SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- --
Timothy Johnson, Colorado’s 20th Judicial District’s deputy district attorney, detailed stalking and ways to avoid being a victim during a Stalking in the 21st Century class at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, June 26.
Johnson, a lawyer with years of experience dealing with stalking crimes, shared a variety of tips and detailed past cases he covered during the three-hour-long class.
“We all know that stalking happens,” he said. “We know that roughly one in 12 to one in 14 victims of stalking make a report to the police. There’s a huge barrier to reporting.”
He highlighted the uniqueness of cyberstalking - stalking using predominantly electronic communications means - which only entered the lexicon of law decades ago, and how law officials are trying to format and update laws to properly address it.
“Stalking is a very serious crime, and law officials try to handle it as seriously as they can,” Johnson said.
He shared how stalking can often be interpreted as over-affection and other misguided perceptions.
“There’s nothing romantic about stalking,” Johnson said. “A stalker can be anyone, not just a stranger on the street, often times, it is a member of your family or an ex.”
Each state has different legal definitions for what stalking is. In the last decade, Colorado law addresses stalking as a “serious problem in this state and nationwide,” (C.R.S. 18-3-601 paragraph A), and states that “stalking involves severe intrusions on the victim’s personal privacy and autonomy, with an immediate long-lasting impact on quality of life; even in the absence of express threats to physical harm,” (C.R.S. 18-3-601 paragraph F).
Because of slowly adapting laws and ambiguous definitions on whether someone is truly stalking or harassing an individual, stalking is considered a legal gray area - a fact many stalkers use to their advantage.
For example, Johnson shared a case in which a man was obsessively stalking a woman who repeatedly rejected his advances, continuing to harass her even after being placed in a psychiatric hospital. Because of a loophole in Colorado law, and his individual patient rights, he was able to send explicit threats and harass her through written letters - had he used a phone or said it in person he could have faced legal prosecution.
Additionally, state online databases can be used to gather additional details.
“We are always updating information like our driver’s licenses and voter information,” Johnson said. “Through the internet, cyber stalkers can find out where you live, what your phone number is, even your political affiliation.”
Fortunately, Johnson shared how the same resources stalkers use are also used by law enforcement personnel to identify suspects. They have conceived special counter measures against stalking, such as aggressive use of search warrants and records tracking. Additionally, penalties for stalking have become increasingly severe in recent years; many offenses upgrading from minor crimes to felonies.
For military members, stalking is a serious crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, in which stalking is listed as of sub article of Article 120a, which governs general sexual assault.
Johnson emphasized individual Airmen should take precautionary measures to protect themselves, such as using safe and secure websites, maintaining strong passwords and keeping sensitive personal information guarded.
They can also use the resources the military provides, such as the family advocacy program, to work out solutions if they become a victim of stalking.
“You have resources which can provide a tremendous amount of guidance when it comes to reporting these kinds of crimes,” Johnson said.
Kisa Corcoran, domestic abuse victim advocate with the Peterson Air Force Base Family Advocacy Program, helped organize the Stalking in the 21st Century class for Schriever Airmen, and said she welcomed the opportunity to bring in a legal expert to inform the base community.
“It began with the intention of having our staff trained, and as we thought of others who could benefit, and as leadership became interested, we got the word out for persons across all the Colorado Springs bases,” she said. “I think we are very fortunate to have a highly-experienced expert share his knowledge of how stalking has increased in complexity as technology has evolved, what to look for and how to protect yourself from it.”
She highlighted the benefits the class brings to the base.
“As a provider of services to victims and survivors of abuse, the information and resources will help me to assist clients in de-mystifying this tactic of control and with steps toward protecting themselves,” Corcoran said. “The information serves to empower us to approach problems that arise from the misuse of technology which ranges from harassment, invasion of privacy to dangerous assaults.”
While criminals adapt to ever changing technology, law enforcement officials do so as well, striving to beat them to the punch. With a new set of learned tools from Johnson, Schriever Airmen can now assist them in this effort and help combat and prevent stalking.
For more information, contact Johnson at 303-441-1619.