Stalking: What is It and How Can I Stay Safe?
By Rebecca Lynn
According to the Centers for Disease, Control, and Prevention, 1 in 6 women, and 1 in 17 men have experienced stalking during their lifetimes. The Stalking Resource Center reports that 61% of those women and 44% of men are stalked by current or former intimate partners. For this article, we will focus on those that you have been in a relationship with, those that have hurt you, continue to hurt you, or you have left.
What is Stalking?
Each state has its own definition and requirements to charge a perpetrator with stalking; however, in general, stalking is a situation (or series of incidents) that are aimed at a specific person in order to cause them to fear. According to The Stalking Resource Center, stalking comes in a variety of forms, some seeming more severe than others, but all stalking should be taken seriously.
Some methods of stalking include the stalker:
- Physically following you,,
- Sending unwanted gifts, calls or emails,
- Damaging house and private property,
- Monitoring computers,
- Calling phones,
- Tracking through GPS or spy-cameras
- Driving by or visiting to your school, workplace, or other regularly visited locations,
- Researching and tracking through online search sites, letters/bills found in the trash, questioning friends and family, or hiring a private investigator,
- Being the main topic of an abuser’s conversations, emails, and social media links, often in a negative way that is humiliating and hurtful,
- Threatening through emails, messages or texts towards you or your family,
- Experiencing any other incidents that cause you to feel fearful, annoyed, unsafe, vulnerable, on edge, disruption of your day to day activities, or increases signs of depression or PTSD.
Domestic violence is based on power and control. A typical abuser isolates their victim from friends and family, controls the finances, limits or denies access to all social media, and eventually controls the way the victim views and blames themselves. This allows your abuser to continue to have power over you–whether you are with them or not. Leaving an abusive relationship is one of the most dangerous times for a victim, and unlike society’s idea that the relationship is over when you leave, the abuser is often stalks their victims after the relationship ends so they don’t lose their control.
Like most topics involved with domestic violence, stalking is not always clear to outsiders and often the victims themselves. It is also not an offense that is always done after the abusive relationship ends, but frequently occurs during the relationship, as well.
Some may see the beautiful flowers filling your desk at work or the sweet Facebook posts from your abuser as loving and kind. They may notice that your partner is always where you are, and see it as them wanting to be involved in your life or just checking in on you. What is often intense jealousy can be viewed from the outside as love and protection towards the victim.
At the same time, you may be frustrated because the relationship has ended, but the communication has not. You may be afraid because your partner has threatened you or destroyed your property. You may feel as if you are being researched, followed, or tracked using technology you have little to no knowledge about. Whether you are with your abuser or not, stalking can make you frightened and confused.
How Can I Stay Safe?
According to Reclaiming Your Space, there are many ways for a victim to protect themselves from stalkers, including:
- Refusing to engage with your stalker through social media, phone calls, or third parties. It is best for all communications to stop,
- Carrin a cell phone with you, in case of emergencies,
- Locking your doors at all times when you are at home or leaving,
- Improving your home safety, research cameras, security systems, floodlights, panic buttons, and other protective devices that can deter and protect you if needed,
- Creating a safety plan in case your stalker comes to your home. Identifying an exit plan, code-words with your children, and have your bags packed with important papers and items,
- Applying for a protective/restraining order that can make any contact or your stalker coming within a specific distance, an arrestable offense,
- Moving, changing doctors, going different routes to everyday places, or changing places you visit,
- Not visiting public places alone, especially those your victim is familiar with, such as; the kid’s school, shopping, etc,
- Making others aware of your situation,
- Getting a P.O. box or looking into an “Address Confidentiality Program” within your states victim resources. Researching how your information becomes public–such as giving your name and number at a store, bills, and ordering packages to your house,
- Contacting any accounts that you shared with the abuser, as well as all three credit bureaus so they can place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit and
- Researching how technology can be used in favor of the stalker to track, humiliate, and scare you.
What is Technology’s Role?
Technological advances have done wonderful things for society and continue to improve our ability to earn degrees, work remotely, and communicate with others worldwide, all while sitting in our pajamas. But these advances have also become powerful instruments used by stalkers to intimidate, follow, and harass their victims.
Stalkers often use cell phones, text messages, emails or social media to physically threaten or bombard a victim with unwanted communication. Social media is used to post personal pictures, video’s, or spread rumors, often meant to humiliate and discredit the victim. Stalkers frequently reset victims passwords, open up fake social media profiles, purchase items the victim did not authorize and send emails to others as if they were the victim. All of these actions can increase isolation, lower self-esteem, humiliate the victim, and provide the abuser with a sense of control and communication, whether directly or indirectly.
According to Digital Stalking, here are some ways you can protect yourself while using technology:
- Changing your passwords on your phones, bank accounts, internet, and social media logins. Do not create passwords that your abuser would be able to guess or that you have used before. You may consider researching and downloading a “password manager” application that will create secure and multiple passwords that are saved safely in an app. You can visit PC Reviews to compare the best “free” password managers available.
- Educating yourself on the dangers of spyware, a dangerous program that can be installed on your computer. Spyware can gather information such as passwords and websites you have visited and is not detectable by anti-virus software. You can visit www.safer-networking.org, and download the free spyware detector.
- Limiting or deactivating your social networks, if possible. Social media is one of the most used tools by an abuser to stalk their victims. Even if you have put your accounts on the highest possible privacy/security settings, it is not uncommon for information to be leaked to the stalker. If you choose to continue to use your social media, it is suggested that you close your current account and open up another one under a pseudonym, without a profile picture. You should make sure you and your friends use the highest security options available and only invite those you trust the most. It is essential not to allow personal photos or information to be on social media publicly. Pictures and discussions about you can easily trigger an abuser without any warning.
- Getting a new cell phone with a new unlisted phone number. However, if that is not possible, it is recommended to back up your phones information and then do a factory reset. When re-adding your data to your phone, keep an eye out for Spyware in the form of programs like “find your phone”, and other apps you do not recognize. You should always have your GPS, bluetooth, and photo geotagging turned off, since this is one of the easiest ways to track a victim. And don’t forget to change your phone and voicemail passwords.
Where Can I Go for Help?
Stalking is against the law in all 50 states. The requirements, processes, and punishments vary, so it is best to talk with an advocate if you are unsure of your state’s stalking laws.
Documentation is crucial when it comes to proving stalking incidents; this can include texts, emails, witnesses that were there when the stalker drove by, photos of unwanted gifts, or destroyed property. The Stalking Resource Center provides a Stalking Incident log that can be used to track the incidents, provide detailed information to the authorities, as well as document information about the responding officers and the outcome of the report. Or, a simple journal with dates/times and details about the incident will work as well. Every incident, big or small, should be documented and reported to the police.
Domestic violence doesn’t just occur to victims who have or are being physically abused. Abuse comes in many types, financial, emotional, sexual, digital, and even in the form of stalking. When an intimate partner is involved, identifying, and reporting abuse is an emotional struggle, even after leaving the relationship. A stalker uses fear, creates confusion, and isolation to dominate their victim. It is easy for a victim to downplay, or allow others to disregard the seriousness of stalking. It is confusing to receive flowers and gifts, no matter how unwanted- as a form of stalking. Many victims underestimate the amount of safety planning required after they leave, and just how far an abuser will go to gain back the control and power lost over their victim. If you are unsure if you are a victim you can take a SHARP Stalking Risk Assessment to evaluate your risk.
Overall, the best way to tell if you are being stalked is to trust your instincts. If you feel you are being watched, have noticed unusual events, and have an increasing sense of fear, document it and contact the authorities, and a BTS advocate to help with resources and to create a safety plan.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.