Part 1 of Stalking: Real Fear, Real Crime
The problem with stalking, which can be defined as "the willful, malicious and repeated following and harassing of another person" (one of many definitions), is that it starts small, individual instances seem harmless and may even have a benevolent character, and it's not logical. You may not realize, even after a pattern of continuous unwanted contacts, that you are actually being stalked.
The online Stalking Resource Center suggests starting with a quick quiz to see how much you already know about stalking. After taking the quiz, check out the 3-part 20-minute video, "Stalking: Real Fear, Real Crime," narrated by Erin Brockovich. Parts 1 and 2 are the tragic story of a stalking victim, but in part 3 a stalking and domestic violence expert, now retired from law enforcement, gives guidelines for police and for victims that will help you understand what is happening and how to communicate your concerns to the police if you suspect you are being stalked.
Who gets stalked? Mostly women. Mostly by someone they know. Women stalk men occasionally, famous people sometimes have problems with obsessed fans who stalk them, and even ordinary people can acquire a stalker who has no prior relationship whatsoever. Nevertheless, most stalking is male on female and there has been some, sometimes even imagined, previous relationship. The people left out of this conversation so far are those in same-sex relationships. Stalking occurs in those as well, and it's just as serious and twice as hard to get authorities to pay attention.
Stalking starts early. After the stalking stops, victims can catch their breath and look back. When they do, they are able to recognize with hindsight that there were red flags if they had only known what to look for and what they were looking at. Red flags like insisting that you do like something when you have said you don't; feeling "insecure" if you aren't forthcoming with computer passwords, social networking pages, and names and addresses of your friends, your gym, your favorite grocery store and restaurant. Like announcing to friends and family that you are a couple when you haven't had that discussion; telling you how much you mean to him even to the point of "can't live without you"; showing up at your home or work with surprise plans for dinner, a show, or a weekend away and expecting you to acquiesce.
What I'm calling red flags in the paragraph above could just as easily be called being attentive, spontaneous, head over heels in love with you. Expensive gifts - are they signs of devotion or a way to make you ignore your gut feeling that you are being manipulated and bought? Unless you have previously been stalked or been close to someone who was, how are you going to see these red flags? Women expect rape and are on the lookout for it, but stalking, not so much.
The Breakup. You still aren't expecting this to turn into a stalking situation. People break up all the time. No means no. I'm not ready, I've met someone else. Just part of life. But some people don't move on well. He texts you multiple times a day, sometimes with threats, sometimes begging you to reconsider. Shows up during your daily routine or drives by your house at night. The stalking has begun. It might stop after a few weeks...or not. You have no way of knowing how long or how far this will go.
Now is the time to get real and stop minimizing his behavior, and start to keep detailed records. Stalking is a pattern of behavior designed to cause fear in a reasonable person, and no one is going to be aware of that pattern if you don't document it. Part 3 of the video linked at the opening of this post explains how the small details of stalking behavior are what defines the lethality level, and also give clues to how to catch, and hopefully control, the stalker.
Getting help. Being nice doesn't stop stalking. And because you don't know what your stalker is capable of, it is imperative to get support and help as soon as possible. This is not a situation, however embarrassing, that you can handle on your own. Keeping a record of every incident and talking to police is one option - but you may not be taken seriously. You might have enough to get an order of protection but maybe not, and maybe your instincts tell you that being served with such an order will make your stalker more active rather than less.
Here are some things that always move you in the right direction:
1. Tell your friends and family what is going on. Don't pull any punches or minimize. If you are stressed and afraid, tell them.
2. Educate yourself online, starting at The National Center for Victims of Crime's Stalking Resource Center.
3. Print off the Center's Stalking Incident Log and use it! Provide log pages for anyone your stalker is contacting about you. The messages he leaves on friends' Facebook pages about you, the hangup calls your mother is getting, phone calls to your girlfriends explaining how mean you have been to him - these are all part of the pattern. You will be amazed to find out how far into your life your stalker has been reaching if you bring up the subject and ask those you know to use this log.
4. Talk to trained counselors on a stalking or domestic violence hotline. They can talk you through your situation and help you safety plan for your specific situation. You don't have to convince anyone to believe you (like dealing with the legal system), and the hotlines are aware of options you need to know about.
5. ASSUME THAT YOUR PHONE, YOUR COMPUTER, YOUR LAPTOP ARE ALL BEING MONITORED. YOU MUST THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX TO MAKE SURE YOUR COMMUNICATIONS AND WHEREABOUTS ARE NOT BEING TRACKED SO THAT YOU CAN MAKE EFFECTIVE PLANS TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND ALSO DEPRIVE YOUR STALKER OF INFORMATION.
WNL: If all this stalker talk doesn't apply to you, consider yourself lucky - so far. Like sexual assault, date rape drugs, and sexual harassment, stalking is a part of life for women. Be aware, be an aware friend if one of yours has a stalking situation, and consider becoming an activist in your own way to make the world safer for all of us.
This is Part 2 of a series on safety planning. Here's a link to Part 1 - Why You Really Do Need a Safety Plan.