Stalking is concept which is referenced casually in everyday conversation, and often misunderstood. This January, which is also Stalking Awareness Month, we want to provide a bit of clarification about what stalking actually looks like.
Stalking can be defined as “a course of conduct directed at an individual that would cause a person to feel fear”. Here a course of conduct refers to at least two instances. One action isn’t considered stalking, but the pattern created by two or more actions creates a pattern. The key component of this definition is fear; in stalking, the contact from the stalker to the victim is unwanted. Stalking is also often dangerous. It is estimated that every year 13.5 million people across the USA experience stalking and 72% of stalking victims are threatened with physical harm1. (1)
There is a myth that all stalkers are strangers. A stalker is most often someone who the victim knows, whether they are an acquaintance (42% of stalkers) or current or past intimate partner (40%). Strangers to the victims are 19% of all stalkers. (1)
So, what does stalking and this “course of conduct” look like? Stalking can take a variety of different forms including:
Surveillance (including surveillance using technology)
Unwanted Communication (such as emails, phone calls, text messages, letters, social media interactions, or gifts)
Stalkers may make and execute threats, such as abusing a pet or spreading intimate images of their victim online (also sometimes known as “revenge porn”. In some cases they may commit crimes such as theft, property damage, or arson. Sometimes stalkers utilize their victims’ fears and phobias in their stalking tactics.
Every stalking survivor’s story is unique. Sometimes stalking can be hard to spot as it can be very situation specific, and individual actions by the stalker may be legal or seem innocuous to someone outside of the situation. For example:
A stalker used to be in a romantic relationship with a survivor. The stalker said that they would find the survivor and kill them after sending a big bouquet of flowers. If the survivor receives a big bouquet from the stalker, they will understandably feel fear even though receiving flowers is legal and usually benign. Outside observers without knowledge of the situation may wonder why a gift of flowers is being construed as a threat. They lack context and may dismiss the threat, even though the situation is extremely serious and dangerous.
People who have experienced stalking may also take measures to keep their location confidential and prevent the stalker from tracking them. Thus, a note or the stalker appearing outside of the victim’s home may send the message that the stalker has found the victim, and be very concerning.
Stalking is often tied to domestic and sexual violence. Stalking may precede, follow, or be concurrent with other forms of violence. There is no one way that stalking cases go, although there is often a pattern of escalation. This escalation is what makes stalking so dangerous: stalkers may start by sending messages, then escalate to monitoring their victim’s movements, and then escalate from there to sending threats or attempting harm.
For more information on stalking including tips, stalking logs, infographics, fact sheets, webinars check out SPARC (the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center). If you have questions or would like to speak with an advocate, contact Safeline via email at email@example.com or call us on our free 24/7 hotline at 1-800-639-7233 (1-800-NEW-SAFE).
1. SPARC, “General Stalking Infographic”. https://www.stalkingawareness.org/fact-sheets-and-infographics/