Stalking : Unlawful Stalking Behavior

What is the definition of “menacing by stalking” under Ohio Law?

A person commits the crime of "menacing by stalking" by engaging in a pattern of conduct that the stalker knows will cause another person mental distress or cause that person to believe that the stalker will cause physical harm to her or him. See R.C. 2903.211.

A "pattern of conduct" means two or more actions or incidents closely related in time. The Ohio statute does not define "actions or incidents" or "closely related in time." The courts have very liberally interpreted the term "pattern of conduct" to protect stalking victims.

"Mental distress" as defined in Ohio’s menacing by stalking statute means "any mental illness or condition that involves some temporary substantial incapacity or mental illness or condition that would normally require psychiatric treatment."

In practice, courts have found stalkers to have inflicted "mental distress" on their victims in a wide range of circumstances that fall outside a narrow reading of the statutory definition of "mental distress."

For example, if the victim as a result of her mental distress has to change the locks on her door, put locks on her window, change the route she uses to drive to work or to school, is unable to sleep, experiences crying jags, or can point to other significant physical, mental or emotional symptoms of her distress, the court is likely to find that the victim has suffered "mental distress" as defined in the menacing by stalking statute.

What types of behavior are examples of “menacing by stalking"?

Ohio’s menacing by stalking statute does not define what types of conduct may constitute "menacing by stalking."

In effect, any actions that the stalker takes to frighten or cause mental distress to his victim—as long as there are two or more actions or incidents reasonably close together in time—will fall within the legal definition of menacing by stalking. Examples of stalking-type conduct include:

  • Following the victim.
  • Repeatedly driving by her home.
  • Making harassing phone calls; sending threatening or harassing letters.
  • Hurting the victim’s pets.
  • Vandalizing the victim’s property.
  • Trespassing or burglarizing the victim’s home or business.
  • Leaving threatening notes or objects for the victim.
  • Orally threatening the victim.

There are no doubt many other types of conduct that could be used by a stalker to frighten or cause mental distress to his victim.

So long as there are two or more actions or incidents closely related in time, the stalker’s pattern of conduct may constitute "menacing by stalking" for the purpose of filing criminal menacing by stalking charges or obtaining a stalking protection order against the stalker.

What kinds of evidence can be used to demonstrate “mental distress” on the part of a victim of “menacing by stalking?”

The victim can demonstrate "mental distress" by introducing evidence that she has had to substantially change her daily routine or has suffered from obvious physical, mental or emotional symptoms of mental distress.

Although evidence of psychiatric or other medical care for the mental distress is especially persuasive to the court, it is not necessary that the victim obtain medical treatment or counseling in order to prove that she suffered "mental distress" within the meaning of Ohio’s menacing by stalking statute.

If the stalking victim has suffered from crying spells or other signs of an emotional breakdown, can no longer concentrate at work or on daily tasks, or is suffering from severe anxiety, those symptoms may constitute "temporary substantial incapacity" under Ohio’s stalking law.

Other examples of "temporary substantial incapacity" could include various changes that the victim has had to make in her daily life and activities as a result of the stalking behavior.

Examples include:

  • Changing the locks or putting locks on the windows at the victim’s home.
  • Changing the route the victim takes to drive to work or school.
  • Not leaving the house except when it is absolutely necessary.
  • Leaving the house only when accompanied by friends or relatives; temporarily moving in with friends or relatives in order to escape the stalker.
  • Going into a domestic violence shelter.
  • Moving to another neighborhood, city, county or state.
  • Always carrying a gun, Mace or other protective devices when leaving the home.
  • Missing work because of the stalking conduct.
  • Curtailing her own or her children’s activities to minimize the chances of encountering the stalker.

Usually, proving "mental distress" will be easier than proving that the stalker did the acts that are the basis of the stalking charges.

For more information on domestic violence visit the Ohio Domestic Violence Resource Center.

See also the Forms & Education tab in this section for more information.

The information in this site is not intended as legal advice.
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