“There was an entire campaign of harassment and calls,” she said, pointing out that Daker even called her while he was being held in Roswell’s city jail for harassing her.
“My main concern all along was for it to stop,” she testified as to why she didn’t report many of the threats she said he made. “The threats, the calling, you coming by. I was concerned for your well being.”
She then tried explaining to the jurors.
“He was a young bright kid. He would call back and say he would never do anything to hurt me. We would not be here today if I would have taken his threats seriously,” Spencer Blatz testified.
Prosecutors and others in the domestic-violence field say Spencer Blatz’s reactions to being stalked are not unusual. But their advice to people being stalked is to be clear you want no contact, and then enforce it. If it continues or you are threatened, call law enforcement.
“Victims often try to handle it on their own,” said Holly Comer, executive director of the YWCA of Northwest Georgia. “Sometimes victims feel ‘If I just said the right thing, I could get them to change.’ We see it with victims all the time that try to fix the situation. It’s a constant struggle with themselves about what to do.”
Elisa Covarrubias, the YWCA’s director of sexual assault and legal advocacy, said some victims don’t realize that what is happening to them is a crime.
“Usually by the time they go to law enforcement, it’s escalated and gotten much worse,” she said.
While stalking is a misdemeanor, a second conviction elevates the crime to felony aggravated stalking.
O.C.G.A. 16-5-90 says: “A person commits the offense of stalking when he or she follows, places under surveillance, or contacts another person at or about a place or places without the consent of the other person for the purpose of harassing and intimidating the other person. ... ‘harassing and intimidating’ means a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes emotional distress by placing such person in reasonable fear for such person’s safety or the safety of a member of his or her immediate family, by establishing a pattern of harassing and intimidating behavior, and which serves no legitimate purpose.”
No overt threat of death or bodily injury is required to meet the stalking charge.
“Stalking could be a lot less intimidating than someone hiding in your bushes,” Covarrubias said. “It could even be someone sending you gifts after you’ve told them not to contact you. It’s any unwanted communication or contact.”
Eleanor Odom is a senior assistant district attorney in Cobb and prosecutes nearly all aggravated stalking cases in the county.
“A lot of times the victims are female, and as females, we sometimes think ‘I don’t want to be mean’ or, ‘I don’t want to get them angry.’ Then you’re in a bad spot because the behavior doesn’t stop.
“It gets to a point where it ruins the victim’s life. She is constantly changing her phone number. She may be moving constantly, trying to stay away from the person,” Odom said.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 3.4 million people are stalked each year in the United States, and most stalkers are known to their victims. Elevent percent of victims are stalked for five years or more.
Odom said stalkers come from all racial and economic backgrounds.
Cobb Police say they make a few dozen arrests each year for aggravated stalking. There have been 30 arrests so far this year, though in 2011 there were just 26. The year 2010 saw 42 such arrests, and in 2009, there were 47. In 2008, 65 people were arrested in Cobb on aggravated-stalking charges.
If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, either with repeated calls or text messages, showing up, or some other manner, the experts say should make a report to law enforcement.
“We want the victim to say very clearly, preferably in writing, ‘Leave me alone.’ Keep a log of every single contact the person makes toward the victim, with the date and time and whether it was reported to police. Keep evidence, and don’t get rid of anything,” Covarrubias said.
Odom, the prosecutor, concurred.
“Always call the police. You want to have a record. You can report them for harassing phone calls, and that’s a misdemeanor. It’s so good to have a police report if things escalate. And if you can record any calls, do. That’s powerful evidence,” she said.
Covarrubias said once you’ve told the person to leave you alone, do not respond to them at all — though she acknowledged that is hard for a lot of victims.
“A person may be getting so many text messages a day, they can’t take it so they’ll pick it up. She’s so desperate to get back to her normal activiites that she’ll do anything to make it stop, even engaging him, thinking it will make it stop,” she said.
But that doesn’t work, she warned.
“Stalkers see any reaction to their actions as encouragement,” Covarrubias said. “Don’t respond at all in any way, shape or form, because they may perceive it however they want. A stalker is not going to say ‘OK, she’s asked me 20 times to leave her alone. Today I will.’ They’re lacking that respect for boundaries, so it doesn’t make a difference.”
Victims can also try to get a protective order, wherein a court orders the stalker to have no contact. Emergency orders valid for 30 days can be granted on the day of application. There is no cost for a protective order, Covarrubias said.
Many stalking cases arise between people who started out as friends, while others stem from previous romantic relationships.
