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Why Stalkers Stalk—and What to Do If You’re a Victim

Woman and threatening figure in background
 

Being stalked can be paralyzingly frightening. Victims aren’t traumatized just once; they’re perpetually unsettled by attempts at contact and often begin to feel like there’s no safe place to go.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that about three million people are stalked every year, most by people they know—often a former intimate partner. As many as 10% of stalking victims fear for their lives, and all victims face massive disruptions to their routines. While stalking, like domestic violence, has been around for generations, it has been only in recent years that the issue has been taken seriously, and many victims may be hesitant to seek help.

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What Is Stalking?
At its core, stalking consists of repeated attempts to gain control over or terrorize someone. Stalking exists on a continuum. On the lower end, it might involve repeated phone calls, letters, or email contacts. In its more extreme manifestations, however, stalking might involve repeatedly going to a person’s house, making threats against a person, harming pets, stealing possessions, or interfering with a person’s relationships with friends, family, or coworkers. Stalkers may alternate between patterns of domestic violence and stalking.

Each state establishes its own legal criteria for stalking. Laws generally require multiple unwanted contacts and mandate that a victim fear for his or her safety. A coworker who comes back to see a person at his or her office daily, for example, would not be stalking, and a secret admirer who sends flowers once per week is not necessarily a stalker. Repeated contacts rise to the level of stalking when they’re designed to gain power over a person and cause emotional terror.

Why Do People Stalk?
Stalkers often emphasize that they “love” their victims and occasionally say they stalk to keep others safe. For example, an abusive ex-husband might say he stalks his ex-wife to ensure she’s properly caring for their children. Psychologically, however, stalking is a crime of control. Stalkers see their victims as possessions who are rightfully theirs, and stalking behavior is frequently activated by a breakup or an ex-partner’s new relationship.

Some mental health issues can lead to stalking. People with personality issues such as a borderline personality diagnosis may have trouble letting go of relationships and sometimes use manipulative tactics to control people. Erotomania is a delusion in which a person believes that another person—often a celebrity—is in love with him or her, and this can lead to stalking. However, not all stalkers have mental health conditions, and the overwhelming majority are men. Cultural and gender norms may contribute to stalking behavior.

What Can Victims Do to Get Help?
If you’re being stalked, don’t make excuses for the stalker or tell yourself you are overreacting. Tell a friend or family member what’s happening so you have a support person and a witness. If you are in immediate danger or are being followed, dial 911. There’s no price for overreacting, but underreacting to stalking can, in extreme cases, be fatal. Other things you can do to remain safe:

  • Change your routine frequently so that it is more difficult for your stalker to find you.
  • Instruct friends, family, and employers not to give out information about you without your express permission.
  • Keep a log of every incident so you have evidence if you need to press charges.
  • Seek a restraining order against the stalker, and call the police immediately if he or she violates the order.

References:

  1. Help for victims. (n.d.). Stalking Resource Center. Retrieved from http://www.victimsofcrime.org/our-programs/stalking-resource-center/help-for-victims
  2. King, M. W., & Sivak, A. (n.d.). Stalking: New studies shed light on a crime that terrorizes its victims. National Crime Prevention Council. Retrieved from http://www.ncpc.org/programs/catalyst-newsletter/catalyst-newsletter-2009/volume-30-number-11/stalking-a-new-study-sheds-light-on-a-crime-that-repeatedly-terrorizes-its-victims
  3. Stalking. (n.d.). National Institute of Justice. Retrieved from http://www.nij.gov/topics/crime/stalking/
  4. Stalking. (n.d.). USDOJ: Office on Violence Against Women: Crimes of Focus: Stalking. Retrieved from http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/aboutstalking.htm

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Comments
  • Melissa April 5th, 2013 at 7:58 PM #1

    I was briefly stalked by this person a few years ago. He was a former neighbor and started stalking me when I left the neighborhood. It went on for about a week and a threat from a few friends put an end to it. He would follow me around. Nothing big you might say but trust me it still makes me nervous to this day.

  • laurel April 6th, 2013 at 7:20 AM #2

    One of the best pieces of advice that I ever remember hearing about this is that sometimes in the beginning you have to ignore the stalking. For example if he calls you over and over again and you ignore it but then give in and take the 100th phone call then he knows that this is how many times that it takes to engage you so he will begin the pattern all over again. I think that you do have to report that this is happening to you, but you don’t need to engage with the stalker on your own because that is sure to lead to trouble.

  • Gregg April 6th, 2013 at 1:11 PM #3

    Let me tell you something- any guy stalking a woman like this is certifiably crazy. You can’t ignore them because most of them Won’t be ignored. They are looking for ways to get under your skin, and if they see that it is unnerving you then they will keep on doing it. This is the time to shout from the rafters ladies that someone is stalking you because most of the time these are men that ultimately won’t be denied.

  • SabrinaM April 8th, 2013 at 4:01 AM #4

    Most women will not ask for help because they feel like they are being blown off or accused of being crazy if they state that someone is stalking them

  • Kungfu April 9th, 2013 at 12:18 PM #5

    People do not just stalk because they think they are in love with the stalked person.
    You can be stalked by anyone for a plethora of reasons. You can be stalked because you gave someone a bad look, said something offending, and a whole slue of other reasons.
    Bottom line is if you have asked to be left alone, and someone continues, follows you, checks on you, calls you then its stalking.

