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What is Stalking and What Should I Know About It?

For my leadership course this semester, I have been asked to create a PSA about any topic of my choice. I have chosen to write an article series about stalking and domestic violence in the US. This is very different from my typical article, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless. For my first article, I wanted to discuss stalking and answer some important questions about the topic.

What is Stalking?

Stalking refers to a behavioral pattern directed towards other people which causes the person the behavior is directed towards to feel uncomfortable and fear for themselves and others around them. The behavior is repeated and can escalate over time, resulting in violence towards the individual being stalked.

Examples of stalking include but are not limited to:

  • Vandalization of vehicles or property

  • Stealing (sometimes the stolen item(s) is fixated upon until the stalker can acquire something more substantial)

  • Threatening the victim or the victim’s friends and family

  • Following the victim

  • Waiting for the victim or visiting the victim at work

  • Sending unwanted gifts to the victim

  • Emailing, calling, or texting the victim repeatedly

  • Monitoring the search history of the victim

  • Telling the victim the information they have gathered on their private life

  • Assaulting the victim

As technology is changing, so are the mannerisms in which people can be stalked. Online privacy is extremely important. Allowing the public to view all of your social media accounts can be dangerous, so be aware who you let follow you and who you don’t. The goal of stalking is to make you feel vulnerable, something easily accomplished with today’s technology.

Who Can be Stalked?

The short answer is, anyone can be stalked. Stalking is typically done by someone who is close to the victim. Sometimes it’s an ex partner, a current partner, an ex friend, or someone in a friends close circle. However, a stalker can also be someone you’ve never met before. A large motivator for a stranger to stalk someone is fantasy. Stalkers can sometimes have a difficult time drawing the line between reality and fantasy, making a relationship seem very real to them  when it doesn’t to the victim. The sense of reality felt by the stalker can lead to an increased reaction if rejected, creating the “if I can’t have you then no one can” phenomenon.

Stalkers also aren’t the stereotypical anti-social criminal we see on TV. Stalkers aren’t one size fits all, which is why it can be difficult to spot one. They can be capable of hiding their obsession while seeming completely average and even charming. Just like anyone can be stalked, anyone can be a stalker.

What Can be Done About Stalking?

If someone believes they are being stalked, there are many things they can do. The obvious first step is to call the police. If a victim feels that they are in danger, they should call the police in order to find safety. This doesn’t always work the first time, so it’s important that all gifts, emails, calls, texts, or any other proof is saved. Keeping a record of all of the incidents can be very helpful as well. Important people in the victim’s life should be kept informed both for their own safety and for the safety of the victim. There are security measures that can be put in place such as security alarms, locks, and security cameras. And of course, if the victim is in immediate danger, 911 should be called as soon as possible.

How Often Do People Get Arrested for Stalking?

A recent 48 Hours story on Dr. Amy Harwick’s murder by her stalker brought up a lot of questions about the laws pertaining to stalkers. She had taken nearly every precaution available, calling the police, obtaining a restraining order, and informing everyone in her immediate circle of her stalker, and yet it still wasn’t enough. Nationwide, there are many laws put in place that require certain amounts of proof and certain amounts of time to pass before an investigation will even be conducted. 

  • 51% of states require two or more incidents of following or harassment to have occurred before a pattern can be established.

  • 47% of states require an established pattern of harassment, meaning at least two or more acts of harassment, but the exact amount is up to the police.

  • 49% of states require the victim to report feeling “terrorized” by the behavior of their stalker.

  • Stalking is considered a crime in all 50 states but the first offense isn’t considered a felony in all states.

All of the above show the difficulty victims may find when trying to feel safe again. Even worse, just because a stalker is arrested, it doesn’t mean they will remain in prison for long. Once they get out, a large amount of stalkers repeat their behavior with the same victim. The obsession doesn’t end just because someone is imprisoned. Stalking is like an addiction, and every time a stalker sees their victim or steals from them, it’s like a breath of fresh air and then they need more.

What are the Mental and Physical Repercussions of Being Stalked?

Every victim is affected by stalking in a different way, but here are two lists, one for mental and one for physical, about the way in which stalking victims can be affected in both the long and short term.

Mental:

  • Denial and confusion (difficulty deciding what is reasonable and what is an overreaction)

  • Guilt, embarrassment (blaming themselves for effects on themselves and those around them)

  • Fear for everyone around them (friends, family, pets)

  • Isolation

  • Depression

  • Anxiety and panic attacks (seeing things wherever they go, fear to leave the house)

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Symptoms of PTSD

  • Intimacy problems, difficulty trusting people

  • Aggression

  • Self-medication

Physical:

  • Fatigue from lack of sleep, depression, worrying

  • Headaches, hypertension (from stress)

  • Weight fluctuations

  • Dizziness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Heart palpitations

  • Sweating

There are, of course, more possible repercussions, especially depending on the methods used by the stalker, but these lists show the impact stalking has on the daily lives of victims. As often as people joke about “Google stalking” their dates or a new friend, stalking is serious and should be taken seriously. A website I have found with helpful resources is https://www.safehorizon.org/get-help/stalking/. Visit to learn more or get help if you need it.

 

Hayden is a junior at Simmons University studying Psychology and History. She loves to read, write, knit, and sing. She also loves watching RuPaul's Drag Race, Criminal Minds, and Jurassic Park. Hayden is working towards a possible career in correctional/criminal or child psychology.
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