Romance or Stalking

As Valentine’s Day approaches, it is worth reviewing the difference between romance and stalking. In Wyoming, “a person commits the crime of stalking if, with intent to harass another person, the person engages in a course of conduct reasonably likely to harass that person.”

The vagueness of the term “harass” can cause problems, especially for guys who are not sure if it is one word or two.
The technical definition of “harass” is “a course of conduct, including but not limited to verbal threats, written threats, lewd or obscene statements or images, vandalism or nonconsensual physical contact, directed at a specific person or the family of a specific person, which the defendant knew or should have known would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and which does in fact seriously alarm the person toward whom it is directed.”

This is vague enough that Shakespeare’s Romeo could have been convicted of stalking. If you don’t believe me, go over to a neighbor’s back yard late at night and repeatedly profess your undying love to a 14 year old girl who is alone on a balcony, hates your family and who commits suicide three days later.

Another problem with Wyoming’s stalking law is that it was adopted before the creation of social media. (A recent attempt to update the stalking statute, Senate File 84, to include harassment through social media, died in committee.) Under current law, it may not be stalking to post repeated negative things about your ex on Facebook, so long as you are not “communicating” with her. In part because the statute is relatively old, in person surveillance can be harassment but remote electronic surveillance is not.

So what to do? Here are some rules of thumb to keep you out of jail on Valentine’s Day.

  • Don’t go to your ex-wife’s place of employment and tell everybody that she is having an affair with her boss, and then break into her house when she’s gone and pray over her bed. State v. Walker, 2013 WY 58 (Wyo. 2013)(Walker’s felony stalking conviction was reversed on a technicality).
  • If you are a guy, remember that your conduct will more likely be regarded as creepy rather than romantic if you are on the wrong side of the particular target’s Fun/Attractive line. Just as guys want a woman to be more hot than she is crazy, women want their men to be more fun than they are ugly jerks.

For those of you who are more visual, it looks like this:










Of course, these lines vary from person to person, and from time to time.  As men don their beer googles at closing time, the graph looks like this:










This Valentine’s Day, romance responsibly.

© 2017 Clark Stith

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