  • Morris Williams May 19th, 2013 at 10:18 PM #6

    My 4 year old son is being stalked by a woman who was his foster mother for 11-months! She wants him calling her “mommie” and has gotten way too personal on the leve@l of wanting him to spend weekends with her and when ever she chooses! I am trying to get her out of our lives because she’s gotten extremely creepy whereas, she actually thinks that she is his mother and offers way too much input in his life. The last straw was when she waited down the street from my house and took him off of his school bus before it got to my house. The bus had passed my house and when I looked outside she had him by the hand and when I went to get him from her she held his had tightly, would NOT let him go and when I went to pull her hand off of him, she proceeded to physically assualt me, following me to my apartment and actually forced her way into my apartment! She would not leave my front door, keeping it open insisting that I talk to her. She frightened my son in her actions and only left when comfronted by a relative. I am now afraid that she may try to take my son while I am not around. She and his relationship (my son) I felt was unhealthy for him, because she doesn’t take care of him the way that I do, she won’t let him grow up(constantly) babying him, by talking like he’s a baby, letting him do what he wants to do, constantly carrying him around and feeding him, letting him sit on her lap ALWAYS, etc, and I just feel that she is messing him up and that it is time to let her go. She called and said that, because of me not wanting him to see her, that she feels like “killing” herself and at this point I just don’t trust her anymore and want to be left alone! I am a single male with custody of my two sons, one age 2 and one soon to be 4, what am I to do to get this woman out of our lives????

  • annonyumus September 5th, 2013 at 10:44 PM #7

    So this guy has a crush on me and he has been stalking me everywhere I go like if I go bike riding with my friends, he is always there, its so intense and frightening…

  • Anonymouse October 7th, 2013 at 12:47 PM #8

    Actually, stalking law is unconstitutional. If you read through various appeals by individuals who have been on the defendant side of criminal prosecution for stalking, you’ll see the logic of their arguments. Stalking laws primarily are continually supported, despite being unconstitutional, under the guise of the concept of “public trust.” Not only that, but the unconstitutional legal fiction, the “reasonable person,” was made to over-ride the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

    Harassment laws have also been a problem in relation to the first amendment. However, the main difference between harassment and stalking laws has to do with culpability. A person cannot KNOWINGLY stalk you. A judge or jury has to deem that something is stalking (IT’S A MATTER OF OPINION RATHER THAN FACT).

    With that aside, stalking laws historically were made to deter, prevent, and punish behaviors that appear to be culminating in individuals, which were considered behaviors that would eventually lead an individual to murdering someone. It was a law developed in order to prevent murder. The irony of it all is that individuals now use it to push off people whom they don’t want looking into their private lives: Drug addicts, criminals, gold-diggers, and all kinds of people who don’t want to be noticed will allege that someone is a stalker in order to hide illegal behavior.

    So, the concept of “stalking” is wrongly used by the majority of individuals here. None of you know WTF you are talking about. Study some law, would you?

  • Cher Redmond January 20th, 2014 at 8:13 AM #9

    The clinical definition of stalking and the legal definition of stalking are 2 different things. This is not a courtroom.

    Study some psychology, would you?

    Kthxbai.

  • Cher Redmond January 20th, 2014 at 8:15 AM #10

    Truth.

  • Cher Redmond January 20th, 2014 at 8:17 AM #11

    I’ve been stalked for 3 years. Nightmare.

  • Richard March 14th, 2014 at 2:28 PM #12

    I found him and know everything…. cops soon to bust!

  • anony March 27th, 2014 at 7:58 AM #13

    I’am starting to feel stalked since I moved in a year in a half ago.These neighbors started out friendly but then started competing with stuff I was doing outside for no apparent reason.I would come outside they would come outside.I would water they would run outside .I have seen them hiding behind certain areas stalking and run off as they are seen.Lately I have changed around my routine as to avoid any of the creepy-wierdos and do stuff at different times.There are days they or one of them will still as I’am sweeping the back come out real quick and go inside or open their door for no reason at all.I have started to ignore them since they don’t matter to me.I have even seen a few of them come over to the gate as to push it over which they can’t anymore since I put some stuff there to support that fence and that angered them.I have seen them even copy stuff I’am doing and buying bird house I have they got one,colored clothes pins they got them.I feel creeped out as they are doing these things.I have been documenting this and want to put up some cameras they can’t see as to catch them everytime I come outside they are stalking me,throwing things in my yard.

  • mensa June 29th, 2014 at 2:01 PM #14

    Your delusions are dangerous. The fact that you could even fantasise that ‘digging around’ or whatever you want to try to minimise what you’re doing with complete lies speaks volumes.

  • m July 19th, 2014 at 9:06 PM #15

    I was sexually assaulted by a man I knew after the incident he started showing up at my workplace more often coming in the store everyday sometimes 5 times a day. Seeing him kept retraumatizing me. I realized his behavior was not normal he was stalking me and emotionally abusing me. I wanted to know why did he start stalking me after the assault and why did ge stalk me for so long I told him several times to stay away from my workplace when I’m working and that he was making me uncomfortable. I got a temporary restraining order against him and he violated still and continued to stalk me. I developed ptsd from the assualt and stalking and had to go to therapy and take medication to help me. Even though I moved away I still live in fear and i’m still traumatized by what happened I wont forget it.

  • Kenia July 30th, 2014 at 4:00 AM #16

    i gave my # to this guy cause i just wanted to txt he found me on this dating site he seem interesting so i decided that i wanted to txt him.but on that same day we txt for a little then i realize i didn’t wanna txt him no more i just wasent feeling him.and i didn’t told him anything i just stop txting him.because if would of tell him that i didn’t wanna txt no more probably he would start asking all this “why” questions. and i didn’t want to deal with that so then he txt me the second day and said that if i didn’t txt back and tell him if i like him or not he will find out the hard way. and that’s what scared me like he’s crazy i just txt him one day i don’t even know him at all.like it was just a few txts the day before he told me that.

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