Stalking is a complex topic.
There are so many aspects and angles to cover when it comes to stalking that I honestly worry about doing it justice. Stalking is so damaging and so prevalent in society that it has to be addressed in the right way. For that reason, in addition to this article, we will be discussing criminal stalking and what that means the March 16, 2021 episode of the SAGE Advice Podcast. Knowledge is power and it can change perceptions so lets learn more about stalking in the United States.
How does US culture view stalking?
The answer to this question is obviously “bad.” Stalking is bad however the real question should really be, does our culture take stalking seriously?
Have you ever run into an acquaintance twice in one day and said, “oh my gosh, are you stalking me?” Do you look at news stories about celebrities receiving threatening fan mail and think “They’ll be fine, they have security” or “They’re a celebrity, they asked for it.”
Aside from minimizing how truly damaging stalking is, these perceptions give the illusion that stalking only happens to certain types of people.
However, the truth is far more terrifying. Let’s look at some statistics:
- 4.5 million women and 2.1 million men were stalked in the 12 months preceding a CDC survey in 2018 (CDC 2018)
- 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men were victims of stalking at some point during their lifetime (CDC 2017)
- Most victims are stalked by a current or former intimate partner or acquaintance (BJS, 2009a)
- People aged 18-24 have the highest rate of stalking victimization (BJS, 2009a)
The thought that millions of women and men have experienced stalking in the United States is scary. Chances are very high that someone you know and love has been a victim of stalking in their lifetime. Those chances are even higher for those of us under 25 years of age. The 18-24 age range has the highest stalking percentage of any other. These are very formative years and to ignore the prevalence of stalking during this time does the younger generation a disservice. The stalking rates on college campuses alone are astronomical. More attention needs to be brought to this issue to help the younger generation.
According to a survey conducted by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in 2016, nearly 14% of teenage girls and 13% of teenage boys report being a victim of stalking and yet there is little information on the rate of stalking among this age group. The survey also found that teen victims of stalking were more likely to report mood disorders, sexual behaviors and substance abuse than their counterparts who had not been stalked.
Back in 1998 the CDC released a research brief on stalking and found that 12% of respondents reported their first stalking incident before the age of 18. Imagine, this was before wifi, before widespread cell phone use and before apps to track your every move. Think of how much technology has grown since then!
Who can be a stalking victim?
Anyone can be a stalking victim, however there are certain scenarios that are more common than others. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey in 2011, the most common relationships between victim and offender are as follows:
Stalked by a Current or Former Intimate Partner
- Female victim 61%
- Male victim 44%
Stalked by an Acquaintance
- Male Victim 32%
- Female Victim 25%
Stalked by a Stranger
- Male Victim 20%
- Female Victim 16%
Stalked by a Family Member
- Male Victim 10%
- Female Victim 6%
Looking at numbers within the LGTBQ+ community the statistics are equally staggering. According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey:
- 44 percent of lesbians and 61 percent of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to thirty five percent of straight women
- 26 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 29 percent of straight men
Unfortunately, there is not extensive research yet within the transgender community but in a recent stalking brief from the NIH, 15% of overall respondents reported being a victim of stalking and the participants in the transgender, bisexual and queer communities had the highest rates and were least likely to report to police.
What does stalking look like?
Just as technology has made it easier for us to connect with each other, technology has also helped facilitate an increase in silent stalking. We even use the term Facebook Stalking in everyday life! Below is a list of some common stalking behaviors from the Center for Family Safety and Healing:
- Repeated texts, phone calls, voicemails, or emails
- Sending unwanted pictures or gifts
- Driving by, hanging out or coincidentally showing up at the victim’s school, home or work
- Using technology to track or watch the victim through GPS or other apps
- Threatening to hurt the victim and/or family, friends and pets
- Posting information or spreading rumors about the victim
- Entering the victims house to gather ‘trophies’
If you feel unsafe or concerned that someone is paying you too much unwanted attention, please reach out to your local police or victims advocacy group.
Can You Spot a Stalker?
Unfortunately stalkers never quite fit into a singular profile and we are without a way to predict their behavior. Stalkers come from all different backgrounds, cultures and social classes. Stalkers also have different motivations for stalking. For example, some can be non violent while others can have violent intentions. The majority of stalkers attempt to contact or watch their victims daily via technology or by in person means. Intimate partners are the most likely to use violent means when stalking because they already have a physical connection to the victim.
In recent years the law enforcement community has taken steps to address stalking, especially when it comes to online harassment. However, stalking in general is difficult to prove and building a case takes time. Additionally, victims may find it difficult to accept they are being stalked and rarely report stalking cases to police.
Why is stalking underreported, minimized and misunderstood?
It is hard for many to truly understand what it is like being the victim of stalking but I’ve been there and understand the complexities that come with being stalked. I was confused, scared, frustrated and sad. My ex was acting in erratic and desparate ways but didn’t want to label what was happening to me as stalking. Many people don’t know what is happening to them and minimization is very common among stalking victims.
