While legal definitions of stalking vary from one jurisdiction to another, a good working definition of stalking is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.
Stalking is often a crime related to domestic violence. 30% of stalking victims are stalked by a current or former intimate partner.1 Abusers often use stalking tactics to either enforce their power and control, or to try to regain that power and control when they feel their influence slipping. According to the Centers for Diesease Control and Prevention, women have a significantly higher lifetime incidence of stalking than do men.2
Just like with many other forms of abuse, people who experience stalking live with the anxiety of never knowing what will happen next. Stalking in unpredictable, and scary. Stalking victims report higher than average rates of anxiety, insomnia, and social disfunction than do people in the general population, particularly if their experience includes being followed, or having their property destroyed3. Many victims take major steps to try to make the stalking stop, including moving from their homes.
Are you worried about being stalked, or wondering if what you have experienced is stalking?
Has your abuser ever:
- Followed you to see where you were going, or to make sure you went where you said you would be?
- Turned up mysteriously in places where you were, with no reasonable explanation for being there?
- Used technology to track your whereabouts, perhaps through your phone, your computer, hidden cameras or GPS?
- Broken into your house or car, or other spaces that belong exclusively to you, perhaps letting you know by leaving signs that only you would notice?
- Showed you pictures or video of yourself that were taken without your knowledge or consent?
These are all examples of stalking behaviors. It's important to remember that you may not know that your abuser is stalking you. For example, it can be surprisingly easy for someone to use technology to track your whereabouts without you ever knowing they are doing it. If you are experiencing abuse, consider whether stalking could be a part of the picture.
What to do if you are being stalked
No two stalking situations are alike. There are no guarantees that what works for one person will work for another, yet you can take steps to increase your safety:
- If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
- Trust your instincts. Don’t downplay the danger. If you feel you are unsafe, you probably are.
- Take threats seriously. Danger generally is higher when the stalker talks about suicide or murder, or when a victim tries to leave or end the relationship.
- Seek help. Maine's domestic violence resource centers are experienced in working with victims of intimate partner stalking. They can help you devise a safety plan, give you information about local laws, refer you to other services, and weigh options such as seeking a protection order. Call 1.866.834.HELP.
- Develop a safety plan. Consider changing your routine, and arranging a place to stay for a while. Make a plan for what you will do if the stalker shows up at your home, work, school, or somewhere else.
- Keep evidence of the stalking. When the stalker follows you or contacts you, write down the time, date, and place. Keep e-mails, phone messages, letters, or notes. Photograph anything of yours the stalker damages and any injuries the stalker causes. Ask witnesses to write down what they saw. Stalking can be hard to prove, and documenting what you are experiencing can help.
- Contact the police. Every state has stalking laws. The stalker may also have broken other laws by doing things like assaulting you or stealing or destroying your property.
- Consider getting a court order that tells the stalker to stay away from you.
- Tell family, friends, roommates, and co-workers about the stalking and seek their support. Tell security staff at your job or school. Ask them to help watch out for your safety.
Remember: it is important to take stalking seriously. It is a crime under the laws of 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Territories, and the Federal government. However, laws vary from state to state, as do precise definitions of what constitutes stalking. For a compilation of state, tribal, and federal laws related to stalking, visit the Stalking Resource Center.
1Katrina Baum et al., “Stalking Victimization in the United States,” (Washington, DC:BJS, 2009).
2Breiding, M.J., Chen J., & Black, M.C. (2014). Intimate Partner Violence in the United States — 2010. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
3Eric Blauuw et al., “The Toll of Stalking,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 17, no. 1 (2002):50-63.