Under the Protection from Abuse Act, abuse is defined as
The occurrence of … the following [act] between family or household members, sexual or intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood: knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person [which] include[e] following the person, without proper authority, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.
According to the University of Oklahoma’s Gender + Equality Center, lyrics to popular songs such as Adele’s “Hello,” whose chorus includes the verse “I must have called a thousand times,” and Maroon 5’s “Animal,” whose lyrics include the phrase “Baby. I’m preying on you tonight. Hunt you down eat you alive,” are “normalizing” sexual harassment. Perhaps these lyrics even romanticize stalking behavior a little bit?
Popular co-host of the reality television show “Dancing with the Stars,” Erin Andrews, recently litigated the second phase of her own “real-life” stalking case. In 2009, Michael David Barrett, an insurance executive, was arrested and pled guilty to stalking charges and the shooting of nude videos of Andrews from his hotel room. He took these actions on three separate occasions and in three different cities. After trying unsuccessfully to sell the videos to TMZ, a popular entertainment news site, Barrett uploaded the videos to the internet himself. In 2010, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
Andrews began the first day of her 14-day trial on Monday, February 22, 2016. Her suit against the Marriott hotel chain, who assisted Barrett in booking hotel rooms adjacent to hers, claimed the hotel’s behavior was negligent, caused her emotional distress, and was an invasion of privacy. Barrett was also named as a defendant. She is hoping her suit sends a message to all hotels that guests’ privacy and safety should be their concern.
The court pleadings indicate that on each occasion, Barrett would telephone the hotel chain and request confirmation of Andrews’ stay at the hotel. When confirmed, Barrett would then make his own reservation at the hotel, requesting and being granted, the hotel rooms adjacent to Andrews. Once inside his room, Barrett would alter the keyholes so he could see through to Andrews’ room. The modified keyhole allowed him to shoot the video tapes of Andrews naked. Andrews states that the posting of this video caused her to feel horror, shame and humiliation.
Andrews, who requested damages of $75 million dollars, won a verdict of $55 million on, March 9, 2016. Unfortunately, Andrews won’t see much, if any, of this verdict, as the jury held Barrett responsible for $28 million, money he doesn’t have, and the Marriott responsible for $27 million, a verdict they will most probably appeal.
Not all stalkers go to the length Barrett did with Andrews, or are as sophisticated; that doesn’t matter. Stalking behavior can begin with something as simple as repeated telephone calls, daily letters, or a flurry of text messages. So if you feel you are the victim of a stalker, don’t be silent.
Cara A. Boyanowski concentrates her practice in the field of domestic law and wills and estates. As a domestic law practitioner, she represents clients in simple and complex divorce, support, custody, alimony, step-parent adoptions, name change and same-sex divorce and custody matters. She works out of Obermayer’s Harrisburg, PA office and can be reached at 717-234-5315 or at Cara.Boyanowski@obermayer.com.