According to Stalking Victimization in the United States (BJS, 2009), the top reasons for not reporting are as follows:
- Thought it was a minor incident 27%
- Private or Personal Matter 27%
- Reported to another official 14%
- Not Clear a crime occurred 11%
- Thought police wouldn’t think it was important 11%
- Couldn’t identify offender/lacked evidence 10%
- Feared the perpetrator/feared reprisals
How does it feel to be stalked?
We can rattle off statistics all day long but until we understand what the victim is experiencing, our society won’t be able to look at stalking with the severity it requires. From personal experience I can assure you it is a very nerve wrecking time. You are constantly looking over your shoulder, wondering if you are in danger or if someone is watching you. The anxiety stalking causes can be very damaging for months and years after the stalking has ended. Sleep is sparse if present at all. Each car door or loud noise has you alert and checking the windows. Thankfully I surrounded myself with friends and a pack of four-legged creatures for safety and peace of mind but even that only goes so far.
For almost a year I dead bolted every door in the house including my bedroom door. I had pepper spray at every exit as well as next to my pillow, just in case. People around me insisted I get a weapon but thats not the best idea when dealing with an ex intimate partner and I’m glad law enforcement gave me solid advice. Weapons are more likely to be turned on you if presented in a situation.
The Two-Way Mirror
Walking into the police station for the first time I was shaking. At this particular precinct the city jail and detective offices used the same waiting area. As I sat behind the plexiglass barriers I was in utter shock and disbelief that this was happening to me. I did not want to be there and at the time I honestly didn’t think I needed to be. I was cursing my friends who pushed me to go because I thought they were over-reacting anyway.
As I waited in a room with a two way mirror, palms sweating and feeling like I had just walked onto the set of Law and Order SVU, I wondered how this ever became my life. When the officers came in they simply asked me to explain what had been going on and the history of our relationship. Hearing myself recount the events that brought be here was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I was horrified with what I heard. When I was done talking they asked for my phone and took pictures of the hundreds of texts and emails I had received in the days prior.
After they told me it was my decision whether or not to file a police report and assured me that should I complete a report it would be precautionary in nature. If the stalking behavior increased then I would have documentation to help my case. I was cautiously optimistic that the unwanted behavior would stop so I filed the report however the detectives were not so optimistic. I was sent home with a packet of stalking log sheets and emergency resources.
All I wanted was for the texts, emails and phone calls to stop. The police encouraged me not to engage or respond (and I didn’t) but unfortunately the stalking behavior did escalate and I was happy I made the original police report. The court system loves documentation so if you are at all worried about stalking behavior WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN. Write the date, time and description of the incident. DOCUMENT. DOCUMENT. DOCUMENT. Click here for a sample log.
Am I being tracked?
One night I was out with a friend and in the course of 20 minutes I received over 30 calls from an unknown number. I knew it was my ex but there was so much I didn’t know. Was he here? Did he see me? Is he following me? We were terrified.
My friend immediately called his wife to see if I could come to their house because no one felt it was safe for me to go home. It is a horrible feeling to wonder whether you are safe and if someone is watching you. You simply don’t know what’s going to happen from one minute to the next.
Technology has made stalking easier and more sophisticated. There are services that provide you with fake phone numbers and fake email accounts so the perpetrator can get to the victim by any means. Tracking devices can be placed on your phone, your computers or your car. Proxy accounts can be set up on social media to make tracking the victims whereabouts easier. Technology has changed the world and unfortunately made stalking that much more intense. Most police departments can scan your phone or car so contact them if you are worried
Did you know that in New Zealand you can receive up to 10 days off a year for domestic violence related reasons? I mention this because 1 in 8 stalking victims lose time from work and over 50 percent lose 5 or more days of work. One in 7 victims moves as a result of stalking and according to the Bureau of Justice and Statistics the prevalence of anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression is much higher among stalking victims. You are in a constant state of alert and adrenaline because you never know when or if it will stop.
My hope after reading this article is that you understand a little more about what stalking is and how it affects the victim. The way we change this behavior is to confront it head on. Teens and young adults are the age group most affected by stalking. Many argue as a young person it is easy to let your emotions get the best of you and engage in behaviors that may seem threatening or unsettling to your intended target, but wrong is wrong regardless of age. We need to teach young people, and society at large, how to identify these behaviors and together try to change something.
Remember, not all stalkers think they are in the wrong or have bad intentions. However, there are certainly those that do so together we need to stand on alert for every experience of unwanted attention or threatening behavior. If someone thinks they are being stalked, listen to them.
For the victim, stalking is a life changing event. It comes with heartache, anxiety and pain. Please remember what it is like for someone going through this. I wouldn’t wish that type of experience on anyone. If you are worried for your safety you have every right to go to the police and report the behavior. If you are not getting the support you need from your local officials, contact the National Network to End Domestic Violence and they will help get you in touch with an advocate.
Stay Safe. Stay Strong. We can do this together.