Stalking is defined as repeated unwanted contact that makes you feel harassed or afraid. Anyone of any gender, race, class can be stalked, and anyone can be a stalker, though approximately 80 percent of stalkers are men. One in six women have been stalked in their lifetime, and one in 19 men have too. Over half of all stalking victims are between 18 and 29 years old. No two stalking cases are alike, but any repetitive behavior that makes you feel harassed or unsafe can be considered stalking.
Most stalking victims know their stalker in some way. Stalkers are typically a former romantic partner, a rejected date, a classmate, or an acquaintance of some sort; but you can also be stalked by a stranger.
The Signs of a Stalker
While no two stalking cases are alike, there are some behaviors that can be identified as stalking, to help you determine if you are indeed being stalked. These include:
- Following you or showing up at places you frequent
- Calling or texting you repeatedly, even after you ask them to stop
- Appearing at your home, workplace, or school
- Sending you unwanted gifts
- Damaging your property
- Breaking into your home
- Intentionally leaving signs they broke in
- Verbal threats
- Use technology to track you or monitor your social media, computer use, and phone
- Harassing or threatening you on social media
- Looking up your personal information and details through public records, online searches, contacting your friends and family, going through your trash, or hiring a private investigator
- Other actions that control or frighten you
Oftentimes the stalker believes they are in love with their victim, so the harassment begins by trying to woo them to "prove their love." When this does not work, they move onto intimidation, or "I can make you love me." This is where they begin frequently showing up, following you, and other frequent intrusions into your life that persist. Eventually, this may evolve into the violent stage of "If I can't have you, no one else will," which is where they become truly aggressive. At this stage they may begin using technology to track you, threatening you with violence, or even becoming violent.
This is the most common progression pattern, but not all stalkers follow this. Some may intermingle the first and second stages, alternating between attempts to woo their victim and intimidation. Others may give up after stage one.
What to do if you are being stalked
Know that this is not your fault and you are not alone.
While there is no single solution to this, there are some things you can do to protect yourself and attempt to discourage your stalker by showing your disinterest. Trust your instincts; if you feel like you are in danger, you probably are. Take their threats seriously.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911. Find a safe location nearby, whether a public space, a friend or family member's home, a police station, or another safe location.
Do not engage
Tell your stalker politely to stop contacting you, following you, or whatever other behavior they are doing. Only do this once, making your disinterest in them clear, then do not engage again. They may see any interaction as a victory, so attempting to convince them to leave you alone over and over can lead them to think what they are doing is working.
Block their phone number and email address and block them on all of your social media accounts; if their friends attempt to contact you to plead on their behalf, block them too. If you have any public profiles, set them to private right away. Changing your phone number is also a good idea, but if you do not want to do that, blocking their number will work.
Save every text, voicemail, email, or any other piece of contact you can; it will be tempting to throw everything away, but this is evidence that can help you. Write down the date, time, location, and any other important information every time they contact you. Take screenshots of digital contact, and take photographs of physical contact, including gifts and letters. If there are witnesses, get their contact information.
Once you have evidence of their repeated harassment, you can file a complaint with the police and get a restraining order. The restraining order prohibits your stalker from contacting you or coming near you in any way. This may not stop more extreme stalkers, but it gives you even more legal ground to stand on if they continue their harassment.
Keep your phone with you and charged at all times so you can call for help. There are personal safety apps that you can install on your phone too, to help. If you fear they may have a way to track your phone, get a new one, and change all of your passwords before you set it up.
Make sure your doors are locked at all times, even when you are home in the middle of the day. Change your locks.
Consider upgrading your home's security by adding a home security system. There are some that give you duress codes so you can discreetly call for help. Get motion-activated lights outside, especially around your more vulnerable entry points. Adding video security cameras is also helpful, and it will give you even more evidence of their harassment. A dog is also a good security measure, but only if the dog does not know or like your stalker; if your stalker is a former romantic partner, the dog might let them in. This may not work if you are living in a dorm but take the time to alert your roommate and neighbors of what is going on, so they know what to do if they see this person.
Change your routine and your routes frequently; you may have to add a few minutes to your drive or go to a different coffee shop, but it can keep your stalker from memorizing your routine if you keep changing it. If you are able to change your work schedule, do so.
Decide what to do if your stalker shows up at random and know where all of the exits are for your home, work, school, or elsewhere. Do not be afraid to ask your friends and family to go places with you so you will not be alone if your stalker shows up.