By AWARE® Teen Advisory Board Members - Laura Espinoza, Melissa Marks & Emma Thoms
January is National Stalking Awareness Month. Though not as frequently discussed as other types of domestic and dating violence, stalking is one of the most prevalent and easily facilitated in today’s digital age. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reports that 19.3 million women and 5.1 million men in the U.S. have been stalked. Stalking is a crime under the laws of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Territories, and the Federal government. Legal definitions of stalking vary by jurisdiction. However, it can generally be defined as a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.
People often assume that stories of stalking are like those portrayed in movies, where a stranger you smiled at in Starbucks down the street becomes obsessed and starts following you around, but that's not as common as one may think. Of the millions of men and women that experienced stalking in the U.S., “60.8% of women and 43.5% of men report[ed] being stalked by a current or former partner” and nearly 3 out of 4 victims knew their stalker in some capacity. Since stalking is typically perpetrated by an intimate partner, victims are more likely to see an escalation in the behavior of the perpetrator which often leads to other violent acts. It is reported that weapons are used to harm or threaten victims in 1 out of 5 cases of stalking.
Studies also show that over 60% of stalkers pursue victims at least once a week, and many times, daily--using more than one method. The digital age has brought scary new wave of stalking facilitated by apps most teens use daily, including Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Location features on social media apps allow us to update our friends on where we are,but also provides that same information to people who may not have your best interest in mind. Even without a specific location tagged, photos and status updates make it easier for a stalker to piece together someone’s routine and keep tabs on them, potentially putting them and their friends in danger.
Here are some examples of stalking behaviors:
- Follow you and show up where you are uninvited.
- Send unwanted gifts, letters, cards, or e-mails.
- Damage your home, car, or other property.
- Monitor your phone calls or computer use.
- Use social media or technology, like hidden cameras or GPS, to track where you go.
- Drive by or hang out around your home, school,or work.
- Threaten to hurt you, your family, friends, orpets.
- Post information or spread rumors about you on the Internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth.
- Other actions that control, track, or frighten you.
If you believe that you are being stalked, here are some steps you can take to increase your safety:
- 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.
- Develop a safety plan. Consider changing your routine, arranging somewhere else to stay, and having a friend or relative go places with you
- Don’t communicate with the stalker or respond to attempts to contact you.
- 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.
- 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.
- If you are in immediate danger, call 911.