Public officials face a challenge when they have stalkers

Oct 14, 2019, 9:46 AM
stalkers public official...
South Salt Lake City Council members Shane Siwik and Corey Thomas hold signs for a honk and wave as they try to draw attention to pedestrian safety Photo: Silas Walker, Deseret News

SOUTH SALT LAKE — The personal experience of a public official exposes a flaw in Utah’s laws protecting people against stalkers.

Technology helps stalkers

South Salt Lake Councilwoman Corey Thomas told the Deseret News she didn’t call the police for help until she realized how easily her stalkers could find her. That’s when she discovered she didn’t qualify for a typical restraining order against the men sending her threatening messages on social media because she never had a romantic relationship with them.

Utah law assumes the stalker and victim are extremely familiar with each other, Thomas said. It doesn’t take into account how technology may allow people to harass those in public office on a whole new level.

Thomas says her first stalker began calling her while she was running for office.  At first, the man’s calls were all business.  Then they were at all hours of the day and night.  When she stopped taking the calls, Thomas says he would leave what sounded like drunken or incoherent messages.

And then it got scarier.  Thomas said she finally called the police when she realized how easily the stalker could find her.  She says she didn’t expect total privacy when she decided to run for office, but seeing how readily available her information was to those who threatened her made her decide not to ignore the harassment.

But, as supportive as the police department was, Thomas said she didn’t have a lot of recourse, especially from her second stalker.

Flaws in the laws

A South Salt Lake city worker was angry about a possible tax hike.  Even though several council members, including Thomas, were opposed to a tax increase, this man targeted her, Thomas said.

According to Thomas, the man began harassing her on Facebook, so she blocked him.  That seemed to make him angrier, resulting in increasingly threatening messages.

It wasn’t until friends and neighbors told her what he was writing that she became scared and went to the police.  That’s when she was told getting a protective order was impossible.

On top of that, Thomas said navigating the legal system “is difficult and confusing.”

“The media is taking an interest in my story, but there are hundreds of women going through this every day who don’t have, or feel like they have a voice,” Thomas told Deseret News reporter Amy Donaldson.

Because the city worker didn’t send the messages directly to Thomas and they had no previous relationship of any kind, all that was done was the city fired him.  So far, no criminal charges have been filed.

Thomas wants to work with legislators to change the current stalking laws.

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Public officials face a challenge when they have stalkers