January is National Stalking Awareness Month. For those who haven’t experienced it firsthand, stalking behavior might be something you associate with a crime show on tv—a shadowy stranger in a dark alley follows an unsuspecting person from home to school to sports practice.
The reality is that stalking is pretty common in real life. Seven and a half million people are stalked each year in the United States. And unlike on the small screen, stalkers are not often strangers. In 85 percent of cases, the victims are stalked by someone they know.
Because it has such a scary reputation on television, it’s possible that you or someone you know has experienced stalking behavior and you didn’t even realize it. Today, we’re going to take a look at what stalking looks like in real life, how our tech-filled lives can make it easier for stalkers to harass and intimidate their victims, and what you can do if you think you’re experiencing it.
What is Stalking?
Let’s start with a definition of stalking. While the legal definition varies from state to state, the National Institute of Justice defines it broadly as, "a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated (two or more occasions) visual or physical proximity, non-consensual communication, or verbal, written, or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear.”
This means that, yes, stalking can be someone following you. But it can also be someone calling or texting all the time. Or someone sending you messages constantly on your Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook messenger. Or even someone posting something threatening on social media.
What Does Stalking Have to Do with Dating Abuse?
When you hear the words “dating abuse” or “domestic violence,” your mind might automatically think of physical abuse, but that is just one way in which the abuse can manifest.
Stalking behavior falls under the umbrella of verbal and emotional abuse. So much of dating abuse is about exerting control, and stalking is one of the many ways in which the abuser can maintain power over their partner.
The majority of victims are stalked by a current or former intimate partner. While anyone can experience stalking, no matter their age, 18 to 24 year olds experience the highest incidences of stalking.
How Does Technology Enable Stalking Behavior?
What’s great about technology is that it allows us all to be in constant contact with our friends and families. Almost everyone owns a smartphone, and so we’re able to easily stay in touch with loved ones via call, text, or social media.
Unfortunately, there is a flip side to this ease of contact: While it’s great that we can talk and message with those we want to speak with, it means that people we don’t want to hear from can stay in contact, too.
Stalkers often text, call, or message their victims constantly. The abuser wants to know where their partner is, what they’re doing, and who they’re with. Reaching out all the time is a way to monitor their partner’s behavior and to harass or threaten physical harm when the victim does something the abuser doesn’t like.
Apps like Find my Friends, which allow users to locate their friends and family via GPS, also make it easier for stalkers to pinpoint exactly where their partner is at all times. And social media posts often include tags that reveal where you’re posting from, which can make it difficult to avoid being tracked.
It’s also easy for people to search for your personal information on the internet. There are databases that collect telephone numbers and home addresses, then publish that information online without your knowledge or consent.
What Can You Do If You’re Experiencing Stalking Behavior in Your Relationship?
If your partner is monitoring your behavior and whereabouts, it can make you feel very unsafe. Not only that, but you might be afraid to reach out for help because you’re fearful that your partner will know what you’re doing.
There are ways to confidentially seek help. Day One offers direct services to help victims of stalking know their rights and get away from their abusers. You can read more about our services here and reach out to our confidential helpline: call 800-214-4150 or text (646) 535-DAY1 (3291).
If your partner reads through your call log, texts, or browsing history on your phone, consider telling a friend or trusted adult what’s going on and asking if you can use their phone to make the call.
You can set your browsing history to private so that the websites you visit are not stored in your phone’s history, or you can use a computer at a library or somewhere else where your history won’t be tracked.
If you’re able to do so safely, it’s also a good idea to keep a log of stalking incidents. When you have a record of all past stalking behavior, it makes it easier for law enforcement to build a case and issue a protective order. Try to record the date and time of each incident, and if you can take screenshots or keep recordings of the behavior, that’s helpful, too.
If your partner or former partner is doing something that makes you feel unsafe, trust your gut. Not all stalking looks like what we see on crime shows, and just because it doesn’t look like what you’ve seen on tv doesn’t mean your feelings aren’t valid. If you think your partner is exhibiting stalking behavior, reach out to Day One. We’re here to offer you support and to put you in touch with the right people to help keep you safe.