Stalking is any repeated and unwanted contact with you that makes you feel unsafe. If you’re being stalked, you may also be feeling stressed, vulnerable, or anxious. Every year in the United States, 3.4 million people are stalked, and individuals between the ages of 18-24 experience the highest rates of pursuit by stalkers. For more information on the prevalence of stalking, visit Stalking Fact Sheet (link), made available by the Stalking Resource Center (link).
Para más información en español, visite https://victimconnect.org/tipos-de-delitos/acoso/?lang=es.
How is stalking defined?
Under University policy (link), stalking means to engage in conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable individual to fear for their safety or the safety of others, or suffer substantial emotional distress.
There are many behaviors that may be considered stalking:
- Repeatedly calling your phone, including hang-ups – sometimes using an unknown number
- Following you or showing up wherever you are
- Sending unwanted gifts, letters, texts, or emails
- Damaging your home, car, or other property
- Monitoring your phone calls or computer use, possibly through spyware
- Using technology, like hidden cameras, to watch what you do, or GPS, to track where you go
- Driving by or lingering near your home, school, or work
- Threatening to hurt you, your family, friends, or pets
- Performing other actions that control, track, or frighten you
- Using other people to try to communicate with you, like children, family, or friends
Who may be a victim of stalking? Who may be a perpetrator?
Just as with other forms of sexual misconduct, there are no characteristics of sex, gender, sexual orientation, class, race, age, or appearance that identify a victim or a stalker. What does identify a stalker is their unwanted, persistent behavior.
Generally speaking, there are a few different types of stalkers, though there is considerable overlap between the groups:
The rejected stalker stalks a former intimate partner who has turned down or broken up with the stalker. This type of stalking is common among formerly abusive partners, though it is certainly not exclusive to abusive relationships. This type of stalker feels rejected and pursues their former partner in an effort to resume the relationship. They are often viewed as someone who just “can’t let go” and are more likely to be perceived with sympathy by others. They are just as dangerous as other types of stalkers, however, and often have a history of controlling or abusive behaviors and of other criminal acts. More than half of all stalkers fall into this category.
Incompetent stalkers know the victim is disinterested but forge ahead in hopes that their behavior will lead to a relationship. Their stalking can be viewed as crude or “incompetent” attempts to court the victim. Incompetent stalkers often are intellectually limited; they feel entitled to a partner but because of underdeveloped social skills are unable to build upon lesser forms of social interaction. Unlike intimacy-seekers, incompetent stalkers do not endow the victim with unique qualities.
The delusional stalker typically develops romantic fantasies about someone who is only slightly, or not at all, known to them. They are convinced that they love this person and that they truly have a meaningful relationship. Victims of delusional stalkers are often extremely confused by the stalking behavior, as the victims have never had a relationship with the stalker. This can lead victims to dismiss the behavior, but it is important to take any stalking behavior seriously and protect your safety. This type of stalker typically has few, if any, interpersonal relationships, and may suffer from a psychiatric disorder, particularly those involving psychotic or delusional symptoms.
Resentful stalkers intend to frighten and distress the victim. Many have paranoid personalities or delusional disorders. They may pursue a vendetta against a specific victim or feel generally aggrieved and randomly choose a victim. They often feel persecuted and may go about stalking with an attitude of righteous indignation.
The vengeful stalker is angry at the victim about some real or imagined slight. This person stalks for revenge. Sometimes, they are former intimate partner stalkers or delusional stalkers who become angry when their victim develops a relationship with someone else, obtains a restraining order, or takes other steps to avoid the stalking and the “relationship.” This does not mean that victims of stalking should not take precautions to protect themselves, but simply that they need to be aware of the potential danger.
Predatory stalkers prepare for a sexual assault. They stalk to discover the victim’s vulnerabilities and seldom give warnings, so the victim is often unaware of the danger.
Regardless of what the stalker’s motivation is, their behaviors can become dangerous, and it is crucial that you take steps to protect yourself. Be wary of beliefs that the stalker is really harmless, or just sad, as although some stalkers do not become violent, many do. There is no single psychological or behavioral profile that predicts how stalkers will try to interact with their victims, so it’s important to take steps to keep yourself safe.
What can I do if I’m being stalked?
If you think you are being stalked, please know you are right to be concerned. Stalking may escalate quickly from repeated calls and texts to physical aggression and violence. If you are in immediate danger, don’t hesitate – dial 911.
Consider the following tips to increase your safety and effectively report the behaviors:
- Visit RISE to talk confidentially with an advocate who will provide support, resource referrals, and help you to form a safety plan.
- Try to avoid the person stalking you. This can be difficult at times, especially if the person stalking you is close to you or your family.
