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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.

  • Debbie August 21st, 2014 at 2:48 AM #17

    I have a stalker who I work with 22 years ago . He stalked me back then by following me. Then stopped I think . Now 22 years later I have found out that he lives down the street from me but i think this is a rumor. I’m not sure . I saw him in the MALL . WHEN i WENT BACK TO THE MALL TO SHOP AGAIN .he was going around trying to find things out about me from people in the mall who I worked with . now he as spread rumors about me to people in the stores . He tells the people he is trying to help me that he’s not stalking me but then i always see him watching me and following me . when he sees me he gives me dirty looks but he keeps watching me and following me . I confused , i think he is follwing me . what do you think ??

  • salome September 5th, 2014 at 3:17 PM #18

    I’m busy divorcing cause my husband got a bad temper and was constantly in the pubs and sometimes have affairs. Its been a year now and he kept stalking me.. Saying he will kill my friend and I mustn’t go anywhere alone.. As I will be availeble for men to date me. He also said that I am the only woman for him and he won’t stop. Spreading rumors of me. I lost my job and nearly everything because of his stalking. I went to get a court order but the people aren’t much help. Sending from court to police station and back several times.. My attorney cannot help me as I must get a order against him myself.. I am helpless and don’t know what to do anymore..

  • Donna September 14th, 2014 at 11:26 AM #19

    I am being stalked. He been message me on face book and phone my mobile number. He then began to follow me everywhere and my mom told him everything about me. He say he going to hurt me and make me pay he then start to say he will hurt my kids. he thinks I’m going out with him when I never ever did. my mom even told him I had a miscarriage and he took the piss. He is mad and crazy. He even smash a window to get into my house and smash up my house. I let it go on for over a year and a half until today. I went to police . I now found out my own mom was in on it and she wanted rid of me. My advice to people don’t let it go on go police.

  • Mary September 15th, 2014 at 4:12 PM #20

    A childhood friend (will call him “Johnny”) connected with me thru online high school network on Facebook and prior to this, we hadn’t talked or seen each other in 25+ years. They were getting married and he said he planned to invite several of us childhood friends to the wedding and he couldn’t wait for me to meet her. “Johnny’s” girlfriend (will call her Sybil”) saw him talking to me me as a friend on his FB and has become obsessed with my personal and professional life. One year ago “Johnny” asked if he could contact me to tell me this scary news news. “Johnny” says “Sybil’s” family has direct bloodlines of schizophrenia, he thinks “Sybil” is mentally unstable, and he discovered info on her computer that she has stalked me in person and on the internet for over 2 years. I don’t even have a clue who “Sybil” really is, nor do I know what she looks like, nor do I want anything to do with either of them. This reinforces that this high school idiotic stuff is so far removed from the life I live and I want nothing to do with this nonsense. “Sybil” initially gained access to my FB thru “Johnny’s” account and then by checking my friends list and conning a so-called friend I knew in high school into using her Facebook login. “Johnny” alerted me of such and said “Sybil” gained access to me thru my Facebook by “Sybil” contacting a high school girl in our network and staying she needed to borrow her login to watch me because I cheated with her boyfriend “Johnny”. What kind of person would believe this crap story and then share their login for purposes of stalking. I realized I really don’t know this FB friend as well as I thought I did 25 years ago and removed that “friend” from my FB. “Johnny” said he was afraid for me and thought I should know because “Sybil” cut/paste my pics from FB onto her computer and has kept pics of me and pics of my grown children and their spouses on her computer. This is like waking up to a bad dream in a Lifetime movie. “Johnny’s” ex-wife went to high school with me and has confirmed that what “Johnny” says about “Sybil” is true and she isn’t surprised “Sybil” is stalking me as she is off her rocker and has been known to do crazy things. The ex-wife understands my concerns and remarks that “Johnny” must be off himself. What should I do besides document everything to the best of my ability? I live in a high rise building and have security but find this so bizarre. I can’t believe this is happening to me! But unfortunately this is real! Help! Please! Any organizations or non-profits I can document this with? How do I get help with this craziness?

  • Jenie September 25th, 2014 at 4:06 AM #21

    My stalker, a male, stalks me everyday. I’ve caught him peeping behind bushes, and when I’m in the yard driving by over and over again. I had my husband sit with me once and he hurriedly passed by on foot and returned just to stare. The final straw was when I caught him standing about 50 feet away staring. So sick of this!

  • TallGuy September 25th, 2014 at 6:18 AM #22

    How often is a stalker a former employer?
    My apt and car have been majorly and minor lay vandalized 68 times in 4 years.

  • Jenie September 25th, 2014 at 7:28 PM #23

    Tonight no issues!!! Thank god!!!

  • Jenie September 25th, 2014 at 9:01 PM #24

    Looks like I spoke too fast. Clumsy stalker guy tripped over something in the bushes. Can’t figure out why he chose me.

  • sydneywaves September 26th, 2014 at 5:19 AM #25

    There is a guy in my Photography class in High school and he likes me a lot. He got my number and texted me and we made friendly conversation. Then he was asking if I wanted to go on family trips with him, if he could go to my sports games. Then the final straw was when he told me good luck at my game (i didn’t tell him) and he was standing in front of my homeroom. Luckily i was walking with my best friend and he walked away. I am so nervous. He even texted me “when can i text you at night because i want to know if i can text you after work” which included this creepy smiley face :p after every text. Can someone help me? I am going to text him today that i am uncomfortable and don’t want to be in a relationship of any kind. Help!

  • Jenie October 7th, 2014 at 3:38 AM #26

    In the beginning, I used to feel flattered that someone was actually taking the time out of their day to come see me ( I had such a big ego). I figured the guy was shy and that maybe one day, if given time, he’ll approach me and say hello. Wishful thinking on my part, its been 17 years and I don’t see anytime soon he’ll stop stalking me… What am I doing to encourage him? I’m married for Pete’s sakes. Am I giving off some kind of vibe? Any advice? Please don’t tell me to approach him and find out what his problem is. I’m already creeped out by this whole situation and my conscience is warning me to stay far away has possiblle. I find myself more and more now retracing my past for any clues that might’ve set him off and I think I found a few. I thought about apologizing but would that really matter since hes presumably carried this grudge for years? What if it’s not that? