Stalking refers to repeated harassing or threatening behavior by an individual, such as following a person, appearing at a person’s home or place of business, making harassing phone calls, leaving written messages or objects, or vandalizing a person’s property, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime (OVC).
Any unwanted contact between two people that directly or indirectly communicates a threat or places the victim in fear can be considered stalking, but the actual legal definition of stalking varies from state to state according to each state’s laws.
According to the OVC’s brochure “Stalking Victimization,” anyone can be a stalker, just as anyone can be a stalking victim. The brochure points out:
Stalking is a crime that can touch anyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, geographic location, or personal associations. Most stalkers are young to middle-aged men with above-average intelligence.
Unfortunately, there is no single psychological or behavioral profile for stalkers. Every stalker is different. This makes it virtually impossible to devise a single effective strategy that can be applied to every situation. It is vital that stalking victims immediately seek the advice of local victim specialists who can work with them to devise a safety plan for their unique situation and circumstances.
Some stalkers develop an obsession for another person with whom they have no personal relationship. When the victim does not respond as the stalker hopes, the stalker may attempt to force the victim to comply by use of threats and intimidation. When threats and intimidation fail, some stalkers turn to violence.
Stalking Can Become Violent
The most prevalent type of stalking case involves some previous personal or romantic relationship between the stalker and the victim. This includes domestic violence cases and relationships in which there is no history of violence. In these cases, stalkers try to control every aspect of their victims’ lives.
The victim becomes the stalker’s source of self-esteem, and the loss of the relationship becomes the stalker’s greatest fear. This dynamic makes a stalker dangerous. Stalking cases that emerge from domestic violence situations, however, are the most lethal type of stalking.
The stalker may attempt to renew the relationship by sending flowers, gifts, and love letters. When the victim spurns these unwelcome advances, the stalker often turns to intimidation. Attempts at intimidation typically begin in the form of an unjustified and inappropriate intrusion into the victim’s life.
The intrusions become more frequent over time. This harassing behavior often escalates to direct or indirect threats. Unfortunately, cases that reach this level of seriousness often end in violence.
Stalking/criminal harassment can include a number of different behaviours intended to control and frighten the person being stalked. Most commonly, this can involve:
- repeated telephone calls, letters or emails
- sending unwanted gifts (flowers, candy, etc)
- showing up uninvited at work or home
- stealing mail
- following, watching, tracking
- threatening harm to the person being stalked, her family, friends, pets
- harassing her employer, colleagues or family
- vandalizing her car or home
- harming pets
- assault (physical, sexual, emotional)
- kidnapping, holding hostage
What To Do If You Are Being Stalked
Phone or visit your local police immediately no matter how trivial the harassment may seem. This will enable them to record your complaint, log, monitor and build a profile of the offender.
To assist prosecution:
- Keep a record of all events, including telephone calls, noting as much detail as possible including time and date of incidents.
- Try to get photographic or video evidence of your stalker’s actions.
- Do not throw away parcels or letters.
- The police advise that you should read any mail you receive in case it contains threats or indecent and offensive language.
Get to know your neighbours so that they can keep a record of sightings and notify you of anything they may see or notice.
Inform work colleagues about the harassment so they will be able to support and protect you (ie prevent calls from reaching you and prevent your stalker from gaining access).
Try to alter any daily routines, if possible ask friends to accompany you and always try to let someone know what your plans are and when they change.
Although it may be hard, try to show no emotion towards the stalker, do not confront them and do not agree to meet them. If you do come into contact, aim to get away and ideally into a busy public place.
Consider buying a personal alarm, and always carry your mobile phone.
Consider improving home security measures by asking your local Crime Prevention Officer to look around your property and offer free advice.
If you receive malicious or threatening calls, try to keep calm and show no emotion. Do not answer the phone with anything more than “Hello?”
If the stalker continues to ring, answer the phone but place the handset to one side for a few minutes and walk away then replace the handset – you do not have to listen to what the caller has to say.
If you ever feel in imminent danger do not hesitate to call 911.