CLARKSBURG — Every January, communities observe Stalking Awareness Month to shed light on a crime that often goes unpunished and misunderstood.

West Virginia law defines stalking as someone repeatedly — on two or more occasions — following another person “knowing or having reason to know that the conduct causes the person followed to reasonably fear for his or her safety or suffer significant emotional distress.”

Meanwhile, The National Center for Victims of Crime’s Stalking Resource Center defines stalking as “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person fear.”

While 6.6 million people are stalked in one year in the United States, many people think it’s a crime that happens only to celebrities.

“That’s one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to stalking,” said Adrianne Nichols, a victim advocate who works with stalking victims at HOPE, Inc. in Clarksburg. “When people think of stalking, they often think it’s someone with a mental illness following a celebrity.”

“That certainly can sometimes be the case,” she added.

But more often than not, stalkers have a prior relationship with their victims, she said.

Read more in Monday's edition, either in print or online.