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Stalking kits aim at protecting victims, helping prosecutors

Melissa Nilsen, domestic violence prevention coordinator for the Laurel Center in Winchester, speaks about stalking incidents during a Tuesday afternoon press conference at the Frederick County Sheriff's Office in Winchester. Frederick and Clarke County Sheriff's offices, Winchester City police, and The Laurel Center is offering stalking safety kits, pictured under the podium, free to area women. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Joe Beck

The message delivered Tuesday by several law enforcement agencies and a domestic violence shelter was simple: Sometimes it only takes a few modest, handy items to help a stalking victim gain a measure of protection from her tormenter and bring him to justice.

Those tools were in a kit unveiled Tuesday that will be available as of today at the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, Clarke County Sheriff's Office, Winchester Police Department and the Laurel Center in Winchester. Victims must file a complaint with law enforcement against a stalker to obtain a kit.

The hope is that the kit's contents will make it easier to gather evidence that can lead to the arrest and prosecution of stalkers, several agency representatives said at a press conference announcing the initiative.

"January is stalking month, and we thought this would be a good time to do this," said KC Bohrer, an investigator with the Frederick County Sheriff's Office.

Bohrer reported after the press conference that Frederick County fielded 12 stalking reports in 2012, including, one that led to charges against a defendant accused of setting fire to the victim's residence. Winchester authorities reported at least one stalking complaint in 2012.

Bohrer and other speakers said stalking can involve a number of actions that can grow increasingly disturbing and threatening over time. They may include sending unwanted gifts and flowers, repeated messages by phone and other means and following the victim around town.

Bohrer said the stalker may eventually turn to more overtly threatening behavior and violence such as slashing tires and breaking windows.

The contents of the stalking kits -- folders, notepad and paper, evidence bags, powder free gloves and informational brochures about he Laurel Center -- were created to give victims a chance to gather evidence against the offender and make it easier to prosecute him, said Lauren Cummings, a crime prevention specialist with the Winchester Police Department.

"Stalking is a dangerous crime that escalates and can end in death," Cummings said. "This is one way for the victims to know that we take the crime seriously and care about bringing the perpetrators to justice."

Bohrer said one of the problems in investigating and prosecuting stalking is that "a lot of times, the victim doesn't appreciate what is evidence and what isn't evidence."

For example, records of harassing and unwanted phone calls can be one of the keys to proving a pattern of behavior that can convict a stalker, he said.

State law requires law enforcement to show the victim was the subject of repeated, unwanted advances, Bohrer said.

Bohrer said the majority of stalking cases include a victim and perpetrator who had a previous relationship with each other. A smaller number of cases may involve a woman stalked by a man who may be little more than a stranger to her, he said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com


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