by Tina de Benedictis, Ph.D., Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.
What is stalking?
Stalking is harassment of or threatening another person, especially in a way that haunts the person physically or emotionally in a repetitive and devious manner. Stalking of an intimate partner can take place during the relationship, with intense monitoring of the partner’s activities. Or stalking can take place after a partner or spouse has left the relationship. The stalker may be trying to get their partner back, or they may wish to harm their partner as punishment for their departure. Regardless of the fine details, the victim fears for their safety.
Stalking can take place at or near the victim’s home, near or in their workplace, on the way to the store or another destination, or on the Internet (cyberstalking). Stalking can be on the phone, in person, or online. Stalkers may never show their face, or they may be everywhere, in person.
Stalkers employ a number of threatening tactics:
- repeated phone calls, sometimes with hang-ups
- following, tracking (possibly even with a global positioning device)
- finding the person through public records, online searching, or paid investigators
- watching with hidden cameras
- suddenly showing up where the victim is, at home, school, or work
- sending emails; communicating in chat rooms or with instant messaging (cyberstalking: see below)
- sending unwanted packages, cards, gifts, or letters
- monitoring the victim’s phone calls or computer-use
- contacting the victim’s friends, family, co-workers, or neighbors to find out about the victim
- going through the victim’s garbage
- threatening to hurt the victim or their family, friends, or pets
- damaging the victim’s home, car, or other property
Stalking is unpredictable and should always be considered dangerous. If someone is tracking you,
contacting you when you do not wish to have contact, attempting to control you, or frightening you,
then seek help immediately.
What is cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is the use of telecommunication technologies such as the Internet or email to stalk another person. Cyberstalking may be an additional form of stalking, or it may be the only method the abuser employs. Cyberstalking is deliberate, persistent, and personal.
Spamming with unsolicited email is different from cyberstalking. Spam does not focus on the individual, as does cyberstalking. The cyberstalker methodically finds and contacts the victim. Much like spam of a sexual nature, a cyberstalker’s message may be disturbing and inappropriate. Also like spam, you cannot stop the contact with a request. In fact, the more you protest or respond, the more rewarded the cyberstalker feels. The best response to cyberstalking is not to respond to the contact.
Cyberstalking falls in a grey area of law enforcement. Enforcement of most state and federal stalking laws requires that the victim be directly threatened with an act of violence. Very few law enforcement agencies can act if the threat is only implied.
Regardless of whether you can get stalking laws enforced against cyberstalking, you must treat cyberstalking seriously and protect yourself. Cyberstalking sometimes advances to real stalking and to physical violence.
How likely is it that stalking will turn into violence?
Stalking can end in violence whether or not the stalker threatens violence. And stalking can turn into violence even if the stalker has no history of violence.
Women stalkers are just as likely to become violent as are male stalkers.
Those around the stalking victim are also in danger of being hurt. For instance, a parent, spouse, or bodyguard who makes the stalking victim unattainable may be hurt or killed as the stalker pursues the stalking victim.