Stalking is criminal activity consisting of the repeated following and harassing of
another person. Stalking is a distinctive form of criminal activity composed of a
series of actions that taken individually might constitute legal behavior. For example, sending flowers, writing love notes, and waiting for someone outside her place of work are actions that, on their own, are not criminal. When these actions are coupled with an intent to instill fear or injury, however, they may constitute a pattern of behavior that is illegal. Though anti-stalking laws are gender neutral, most stalkers are men and most victims are women.
Stalking first attracted widespread public concern when a young actress named Rebecca Shaeffer, who was living in California, was shot to death by an obsessed fan who had stalked her for two years. The case drew extensive media coverage and revealed how widespread a problem stalking was to both celebrity and non celebrity victims. Until the enactment of anti-stalking laws, police had little power to arrest someone who behaved in a threatening but legal way. Even when the suspect had followed his victim, sent her hate mail, or behaved in a threatening manner, the police were without legal recourse. Law enforcement could not take action until the suspect acted on his threats and assaulted or injured the victim.