Daria Vinning’s fourth restraining order against her ex-husband expired in early January. She said he’s been stalking her since their divorce proceedings in 2006.
She recounted incidents in which she said her ex-husband hopped over the fence in her yard and peeked through the window, slashed her tires and barraged her with texts, online messages and phone calls day and night.
And because of how Louisiana’s protections against stalking are written, Vinning has to document each instance of stalking to gather evidence so the next restraining order can be filed.
“I had to prove my fear,” she said. Otherwise, “It was his word versus mine.”
Vinning has since founded an awareness group called Lend Ah Hand Stalking Support Group. At the LSU Women’s Center on Saturday, she was joined by law enforcement officials and others at a workshop designed to raise awareness about the issue. The group also talked about the challenges of documenting and prosecuting the crime.
Stalking can be any behavior that is repeated, unwanted and designed to make someone uncomfortable or fearful, said Summer Steib, director of the Women’s Center. The crime can come in many forms, some disquietingly subtle — a rose left on the front doorstep, a voicemail consisting of a song.
But the behavior is extremely dangerous, said Melanie Fields, a Baton Rouge prosecutor of domestic violence, who also handles stalking cases. She said the crime can be a precursor to murder. There were 14 domestic violence homicides in 2012, she noted, although that number has since dropped to five in 2014.
Yet most instances of stalking go unreported. The LSU campus has about 40,000 students and staff, yet campus police have worked fewer than 40 cases of stalking, cyberstalking and improper telephone communication, said Lt. Jason Bettencourtt, who oversees stalking investigations as well as other crimes.
“We know that it happens more often than that,” Bettencourtt said. “If our numbers go up for stalking this year, it means we’re doing a better job with (encouraging) reporting.”
Still, the statute used to prosecute stalking is difficult to work with, Fields said. Victims often have to endure, and then document, multiple instances of stalking — and have to be able to prove they were in fear, Fields added.
“This is a horrible law,” she said.
Officials emphasized there are a range of ways to report a stalker that don’t involve the suspect going to jail or a lengthy criminal proceeding. They also said a written record of any kind — even text messages sent to yourself — can help law enforcement in the future.
And a recent state law allows for survivors to file for a protective order without listing their home addresses on a public document, which has been essential for stranger and acquaintance stalking, said Morgan Lamandre, a lawyer with Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response.
Vinning went to trial against her ex-husband in January on stalking charges.
That trial is awaiting a verdict. In the meantime, she has felt drained by years of looking in her rear-view mirror and scanning parking lots for his car while she is driving away.
“You’re paranoid. You’re constantly checking over your shoulder,” she said. “You’re just waiting on the next thing to happen.”