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Stalking is generally a course conduct directed toward a specific person (or the person’s family, friends, or work associates) that would cause a reasonable person to be in fear of their safety, health, or well-being. Stalking includes (1) spying on a person; (2) waiting at a location to make unwanted contact with the victim, or to monitor the victim; (3) leaving unwanted items and gifts for the victim; and (4) posting or disseminating information or rumors about the victim on the internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth.

Stalkers may also use technology to harass their victim. Common forms of cyberstalking include:

• e-mail spoofing—sending e-mails pretending to be the victim

• text messaging and sexting (sending sexually explicit text messages or photos)

• social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)—creating social media accounts and posting statements to harass, threaten, or denigrate the victim, or to impersonate the victim on social media

• online impersonation of the victim through a false identity or account to place online sex ads or solicit sex

• use of GPS to track the victim, including placing a GPS device on the victim’s car.

Stalking is a crime under federal law (18 U.S.C. §2261A) and in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Territories, and many Indian Tribes. In addition to stalking laws, every state has laws addressing electronic harassment, and federal law also criminalizes the use of technology to stalk (18 U.S.C. §2261A(2)). Legal definitions for stalking and harassment vary from state to state and in the federal system—especially regarding the stalker’s intent and the nature of the victim’s fear or emotional distress caused by the stalking.

In Texas, stalking is defined under Section 42.072 of the Texas Penal Code as engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of others or to suffer substantial emotional distress. This includes behaviors such as spying, waiting at locations to contact or monitor the victim, leaving unwanted items, and spreading information or rumors about the victim both online and offline. Cyberstalking is also recognized as a form of stalking, encompassing actions like email spoofing, abusive text messaging, creating harassing social media posts, online impersonation, and using GPS technology to track the victim. Stalking is a criminal offense in Texas and can be prosecuted as a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances and any prior convictions. Additionally, federal law under 18 U.S.C. §2261A criminalizes stalking, including the use of technology to commit the offense. The specific legal definitions and requirements for a stalking charge can vary, but both state and federal laws aim to protect individuals from this invasive and threatening behavior.

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