WASHINGTON—Attorney General Eric Holder hopes National Stalking Awareness Month helps prevent more crimes.

“We are helping to raise awareness about the signs and consequences of this devastating crime,” Holder said Wednesday at a Department of Justice ceremony. “And we are signaling our ongoing commitment to protecting potential victims.”

In December, President Barack Obama became the first chief executive to dedicate a month, January, to stalking awareness. The symposium aimed to make people knowledgeable of the prevalence of stalking, as well as honor those who have experienced it firsthand.

According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, stalking is defined as “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” In a 2006 study, an estimated 3.4 million adults in the United States were victims of stalking.

Hannah Perryman, a high school junior from Elgin, Ill., first experienced stalking when she was in fifth grade. Since then, she has used her story to persuade the Illinois General Assembly to pass new legislation that gives judges more discretion in protecting stalking victims from the perpetrators and allows hefty fines for anyone in violation.

“[My stalker] just kept going by the house for hours at night when I was asleep, I’d wake up and she’d be out there,” said Perryman. “So it was just frustrating that she was still there even though there were people trying to make sure that she wasn’t.”

One of the biggest issues that limits stalking investigations is the inability to arrest abusers. Because their actions are not always in violation of the law, it is often hard to punish stalkers and put an end to the abuse. Furthermore, many people fail to report suspicious incidents because they do not recognize that these actions are indeed infractions.

“Stalking is a crime that can be difficult to recognize, investigate, and prosecute,” said Tom Perrelli, associate attorney general. “It is unlike many other crimes, which occur at a specific moment in time and everyone, when they see it happen, knows it’s a crime. Stalking occurs over time, usually through a series of acts. It is pernicious, but often misunderstood.”

But throughout the month of January, the Department of Justice, in collaboration with the Office on Violence Against Women, is taking steps to increase general knowledge about stalking and aims to bring peace to survivors.

“Putting an end to stalking is about more than stopping a criminal activity. When a person feels safer and is protected, that person is healthier,” said Perrelli. “This is about making our communities and neighborhoods feel like places where people can build a family, a business, and a life, free from fear.”