“Stalking” is a word that gets thrown about pretty casually. We tend to joke about “Facebook stalking” our exes, or we tell our friends not to send a new guy too many texts to prevent looking “like a stalker.”
Despite how frequently we talk about “stalking,” there’s still a lot of confusion about what stalking actually is. Stalking behaviors are often not recognized as such, played for laughs, or even romanticized in popular culture (see: Edward spying on a sleeping Bella in Twilight). We tend to think of stalking as something that happens to celebrities, or in trashy Lifetime movies. In an age where social media is changing the way people relate to each other, the line between public and private life continues to fade, resulting in an emergence of new questions about our online activity. Is obsessively checking someone’s public social media accounts “stalking?” How about reading a boyfriend or girlfriend’s texts without their permission?
January is National Stalking Awareness Month. Here are the answers to questions you might have about stalking:
What is stalking?
California law defines stalking as “any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or of his or her immediate family.”
The legal definition probably matches the popular image of stalking you’re already familiar with: a creepy dude hiding in the bushes, threatening Jennifer Lopez with arson if she does not love him. Under UC Davis policy, however, a “credible threat” or “malicious intent” does not have to be explicit for behavior to be deemed stalking. As long as the behavior is repeated and unwanted, and places the victim in reasonable fear for their safety, it can be considered stalking.
What does stalking look like?
The UCD Sexual Violence Prevention and Response program lists these behaviors as possible signs of stalking:
- Following you/showing up wherever you are
- Sending unwanted gifts, letters, cards, emails, or text messages
- Damaging your car, home, or other property
- Monitoring your phone calls or computer use
- Using technology, like hidden cameras or GPS, to track wherever you go
- Driving by or hanging out at your home, school, or work
- Threatening to hurt you, your family, friends, or pets
- Posting information or spreading rumors about you on the Internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth
- Any other actions that control, track, or frighten you
The majority of stalkers are also not one-night stands gone wrong or random strangers. 66% of female victims and 41% of male victims are stalked by a current or ex-boyfriend or girlfriend.
How common/frequent is stalking?
Stalking is way more common than you might think. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 13 men will be stalked in their lifetime, and 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men report stalking severe enough to make them “very fearful” or “[believe] they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.”
According to Bureau of Justice statistics, 46% of victims are stalked least once per week, and 11% have been stalked for more than 5 years. Nearly 1 in 3 perpetrators are repeat offenders.
Stalking is also closely linked with intimate partner violence. 76% of women murdered by their intimate partners were also stalked.
What do I do if I’m being stalked?
Stalking is a crime under state and university policy, so you can call the police or report to UCD authorities. You could obtain a restraining order.
It can also be helpful to document all incidents of unwanted contact, such as in a log, for the authorities. Reach out to your loved ones, from family, friends, and roommates or housemates to resident advisors or faculty, for support. If you are afraid for your safety, it might help to change your email address, phone numbers, or computer passwords, and be careful what information you give on social media.
Campus resources that can help you include CARE, which provides free, confidential crisis intervention, and a victims’ advocate for emergency responsible is available 24/7. You can also seek help from the WRRC or LGBTQIA. For counseling services, you can seek treatment and resources from CAPS.
If it’s a friend or roommate who thinks they’re being stalked, be supportive, and point them to resources that could help them out. Also, don’t be a stalker! Women can also be stalkers or victimizers. Respect people’s boundaries, and don’t persist in unwanted behavior.