Stalking is so menacing to its victims, that it makes an individual fear for his/her own safety. It is against the law in every state. And stalking across state lines or in federal territories is illegal under federal law.
Stalkers often have the mindset that their victims belong to them, and they often rationalize their behavior by blaming the actions of the person they're following. Stalking is a crime of violence, control, intimidation and fear. And it's not about love, romance or marriage vows, although many stalkers hide behind these tenets as if their "love" gives them the right to stalk.
Domestic violence stalkers pose the greatest threat. Not only do these individuals have a proven history of violence, they also know their victims intimately. And as a result, the threats they make are more pointed and potentially deadly.
Stalking is a very real problem for at least 1.4 million Americans. Until recently, the news spotlighted celebrity cases. But unwanted pursuit is not reserved for the rich and famous. While the prominent cases may attract more media attention, the majority of stalking victims are not public figures, but ordinary people like you and me.
Stalkers behave in ways that unnerve, harass and frighten their victims. Following is a list of some stalking tactics:
- Unwanted contact, including letters, emails, gifts, flowers
- Following the victim or showing up "coincidentally"
- Repeated phone calls, hang-ups
- Harassment, making life difficult
- Making his/her presence known
- Driving by the victim's house or hanging around
- Calling friends and family for information about victim
- Scaring victims
- Threatening victims, their family, children, pets
The natural reactions of most stalking victims, however, aggravate the problem and increase the likelihood of violence.
Case after case reveals the same patterns:
- Victims deny the problem, which instantly puts them at a disadvantage.
- Then they try to bargain with their stalkers, thereby establishing a dangerous precedent of allowing him to control their actions.
- Anxiety sets in. Never knowing when or where he's going to turn up or what he's going to do next, they can think of little else. They start to short-circuit mentally and emotionally.
- Exhaustion follows, along with profound depression. Then self-esteem starts to disintegrate.
- Victims start to blame themselves.
- Eventually, they get angry, so angry that they're ready to do almost anything to get the stalker out of their life.
- Finally, they accept what life has become. Only then can they start to deal with the situation objectively.
The stalking victim - rather than the stalker - is the person whose behavior has to change (since the stalker certainly won't).
It's not fair, and most people don't like hearing this. But if you want to protect yourself and your loved ones, it is reality.
These days, the invasion of privacy has taken on a frighteningly technological dimension. Stalkers have found their way onto the Internet, only to exploit the technology to their own end. As the Internet grows – with tens of thousands of new users signing on each month – more and more of us become victims of electronic stalkers.
Though cyberstalking may sound somewhat benign since it doesn’t necessarily involve actual contact, the preponderance of information about your personal and professional life that’s available online makes it downright ominous. So the personal information you supplied in good faith gets sold by the country’s top three credit reporting agencies to online information brokers. They, in turn, sell it to anyone who wants it.
As with regular stalking, cyberstalking often begins when you attempt to break off a relationship. The posting online of naked pictures taken when things were good during a relationship has become an increasingly popular method of revenge for the jilted. Online vendettas can also stem from downright impersonal contact. The beliefs you express online can make you a target if someone disagrees with you. Even the way you express them – especially if you’re new to the online rules of the road – can inadvertently offend or trigger someone. An obvious lack of cyber-smarts can make you a target, the same way a real-life stalker will target the easy mark.
To avoid being targeted, learn netiquette, the rules and regs of online behavior. With that under your belt, follow these tips:
- Opt for free email services where you don’t have to provide your name or address, since most Internet Service Providers make membership directories publicly available. If you’re having a problem, change your email address.
- Since women are especially vulnerable to online harassment, select a genderless screen or ID name.
- Don’t use your real name or nickname.
- Choose a complicated password that combines letters and numbers, then change it often.
- Don’t respond to online provocation.
- Don’t flirt online.
- Immediately get out of any hostile online communication by logging off or finding another site.
- Guard your privacy jealously. Avoid giving out personal information in discussion groups or chat rooms, including your real name, where you live, and what you do for a living. Remember that these online conversations are archived, and can be accessed by anyone.
- On the commercial front, don’t fill out forms (including product registration forms) online, or participate in on- or offline contests, sweepstakes or surveys.
- If you’re a university student, refrain from providing biographical information for the free university email service. Better yet, sign up for your own private email account.
In the end, the responsibility to protect yourself electronically begins and ends with you.
The most important step in fighting the silence and secrecy in which stalking thrives is for victims to keep records of all stalking behavior. Documenting all contacts made or attempted by the stalker-- including copies of letters, gifts and messages left on answering machines--helps create a paper trail. Reporting incidents of stalking to the police is also very important as it establishes the stalking pattern of conduct.