We often joke about "stalking" someone online by looking at someone's social media sites, but people who have experienced real life stalking know that it's more than browsing your ex's Facebook profile to see who they're dating now. One in six women and one in 19 men have been stalked in their lifetime. Stalkers can be complete strangers, but often are people that the victim knows well, such as a former intimate partner.
So what is it like to be stalked by someone? It's being followed wherever you go. It's seeing your stalker drive by your house or place of work for the fifth time today. It's receiving unwanted gifts, damaging your property, monitoring your phone or online activity or threatening to hurt you or someone you love. It's when you feel unsafe, anxious, fearful, depressed or on edge because someone is stalking you.
Stalking is a crime, but it's also difficult for victims to prove which leaves them feeling helpless and isolated in their fear and anxiety. But there are concrete steps you can take.
1. Create a safety plan. Have a plan in place so you (and your family) know what to do in a crisis situation. What do you do if your stalker shows up at your work? What if s/he approaches your children at school? What if they tell you they'll stop following you if you will just meet them to talk? Have a plan.
2. Trust your instincts. Stalking may start slow and then ramp up--unwelcome flowers at the office this week, "running into you" at the grocery store next week, then what seemed like a coincidence is starting to feel a little more coordinated on their part. Trust your gut. If something feels off, tell someone. Not sure? Talk to a professional counselor or domestic violence advocate.
3. Document, document, document! Victims of stalking often feel helpless because stalking can be difficult to prove. They may be told by police officers that there's nothing they can do because it's perfectly legal for that person to "happen" to drive by your house. Here's where your diligence in documenting comes in. When you can show patterns of behaviors by your stalker, the stronger your case is to police. If someone is with you, have them document that they were there and were witness to the behavior.
4. Get support. Break out of isolation. Talk with your friends, your family, your neighbors. Let them in on what's going on and allow yourself to talk about the emotions your experiencing. Don't have someone? Talk with a professional experienced in stalking behaviors.
5. Call 911. Your safety is priority. Do not minimize what you're going through. If you feel you are in danger, call 911 for help. Each contact you have with police will be recorded and you can use this as further documentation.
Being stalked is not your fault. You deserve to feel safe. Stalking behaviors often escalate quickly, so take the steps you need to take to ensure your physical and emotional safety today.