What is Stalking: Definition, Statistics, and What to Do
"I totally lurk their profile."
"Let's stalk their instagram!"
We often joke amongst ourselves about stalking someone on social media platforms — but stalking is not a laughing matter.
In the United States, one in 6 women and one in 17 men will experience stalking in their lifetime.
January is Stalking Awareness Month — where survivors, victims, and advocates come together to help put an end to this epidemic.
Before we go into the what, why, and how of stalking, we thought we'd first share some additional stalking statistics to showcase the extent of the problem.
• An estimated 6-7.5 million people are stalked in a one year period in the United States
•About half of all victims of stalking indicated that they were stalked before the age of 25
• People aged 18-24 have the highest rate of stalking victimization.
• 11% of stalking victims have been stalked for 5 years or more.
• 1 in 4 victims report being stalked through the use of some form of technology
• 2/3 of stalkers pursue their victims at least once per week, manydaily, using more than one method.
• 1 in 8 employed stalking victims lose time from work as a resultof their victimization and more than half lose 5 days of workor more.
What is stalking?
The legal definition of stalking as per the Federal law is,
'a course of conduct directed at an individual that places that person in a reasonable fear of death of, or serious bodily injury to that person, an immediate family member of that person; or a spouse or an intimate partner of that person; or causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress to that person, a family member, or an intimate partner.'
Simply put, stalking is unwanted monitoring, following, or repeatedly contacting another person. It can involve in-person or online patterns of behavior and cause severe mental anguish on the victims.
Examples of stalking include:
- Following you
- Showing up where you are
- Sending unwanted gifts, letters, or cards to home or workplace
- Sending unwanted emails or text messages
- Damaging your home, car, or other property
- Threatening to hurt you, your family, friends, or pets
- Posting malicious and harassing content online about you
- Other actions that are meant to control, track, or frighten you
- Monitoring phone calls or computer usage
- Using technology to monitor your movements or behavior (like stalkerware)
- Being around your home, workplace, school, etc...
Stalking is often an indicator of other forms of violence.
The National Institute of Justice claims that intimacy, stalking, and domestic violence frequently overlap. In most stalking cases, the victims and perpetrators know each other beforehand (acquaintance stalking) or the behavior is a result of an intimate relationship gone wrong.
A stalker will intentionally engage in a behavior that causes the significant distress and harassment to the victim. Sometimes, stalkers may rely on digital medium to harass their targets — called as cyberstalking or digital stalking.
Cyberstalking is stalking
Cyberstalking is a form of abuse that occurs online. The perpetrators rely on the internet, social media, or other forms of technology to not only find the whereabouts of their victims but to try and scare them.
This form of stalking has become more common with the continuous expansion of social media platforms, and with our lives going ever increasingly digital, there will be even more cases of cyberstalking.
Examples of cyberstalking include:
- Posting rude, offensive, or suggestive comments on social media or in digital forums
- Following the victim online by joining groups, communities, etc... that they're part of
- Sending controlling, threatening, or lewd emails, chat messages, etc...
- Threatening to blackmail the target through digital means
- Threatening to publish naked photos
- Commenting, liking, or sharing posts of the victim
- Creating fake accounts to follow the victim online
- Breaking into the victim's online accounts
- Releasing personal identifying information online
- Tracking the victim's online movements via software
Cyberstalking can be just as dangerous as traditional in-person stalking.
The digital world provides a greater degree of anonymity to stalkers. This makes it harder to identify, report, and stop this kind of bad behavior.
Mostly, the stalkers are obsessed with their victims and want to exercise control over them.
Often these advances become more intimidating over time — showing an escalating pattern of behavior.
Why do people stalk?
While we can't know for sure why people stalk, we do know salking — like all forms of abuse and gender-based violence —is all about power and control.
Stalking can be a form of domestic violence if the partner is stalking the victim while in the relationship.
A study by National Violence Against Women Survey shows that about 81 percent of women who were stalked by a current or former husband or cohabitating partner were also physically assaulted by the same partner and 31 percent of these women were also sexually assaulted.
Though, females are generally the victims of this crime, stalking is still a gender-neutral offense. On average, 370,990 men have stalked annually out of which 30% of the male victims are stalked by their former intimate partners.
According to the US Department of Justice, the most frequently reported traditional stalking behaviors included the offender following and watching the victim (59%) or showing up at, riding by, or driving by places where the offender had no business being (52%), 67% of victims of stalking with technology received unwanted phone calls, voice messages, or text messages, while 50% received unwanted emails or messages via the internet.
Laws against stalking
In the United States, stalking is a crime. And while all state laws differ, the crime of stalking is often broken down by different levels.
Stalking laws traditionally escalate the level of the offense based on whether the offender has committed a stalking offense in the past, committed the act of stalking against several individuals or stalked a person under the age of fourteen, among other factors. The stalking offenses cover the primary victim, members of the victim’s immediate family, and acquaintances of the victim.
What to do if you're being stalked
While it is highly recommended not to engage with the stalker directly, anyone who is being stalked can:
- enhance security measures in their lives, such as locks, alarms, and security cameras
- Call a local or national hotline to discuss your options
- inform people they trust about the experience
- Save the evidence such as text messages, letters, and gifts — but do not respond.
- Report the stalker to the local police department or the law enforcement agencies if you feel comfortable and safe doing so
- Engage with an advocate to get a restraining order (also known as a protective order) against the individual
A stalking safety plan by Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center highlights different categories of safety measures that can be taken if you are experiencing stalking behavior.
Stalking instills fear in the mind of the victims. The psychological and social well-being of the victims is affected.
Victims of stalking are always in fear for their safety. They believe that someone is watching them all the time. As a result, they may isolate themselves from social circles to protect themselves. The constant threat creates a feeling of anxiousness and insecurity. In the long term, victims may have trouble trusting people or be in long-term relationships.
If you are a victim of stalking and harassment, do not hesitate to reach out to someone you trust. A friend, family member, coworkers, or even a lawyer, can help provide the necessary support in the times of distress.
Victim's Connect can help direct you to resources and other hotlines: