Let's Understand Stalking

*Trigger Warning*: This article discusses the topic of stalking. 

Stalking is a term we often hear in our everyday language. You’ve likely heard someone say “Oh I stalked her on Insta” or “Yeah I stalked their twitter” but what does stalking really look like and who does it affect? Oftentimes we think of a hooded figure in a dark alley looking from afar, but stalking can look dangerously similar to many everyday actions and oftentimes can be dismissed as just an ex who can’t get over you or a crazy old roommate, so understanding what stalking is, what it looks like, who is affected by it, who the perpetrators are, how to respond to someone who may have a stalker, and how to get help are really important in order to prevent and fight to end stalking. 

What is stalking? 

According to the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, & Resource Center (SPARC), stalking is defined as “A pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear”. Now it’s important to understand that stalking laws and regulations vary from state to state, but a pattern can be defined usually as two or more incidents. Oftentimes these behaviors include (but aren’t limited to): unwanted contact such as phone calls, texts, or contact via social media, unwanted gifts, showing up/approaching an individual or their family/friends, monitoring, surveillance, property damage, and threats. This can get kind of tricky because many times a stalker's behavior won’t technically be illegal to do, however stalking is a crime in all 50 states as well as in DC and in all US territories, the military. While some behavior like property damage is clearly illegal, documenting the behaviors that aren’t illegal can help to show that there is a pattern.

Woman on instagram Photo by Kate Torline from Unsplash

Who is affected by stalking? 

Typically, stalking is directed at a specific person. But sometimes in order to get close to that person, a stalker will contact their friends, families, and/or coworkers as a pattern of their behavior. Anyone can be a stalking victim. Generally, stalking victims are stalked by someone that they know like a former intimate partner, an acquaintance, or a family member. The majority of stalking victims are female with 1 in 6 women experiencing stalking in their lifetime, however people of all genders can be victims of stalking. In men, 1 out of 17 will experience stalking in their lifetime. The most common age range is 18-24 however people of any age can be a victim of stalking. 

What about the component of fear? 

Many times the behavior of stalkers may seem innocent or even desirable by outsiders, like getting sent gifts. It can make it difficult to explain why the stalker's actions are scary to the victim. This fear is contextual and what causes someone's fear can change from person to person. In order to explain what is going on, it’s key for responders to ask about and understand why certain behaviors are scary to the victim. Oftentimes our first emotion that we express isn’t naturally fear. Sometimes victims may dismiss their stalking as being “no big deal” or may use anger, annoyance, or irritation as ways to mask the fear. It may be helpful to look at how a victim might be changing their everyday behavior in response to the stalking such as changing their travel routes, avoiding particular locations, screening calls, maybe even changing their number.  One important distinction should be made between stalking and harassment. Many times the two have aspects that overlap, but generally speaking, the element of fear is what separates the two. While harassment might genuinely be irritating, frustrating, or uncomfortable, fear is not often a central emotion. 

Two women sit at a table and talk Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com from Unsplash

How can you help a friend who is experiencing stalking? 

Here are some tips. First, believe and validate the victim. Don’t question or minimize their experience. Focus on the offender's actions and not the victim's responses. Support the victim and encourage them to seek help if they feel comfortable and ready. Document the stalking. This can look like saving the texts, emails, and call logs including ones to third parties, saving letters and gifts, writing down behaviors and when you experience them, include a photo and the name of the offender. Because this information may be used as evidence, do not include any information that you do not want the offender to see. Look here for an example template of what that log could look like. Respect the victim's privacy, don’t share any information about them with the stalker. Refer them to resources to make an individual safety plan and educate yourself on stalking. And lastly, check in with them as stalking can sometimes last a really long time and take a huge mental, emotional, physical, and financial toll on the victim.

The good news is that stalking is a crime that can be prevented as well as dealt with early on if we understand the signs and we believe the victims. In order to prevent the potential escalation of violence or aggression, stopping stalking early can be a key step in keeping victims safe and helping them to feel comfortable in their lives again. 

For more stalking resources or for help for you or a loved one visit these sites:

https://cdar.uky.edu/coercivecontrol/index.html 

https://victimconnect.org/ 

https://www.stalkingawareness.org/what-to-do-if-you-are-being-stalked/