Ask an advocate: What is stalking and cyberstalking?

Ask an advocate: What is stalking and cyberstalking?

HAVEN is committed to helping victims of stalking seek the help and protection they need. Stalking can take shape in many forms and sometimes it can be hard to identify. We asked our advocate, Ari, to share helpful information about stalking for our first edition of “Ask an advocate”. Here is what they had to say:

Q: What is stalking?

Ari:  Stalking is a pattern of behaviors directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. The term “reasonable person to feel fear” really just means “what makes the average person feel afraid”. Fear is how we differentiate stalking from other crimes, like harassment (which causes irritation, not fear). Fear is not the only feeling that a victim may experience. People being stalked may also feel angry, frustrated, or hopeless. You might even feel like you are going crazy.

The repeated contact is unwanted, unpredictable, and dangerous. Stalking is not a way they show love and affection. A person will stalk to assert power and control over their victim.

Other crimes are often paired with stalking, which include threats to a person’s wellbeing, physical and sexual assault, property damage, identity theft, and more. Please seek out help and legal action as soon as you identify that you are being targeted. HAVEN can help.   

Q: How common is stalking?

Ari: More than 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men have experienced stalking. People of all ages and walks of life are impacted by stalking. The most important thing I share with clients is that IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT! It can happen to anyone by anyone.

Q: How do I know if someone is stalking me?

Ari: Two or more of the following incidents could indicate you are being stalked:

  • Being followed or watched
    • Repetitive and/or prank phone calls, texts, and e-mails
    • Waiting at or showing up at the places you go, for example, your work, the gym, your child’s daycare, ect.
    • Following, calling, or otherwise interacting with your friends, family, colleagues, or pets in an unwanted manner.
    • Use of tracking software on your electronics.
    • Creating fake Facebook profiles or other accounts to interact with you.
    • Property invasion or property damage
    • Causing problems with finances, like running up credit card debt or stealing your identity
    • Showing up at your work or constantly calling you at work which can lead to you losing or quitting your job.
    • Public humiliation, ruining your reputation and/or spreading rumors.
    • Interfering with your ability to leave (the home, relationship ect.)
    • Road Rage
    • Physical or Sexual Abuse
    • Threats to you/themselves/others

The incidents can be of the same behavior repeated or a combination of different behaviors. Most importantly TRUST YOUR GUT!

Q: What can I do to try to stay safe and minimize the risk?

Ari:  We cannot predict how and when a stalker will act. It unfair that you need to make changes to your life to make it harder for them to track you. But we want you to stay as safe as possible. Please consider the following options.

  • Call the police if you are in immediate danger.
  • Keep a log of incidents. This would include what the behavior was, day of incident, time of incident, and any other pertinent information.
    • Save all evidence like emails, text messages, photos, and posts on social media.
    • Call the HAVEN hotline (or your local crisis center) to safety plan with an advocate.
    • Consider varying your routine and schedule. Take different routes to school, work, shopping, the gym, and other regularly visited places.
    • Tell your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers that your stalker’s presence is not welcome.
    • Consider taking legal action and seeking a protective order. HAVEN can help with this!

It can also be helpful to keep track of any changes in contact. Has the stalker’s behavior changed? Do they contact more often? Has it been a while since you last heard from your stalker? Be aware if the perpetrator obtains any weapons. Also, be alert of any changes in substance abuse or mental health.

Some people feel that it may be beneficial to stay in contact with the perpetrator. For example, if you answer the phone instead of ignoring the call, the person may not feel that they must show up at your home or work to check up on you. This method is not for everyone and we do not always encourage our clients to keep in contact their abuser. Please call an advocate to safety plan if you decide to use this method.

For more safety planning tips, please visit https://www.stalkingawareness.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Safety-Strategies.pdf

The Stalking and Harassment Assessment and Risk Profile (SHARP) is a danger assessment tool that focuses on stalking specifically. It is free to use online at http://coercivecontrol.org and provides a narrative report as well an assessment of risk. Please remember that threat levels can change over time and constant risk assessment is vital. 

Q: What evidence do victims need to collect in order to get help from police?

A: Keep a Stalking Incident Log. This is a helpful way to track information and share it with the police. Items to include in the log are:

  1. The date and time of the incident.
  2. A description of what took place and where it happened.
  3. Names and contact information of any witnesses.
  4. If a police officer responded to the incident, include the officer’s name, badge number, and report number.

Here is an example of a stalking log for you to use: https://www.stalkingawareness.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/SPARC_StalkingLogInstructions_2018_FINAL.pdf

Q: Is it only considered stalking if it is my ex?

Ari: A stalker is usually someone that the victim knows. Sometimes on the news, we hear about celebrity stalking but being stalked by a stranger is not as common, happening 15% of the time for female victims and 17% of the time for male victims. Most of the time stalkers are current or former intimate partners, or acquaintances. Stalkers can also be family members or persons of authority.

Keep in mind that intimate partners can be more dangerous. They have knowledge of your schedule, social network, and, sometimes, accounts and passwords. They have access to personal information and know what could upset you. They are more likely to attack, use weapons, escalate their behavior, and re-offend. 

But remember, anyone can stalk anyone. It is not your fault and you do not deserve to ever be in that position.

Q: My boyfriend is being stalked by his ex-girlfriend. She is now targeting me. Could she be dangerous?

Ari: Unfortunately, there is no single psychological or behavioral profile that predicts what stalkers will and will not do. A stalker’s behavior can escalate from more indirect ways of making contact (like phone calls or texts) to more direct contact (like showing up where you are).

Trust your gut. Call the police if you are in immediate danger. Keep a log. Save evidence such as e-mails, texts, photos, posts on social media. Call the HAVEN hotline or your local crisis center for help safety planning.

Q: I moved to a new address, but I am afraid my stalker can still track me down. What can I do?

Ari: People attempting to escape from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking situations frequently move to a new home to prevent their assailants from finding them. The Address Confidentiality Program allows victims who have a change of address the opportunity to keep their new address confidential. Please see https://www.doj.nh.gov/criminal/victim-assistance/address-confidentiality.htm for more information.  

Q: What is Cyberstalking?

Ari: Cyberstalking is when a stalker uses electronics to harass the victim. Examples of cyber-stalking include planting recording devices inside the home of their victim to over hear their conversations, placing tracking devices on the victim’s vehicle to follow their location, sending unwanted calls and texts from unknown numbers to harass the victim, and hacking into the victim’s personal accounts to access private information. Just like physical stalking, cyber-stalking is concerning because it often makes the victim feel as though they are being watched, listened to, and followed all the time. For more information visit https://techsafetyapp.org. .  

Q: How can I prevent cyberstalking?

Ari: There are many tips and tricks survivors can use to protect themselves. A few important things you can do are:

  • Set different and difficult passwords for personal accounts
    • Get a new phone number if possible
    • Shut off Bluetooth if you don’t need to use it
    • Look at privacy settings on different devices to make sure you know how things like your location are being used.
    • Look through your apps on your devices – if you do not recognize something, delete it. Many apps used for stalking are disguised and hard to see.
    • Be careful with who you share important and personal information with.

Hopefully, these tips are helpful to you and loved ones. Stalking can be hard to identify and even harder to address. As always, HAVEN advocates are available 24/7 to support survivors and their loved ones who may be experiencing stalking. Advocates can safety plan with survivors and provide resources like the ones listen above and more. You do not have to go through this alone, support is always available.

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