- If you are being stalked through communication technology, like email or text messaging, make it clear that you wish to stop contact. Once you’ve made it clear, do not respond to further communication.
- Keep any evidence received from the stalker such as text messages, voicemails, letters, packages, emails, etc., but do not respond. You can do this by taking screenshots of conversations or even printing out email exchanges.
- Get names of witnesses.
- Inform family, friends, and trusted colleagues of the situation, and create a code word to let them know you need help immediately.
- Consider changing your phone number (although some people leave their number active so they can collect evidence). You can also ask your service provider about call blocking and other safety features.
- If you have children, create a code word that lets them know they need to leave the house or call the police.
- Teach your children what to do if there is an emergency, like where to hide if there is danger in the house, or how to call the police or a trusted person for help.
- Never post online profiles or messages with details that someone could use to identify or locate you (such as your age, sex, address, workplace, phone number, school, or places you hang out).
- Consider reporting the stalking (link) to UMKC and/or local law enforcement.
- Keeping an accurate journal or log (link) of all incidents connected to the stalking.
- Become familiar with computer safety (link) and ways to stay safe online (link).
- Secure your home with alarms, locks, and motion-sensitive lights.
- Get help from RISE, domestic violence hotlines, domestic violence shelters, counseling services, and support groups. Put these numbers in your phone in case you need them.
For more information or emotional support, call the VictimConnect Resource Center (link) to speak with someone in English or Spanish between the hours of 8:30am and 7:30pm ET. If you speak another language, a Victim Assistance Specialist can connect you with a translator in over 200 different languages. The phone number is 855-484-2846.
What factors increase the risk of violent behaviors by a stalker?
When formulating your safety plan, even if your stalker has not been aggressive or violent, you should consider these risk factors for such behaviors.
Historical Factors: If the stalker is an ex-intimate partner, has exhibited prior aggression, threats, or violent conduct toward you or others, or has a criminal record (especially for violent crimes), the risk of violence increases.
Clinical Factors: If the stalker is someone you have rejected or is a predatory stalker, misuses drugs or alcohol, is narcissistic or has feelings of entitlement, has a personality disorder that includes anger or behavioral instability, or has depression with suicidal ideas, the risk of violence increases.
Behavioral Factors: If the stalker has access to weapons, is in close proximity to you, finds out you are in a new relationship, has already taken aggressive action toward you or threatened you with violence, has been researching you, or is unconcerned with any negative consequences of stalking, the risk of violence increases.
Risk factors for serious physical harm include having previously visited your home, having exhibited violence toward you or someone you love as a stalker, having threatened your children, or having placed notes on your car.
What effects might stalking have on victims?
Stalking can be both frightening and dangerous. Like other forms of sexual misconduct, stalking takes away a person’s control over their life and their activities.
Victims may feel:
- Alone, isolated, or ashamed
- Vulnerable, unsafe, and unable to trust anyone
- Nervous, irritable, impatient, or on edge
- Depressed, hopeless, overwhelmed, tearful, or angry
- Like they are at fault for the stalker’s behaviors
- Stressed, including having trouble concentrating, sleeping, or remembering things
- Confused or frustrated because other people don’t understand why they are afraid
- Guilty because the stalker and former partner is distressed
- Like they are overreacting or being silly
Victims may have:
- Eating problems, such as appetite loss, forgetting to eat, or overeating
- Flashbacks or disturbing thoughts, feelings, or memories
These are common reactions to being stalked. If you want to talk to someone confidentially, contact RISE or reach out to a resource of your choice by visiting Confidential Support (link) or Make Connections (link).
What resources are available for victims of stalking or their allies?
If you or someone you know is a victim of stalking, the resources below may be helpful in deciding how to approach the situation and to keep yourself safe:
- Stalking and Harassment Assessment and Risk Profile (link)
- What is a Safety Plan? (link)
- Stalking Safety Strategies (link)
- Technology Safety & Privacy: A Toolkit for Survivors (link)
- The Use of Technology to Stalk and the Workplace (link)
- Stalking & Intimate Partner Violence: Fact Sheet (link)
- Online Safety (link)
- Stalking Intervention (link)
Orders of Protection allow individuals to file for temporary or full protection orders for adults and children, making it illegal for the stalker to come near you or your loved ones. For forms, click on the appropriate link: Missouri (link) or Kansas (link). For information on how to submit these forms, click on the link to the county where you reside: Jackson County (link), Clay County (link), Cass County (link), Platte County (link), Wyandotte County (link), Johnson County (link). If you assistance in finding forms and information on filing in your country, contact RISE: Resources, Intervention, Support, & Education (link).