9 Investigates: NC stalking laws leave victims at risk

9 Investigates: NC stalking laws leave victims at risk

Story highlights:

  • Woman, who says she was harassed by ex-boyfriend, says system doesn't always protect victims.
  • A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police detective said people who are convicted often recieve light sentences.
  • State representative will propose a domestic violence registry and strengthening existing laws.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Melanie Johnson said she felt hopeless.  For two years, she said she's been a virtual hostage, constantly harassed by a man she met online.
"The calls were relentless. He would call my cellphone," she said. "If I wouldn't answer, he'd hang up and dial right back."
She said there were nearly 50 calls a day plus hundreds of texts, emails and hits on social media.

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"He would make fake profiles," Johnson said. "He would steal someone's picture and set up a profile and send me a message in my inbox."
She changed her cell number, email address and even changed her contact information at work.  She also blocked all of his known email addresses.
The more she tried to end the relationship, the more she says her stalker escalated:

  • sending her a photo to let her know he'd been watching her from the bushes.
  • sending her a picture of a gun.
  • posting private photos of her on a porn site and linking it to her Facebook page.

Johnson added the ultimate betrayal came when her stalker took video that he had secretly recorded of them in an intimate setting and posted it on a porn site.  She said she felt embarrassed, humiliated and scared for her children.
She tried to get a restraining order to make it stop, but  she said her case was rejected multiple times.

RESOURCES: More information about stalking in North Carolina

Johnson said, in her opinion, the system is flawed and doesn't always protect victims.

"I found out that the laws pertaining to stalking and cyber stalking are very vague," Melanie Johnson said.

Determined to try to meet the laws' difficult criteria, she decided to investigate her own case.
"I knew no one would believe my story, unless I had proof," Johnson said.
She documented everything. She saved email alerts of his alleged attempts to crack her password, which she believes occurred more than 400 times.
She cross referenced fake profiles that she said were really his and she recorded their conversations.
"He has threatened over the phone that he would rape me, kill me and burn my house down with my dead body in it," Johnson said.
Fearing for her life, she uprooted her three children and moved.
Finally, her case landed on the desk of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department detective Keith Way.

When she gave him the mountain of evidence that she had collected on her own, he validated it and then served the suspect with a restraining order.
He also filed four charges: two for harassing phone calls, one for stalking and one for cyberstalking. But even if he's found guilty,  Way says the punishment is minimal.
Way said that a lot of victims go through a chaotic period in their life with a stalker, only to see that person get a 60-day sentence, which will probably be suspended, then possibly probation and possibly a fine. 
Way said often, after leaving court, these individuals go right back to harassing their victims again.
Johnson said she is taking even more action. She posted her story and a petition on change.org because she wants stricter laws and harsher punishments for stalking suspects.

She also said she wants a way for women and men to avoid potential stalkers in the form of a domestic violence registry so people are not completely vulnerable and can have tools to check someone's background before they even invest in one date.
State Rep. Rodney Moore said he has seen Johnson's petition. He, too, wants a domestic violence offenders registry and has already drafted a bill that he said could be a model for legislation across the country.

Moore said people with three convictions would be compelled to register using the same process that sex offenders use.  He said their names would stay on the registry for 30 years.
Moore also promised to look at adding more teeth to stalking and cyberstalking laws.
Johnson said she's not entirely confident in the current system. She said she will keep pushing to make the process easier for other victims.
Johnson hopes the man in her case will be found guilty in court, and that he does not do this to anyone else.