provide training and technical assistance to OVW grantees across the
When we first opened the doors of the Stalking Resource Center
four years ago, we had all kinds of plans of how we were going to work with
communities around stalking, and instead we found ourselves giving "Stalking
101" to communities around the country. They didn't know what stalking was. You
can't talk about how to create a multidisciplinary team to address stalking
until they know what you're talking about. We were 10, 20 years behind where we
thought we were.
Now, four years later, with ongoing support, the demand for our
expertise is greater, and it's much more sophisticated. We now offer advanced, specialized
training on such topics as law enforcement strategies to investigate and
actively combat stalking-- counter-stalking techniques -- and how to
prosecute stalking cases now involving technology, the use of technology to
stalk. We weren't talking about that four years ago. Nobody was ready to talk
about that. Now we're talking about that.
Our Web site is rich with
materials, and requests for technical assistance have more than doubled in the
last year alone, allowing us to train more than 1,000 criminal justice
professionals in 2003.
Looking forward, though,
there's so much more that needs to be done. Before I go through my list,
I want to say one of the most important things that I've heard here all day is
the suggestion that we have hearings on the Hill and that we all do all that we
can do to make that happen. Long, detailed, comprehensive hearings, and not in
this room -- in a room full of members of Congress, not the choir -- where
people understand and listen to the stories about the consequences of violence
against women in this country for hours on end. I want members of Congress to
understand the impact, really understand the impact, before we start talking
What else do we need to do? We need to continue to
raise public awareness about the prevalence and dangers of stalking. Last
January (2004), marked our first National Stalking Awareness Month, and we're
indebted to Senators Biden and DeWine, and Representative Wilson for their
leadership on this Congressional resolution. But we have to build on this
success. We need to help friends, family and neighbors understand that stalking
is serious, not just help victims understand what's happening to them. When they
talk to somebody, they have to get the right response.
We have to help
criminal justice agencies and victims agencies build their capacity to respond
to this crime. We've done a lot to produce tools like the roll call training
that Lifetime helped us develop to motivate law enforcement officers to respond
effectively to stalking.
Now, we understand why it is that if your car is
stolen, you call the police. Of course you call the police when your car is
stolen - otherwise you're not going to get insurance. That's why you call the
police. What do you get when you call the police for stalking? Not much. So, if
we're going to ask victims to report, we have to deliver. We can't just say we
encourage you to report. There's got to be something that happens when you
We need much better
documentation about the prevalence of stalking. We've had a groundbreaking
study, the Tjaden study that I quoted earlier - groundbreaking research about the
incidence of violence against women in America. That study now
is outdated, and needs to be redone. But even more important, our two major
measurements of crime in this country -- the National Victimization Survey
and the uniform crime reportss -- neither one of them includes
anything about stalking. If you want to know what's happening regarding violence
against women in America, we need to get stalking into those two measures of
We need to update our stalking laws, to change the definitions, so
that we're responding to new ways to stalk that weren't contemplated 10, 12
years ago when these laws were made -- Global Positioning Satellite systems,
mini-video cameras and computer spyware. We didn't know about that when we
defined stalking years ago. So we need to change the definition in our
We also need to talk more specifically about what fear means, and
make it the generalized fear that women experience. Above all, we need to create
more resources to combat this serious crime. Counter-stalking tools, such as
surveillance cameras and wire-tapping equipment must be available for law
enforcement officers. Every jurisdiction in this country now could have access
to that equipment via homeland security funds. I want the detective down the
hall who is investigating stalking cases to be able to have it also. There's a
lot of terror right in our homes.
In order for victims to help collect
evidence, stalking victims need to have video cameras, extra phone lines, cell
phones and other technology. Congress needs to look at funding both kinds of
equipment, for law enforcement and for victims.
Stalking victims also
need services tailored to their needs, including housing, counseling, legal
services - similar, but not the same, as those services for domestic violence
victims. If you're being stalked, or hunted, as some people refer to it, there
are long- term, very specific needs unique to stalking victims.
not only address the trauma that's common among all victims of violence, but we
have to address the long-term, ongoing nature of stalking. It's an ongoing
crime. And we have to address the distinct crimes that are often embedded within
it. You can't just talk to a stalking victim and talk about stalking abstractly.
You have to be able to deal with the burglary, the arson, the harassment, or the
assault that may comprise the stalking.
the last 10 years, we've made enormous progress. At the National Center's
Stalking Resource Center, we are very encouraged that our expertise is in
demand, and that criminal justice and social service professionals are
committing to holding offenders accountable and keeping victims safe. We're
grateful for the support of the Office on Violence Against Women and the
continued attention of Congress and Lifetime.
We look forward to the
reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and working together to make
it an even better tool to combat all violence against women, including stalking.