Stalking can be a serious and even dangerous situation. Unfortunately, because of our online lives and the digital world, people have more access to our personal information than ever before. A simple online search can tell someone personally identifiable information like phone number, address, and workplace.
We also tend to make ourselves targets through our use of social media. For many people, social media is such a part of life that we might share our location or other details about our personal lives that put us at risk.
Whether you’re being stalked online, in person, by someone you have a history with, or by a stranger, it’s an incredibly scary experience.
The following are things everyone should know about stalking, especially if it’s impacting them.
What Is Stalking?
Stalking is a pattern of behavior directed at a certain person that causes them to feel fear. Any reasonable person under the same circumstances would feel afraid. Individual acts that could be seen as harmless or noncriminal in and of themselves often make up a larger pattern of stalking.
The legal definitions vary depending on the state where someone lives, but stalking is a crime under the law in all states as well as the District of Columbia. Stalking can escalate and become violent.
You could be a victim of stalking if any of the following are happening to you, although the list’s not exhaustive.
- Someone repeatedly calls you and hangs up. You may not know who is calling you because they could use different numbers. You might have to search the numbers online to figure out who it is, or you could have an idea if it’s a pattern of behavior.
- A stalker might follow their victim and show up places they are.
- Sending unwanted gifts, texts, emails, or letters.
- Causing damage to your property, including your car or home.
- Monitoring your computer use or phone calls, potentially with spyware.
- The use of tracking technology like GPS or hidden cameras.
- Driving by or lingering near your home, school, or work.
- Threatening to hurt you, your family and friends, or pets.
- Doing other things to try to make you feel scared or control you.
- Going through other people to communicate with you like children or friends.
- Trying to alienate you from other people.
While some signs of stalking can be more obvious, others are somewhat subtle.
For example, the idea of sending unwanted gifts is mentioned above. Someone might start out sending unwanted gifts like flowers. If they don’t feel like they’re getting returned affection, the stalker could escalate the situation and send inappropriate gifts.
These gifts may be sent to your workplace with the goal of causing you to feel upset or embarrassed. You have to acknowledge the gifts to your coworkers, even if you say you don’t know who they came from.
A stalker might also follow up on their gifts by calling to see if you got them.
Another tactic of a stalker is rescuing you. You could experience something like a flat tire. Stalkers want to be seen as a hero, so they could actually create the situation without you knowing and then magically show up to “save” you.
It could even be more subtle. For example, they could follow you when it’s raining and then offer an umbrella or take something from you so they can say you dropped it and they’re returning it.
As you know about stalking now, let’s talk about cyberstalking.
Cyberstalking can be considered an extension of cyberbullying.
When someone is using the internet and technology to stalk someone online, it may also be a crime in the U.S.
The interactions with cyberstalking won’t end when someone asks for them to. The content the target is receiving will often be inappropriate and disturbing. Someone who’s a victim of cyberstalking might feel anxious, distressed, and afraid.
Cyberstalking appears to be a growing problem. The Pew Research Center reports that 4 out of 10 Americans have been victims of online harassment. Sixty-two percent consider it a significant issue.
Around one in five Americans say they’ve experienced severe online harassment, like sexual harassment, physical threats, and stalking.
Examples of cyberstalking can include:
- Posting suggestive, offensive comments online
- Joining the same group and forums as the victim
- Sending controlling or threatening emails
- Using technology to blackmail the victim
- Commenting or liking everything someone posts online
- Repeated messaging
- Trying to hack the target’s online accounts
- Attempts to extort explicit photos
- Creating fake accounts as a way to follow the person on social media
- Posting or distributing either real or fake photos of the victim
- Sending photos of themselves that are sexually explicit
- Creating fake posts to try to shame the target
- Tracking the online actions of the victim by installing a tracking device
- Hacking the target’s camera on their laptop or phone to record them secretly
- Continuing to behave in a harassing way even after being asked to stop
The Impact Of Stalking
For victims of stalking, whether, in person, cyberstalking, or something else, the impacts can be devastating. There are mental and physical effects. These can include:
- Denial or self-doubt and wondering if it’s even happening or you’re overreacting
- Guilt, self-blame, or embarrassment
- Fear of being alone
- Feeling helpless
- Problems concentrating or remembering things
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Nightmares or sleep disturbances
- Irritability or anger
- Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, such as hypervigilance
- Symptoms of depression
- Experiencing symptoms of chronic stress like hypertension or headaches
- Worsening of chronic conditions
- Sexual dysfunction
- Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol
- Declining performance at school or work
- Inability to trust other people or form relationships
So what can someone do if they’re being stalked?
If you’re in imminent danger, you should contact 911 right away.
If you’re not facing an imminent threat, you should start to keep a record of all contact someone has with you. Save any and all evidence that you can and connect with a local service provider for victims. For example, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and they can point you in the direction of resources and perhaps legal help for your situation.