College is a great time to discover yourself and make new friends. You may even take a romantic liking to someone and try to get their attention. While this is generally harmless, it’s possible for that person to consider your actions stalking. You may not intend to stalk someone but doing so inadvertently can still be stalking.

Yes, people sometimes use the word “stalking” too casually in social circles, but it is a serious criminal charge for a student. Knowing Virginia’s definition of stalking can help you avoid becoming labeled as a stalker and avoid legal consequences.

Virginia law says that stalking occurs when a person whose repeated actions intend to make that person fear for their life, sexual assault, or physical harm to them or someone close to them.  Stalking can also occur when you should reasonably understand that your actions could make someone fear these same things.

The many forms of stalking

There are many actions that another person or court could construe as stalking. Some examples include:

  • Unwanted electronic communication via text message, calls, emails, or more. Posting images or messages about the person online without that person’s permission can be stalking too.
  • Following or showing up uninvited to another person’s home, work, or other place they frequent.
  • Attempting to learn information about someone from their acquaintances or loved ones.

It’s a good idea to remember these things and be aware of a person’s reaction to your actions. Continuing to repeat behaviors that make someone else uncomfortable may make them feel unsafe and fear for their safety.

What happens after a conviction?

First-offense stalking is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia and carries a sentence of up to one-year imprisonment and a $2,500 fine. Another conviction can have you charged with a more serious Class 6 felony.

After one conviction, the court will also issue a no-contact order between you and the victim and/or their family.

It’s great to get to know people when you get to college, but it’s important to respect boundaries. Stalking can be a serious charge and one with penalties that can follow you around for the rest of your life.