In 1992, when Illinois established its first anti-stalking law, it was deemed one of the toughest in the country. Stalking prosecutions reached a peak of 302 in 1994, according to the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority.
But stalking prosecutions have plunged since then. In 2008, only 54 charges were filed statewide.
Experts say that, unfortunately, this is not a case of fewer stalking incidents. Rather, the law currently too narrowly defines stalking. It requires proof of two separate incidents of following or surveillance as well as proof of a threat involving bodily harm.
Victims also sometimes have difficulty receiving police protection. A victim is only eligible for a protective order if he/she has had a romantic relationship with the stalker or if he/she has been physically attacked. This doesn't help someone who is being regularly followed by a co-worker or someone who receives harassing phone calls in the middle of the night.
The Illinois Attorney General and Cook County State's Attorney's offices are putting together legislation that would broaden the definition of stalking. The law would eliminate the need of proof of two separate incidents and threats. Instead, stalking would be defined as knowingly engaging in conduct that causes a person to reasonably fear for his/her safety.
It has already passed the House this week and is on its way to the Senate.
A second bill has also been crafted to make it easier for victims to get police protection. Victims would not be required to have been in a domestic relationship with or been attacked by the stalker. They can get an order of protection against someone who intentionally engages in repeated and unwanted contact with them or an immediate family member.
"The only silver lining to some of these tragedies we've had in Illinois in the past year is if we fill the gaps that have been known to exist," said Cara Smith, deputy chief of staff to Attorney General Lisa Madigan.