“The common thread is that there has been a relationship between the two people, and it’s generally romantic,” Odom said. “Occasionally we do have cases where the stalker is a stranger to the victim. They may think they have a relationship. To me, that’s very scary.”
People who believe they’ve had a relationship with the victim are some of the hardest to deal with, Covarrubias said.
“It’s very difficult to talk to that person because they’re not really connected to reality,” she said. “They don’t know what they’re doing is wrong because they believe in their head that there is a relationship. They’ll violate a (temporary protective order), which results in a felony charge of aggravated assault.”
Other stalkers are former romantic partners of the victim.
“If there’s been domestic violence in a relationship, when the person leaves, the batterer may persist in trying to have some control over the victim,” she said. “That’s common for batterers.”
But stalking is usually a character trait, she said.
“If they stalk one person, they will stalk someone else,” Covarrubias said. “Some of them will stalk more than one person at the same time. ... It’s not impossible for someone to change, but that’s a long process and they have to realize they have a problem, seek help, and stay in a program to help them for a long time.”
Most, but not all, stalking cases involving a man stalking a women. But there are same-sex stalking situations, and cases of women stalking men.
District Attorney Pat Head said that a lot of men who are being stalked by women “don’t seem to be as concerned about the danger they might be in.”
Covarrubias agreed, but said female stalkers tend to use more-lethal violence.
Male victims, she said, “feel the situation has gotten out of control and it’s a nuisance in their lives. Some are a lot less afraid. They’ll say ‘I don’t think she’s going to hurt me, but it’s becoming such a bother,’ whereas women (victims) are more afraid of being physically hurt. We tend to see with female stalkers that they will use more lethal forms of violence. They might try to hit a guy with a car or another weapon, rather than their bodies.”
Stalkers also often use technology to track their victims, including putting a GPS on the victim’s car without the victim’s knowledge, Comer said.
“We ask them, has anybody had access to your car? Especially if somebody is showing up in places where the victim is,” Comer said. “While technology is wonderful, it also puts victims at more risk.”
Covarrubias said the victim moving to a new residence rarely ends the stalking because stalkers are so diligent, they’ll often find them elsewhere.
As for getting a protective order, Comer acknowledged some victims are afraid of going that route.
“One fear is, ‘What if I make this person madder than they are and I don’t get protection, then they come after me and it turns violent?’” Comer said. “Sometimes they don’t know what to do.”
Covarrubias’ department in the YWCA of Northwest Georgia can help with the process of getting a temporary protective order against stalkers who live in Cobb. The office can also direct victims to the appropriate courts in other jurisdictions.
“We help them prepare the paperwork and accompany them the day of the hearing,” she said. “There is no cost for that.”
Generally, the victim makes an application to the court in the county where the alleged stalker lives, and the court then schedules a hearing within 30 days at which the judge will hear from both the victim and alleged stalker. The court can grant orders valid for 12 months, which can be extended. There are also three-year orders and permanent orders.
Emergency orders, also called ex parte orders, can be granted the same day of application and are valid for 30 days.
“All the judge needs is a victim’s notarized statement and to ask them a few questions,” Covarrubias said. The sheriff’s office is in charge of serving paperwork to the defendant.
Comer said her organization strives to make victims understand that a TPO “is still just a piece of paper.”
“You still need to be vigilant, do safety planning, be cognizant of your surroundings,” she said. “We know many will violate it, and when they do, you call police, say ‘I have a TPO,’ and they will be arrested. For some of them, a TPO will stop them because they know they can go to jail.”
Added Covarrubias: “A TPO is only good if you enforce it. So if a person makes contact and the victim doesn’t report it, the stalker will see that little step and take it a whole yard. It encourages them to do more because they can get away with it. ... But there are some cases where the person doesn’t care at all (about being ordered to stay away). The TPO sets them off and they feel they have nothing to lose. We help victims gauge how dangerous the person might be.”
Head, the district attorney, said if a TPO does not stop a stalker from contacting a victim, then the crime becomes a felony. Felony aggravated stalking carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, which is how long Waseem Daker served after his 1996 conviction for stalking Spencer Blatz.
“A TPO is effective when they’re in prison,” he said.
Head said there are no actions anyone can take to avoid being stalked.
“There’s no way to avoid it, because you can’t control the actions of others,” Head said.
The YWCA of Northwest Georgia's 24-hour crisis hotline is (770) 427-3390. The organization's office for assisting with protective-order applications is (770) 528-8024. That office is open during normal weekday business hours.