January is National Stalking Awareness Month here in the United States. There are a variety of definitions of what stalking is, but generally it is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that places a reasonable person in fear for her or his safety. It is against the law in every state, although how it is charged differs from state to state. Here is a link by state about the stalking laws: http://crime.about.com/od/women/a/stalking_laws.htm .
1.4 million people are stalked every year in the United States. Three people become victims of stalking every minute. Anyone can be stalked: women, men, children, elders. Stalkers come from every level of society, and may be males or females. Stalking may occur during or after a relationship, or if the stalker imagines a relationship. Children may stalk another child (bullying). It is really about power and control.
Here are some things stalkers do:
- Follow you and show up wherever you are.
- Repeatedly call you, including hang-ups.
- Damage your home, car, or other property.
- Send unwanted gifts, letters, cards, or e-mails.
- Monitor your phone calls or computer use.
- Use technology to track where you go.
- Drive by or hang out at your home, school, or work.
- Threaten to hurt you, your family, friends, or pets.
- Find out about you by using public records or on-line search services, hiring investigators, going through your garbage, or contacting friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers.
- Cyberstalking: using the Internet to pursue, harass or collect and/or tell others information about you.
- Steal your mail.
- Make comments to others that degrade your character.
What can you do if you feel you are being stalked?
- If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
- Take threats seriously. Danger generally is higher when the stalker talks about suicide or murder, or when a victim tries to leave or end a relationship.
- Contact a crisis hotline or a domestic violence or rape crisis program. They will help you devise a safety plan, give you information about local laws, refer you to other services, and weigh options such as seeking a restraining order.
- Create a safety plan, including things like changing your routine, arranging a place to stay, and having a friend or relative go places with you. Decide in advance what to do if the stalker shows up at your home, work, school, or somewhere else. Tell people how they can help you.
- Don’t communicate with the stalker or respond to attempts to contact you. Even negative contact will encourage them.
- Keep evidence of the stalking. Write down the time, date, and place of any contact. Ask witnesses to write down what they saw. Keep e-mails, phone messages, letters, or notes. Photograph anything of yours the stalker damages and any injuries the stalker causes.
- Contact law enforcement.
- Consider getting a restraining order.
- Tell family, friends, 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 someone you know is being stalked, you can help. Listen. Show support. Don’t blame the victim for the crime. Remember, every situation is different, and allow the person being stalked to make choices about how to handle it. Find someone you can talk to about the situation. And take steps for your own safety.
Here are some sources for more information about stalking:
- National Center for Victims of Crime, Stalking Resource Center: (900) 394-2255 or www.ncvc.org
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-7233 or www.ncadv.org
- National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline: (866) 331-9474
- That’s Not Cool! (a website for teens): www.thatsnotcool.com
- National Sexual Assault Hotline: (800) 656-4673
- Gay and Lesbian National Hotline: (888) 843-4564
Like the image at the beginning of this post says: Stalking is not a joke, it is not romantic, and it is not okay. If you think you are being stalked, get help. Now.