NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Imagine feeling like danger lurked around every corner, even right outside your door.
That’s how stalking victims are forced to face their lives every day.
“It stopped my life dead in its tracks, and it stopped it for a very long time,” victim James said.
“I describe it as being held under water. You’re screaming and no one can hear you,” another victim Lenora Clair said.
These are just two stories — two of the seven million reported victims last year.
“He was standing between the two windows and looking in this way,” James recalled.
“I was getting the most horrific rape and death threats,” Clair said.
In both instances, their stalkers were strangers with an obsession.
“I would listen to make sure they weren’t in the hallway,” James said.
“I had to check his IP every day. I needed to know exactly where he was so I could assess my level of threat,” Clair said.
James is a professional photographer who said the provocative nature of his subjects might have sparked the fixation of his stalker, who was a neighbor on the floor below.
For Clair, a chance encounter at her art gallery led to a barrage of threatening letters and emails. She never knew when her stalked would show up.
Both victims said they felt helpless, even when they went to the police. That, however, is now changing.
“Rather than a bunch of reports sitting in a filing cabinet somewhere, now they’re being grouped together and a charge is born,” Tuesday Muller-Mondi, of the Staten Island district attorney’s office, said.
It’s part of a new initiative intended to help stalking victims called CAPS, or a “coordinated approach to prevent stalking.”
“When it becomes a repeated course of conduct, a crime is established,” she said.
Muller-Mondi said it’s working.
“What we saw within the first year of training — this program was a 200 percent jump in the amount of stalking cases that came through as arrests,” she said.
She said if you’re a victim, you can protect yourself by minimizing your use of social media and changing account passwords. She also said it’s important to keep a journal.
“Take notes for yourself of the time of day when this occurred,” she advised. “A pattern, a continuity of purpose is what the law says to exist for the stalking charge to be appropriate.”
“I wish I could have fought back, I wish, I wish, I wish,” James said.
“I’m not the same person I was prior to this happening. I never feel safe,” Clair said.
The Staten Island district attorney’s office is working along with the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence and the NYPD on the CAPS program.
Neither James nor Clair’s stalkers are currently in custody. Both said there have been no recent incidents.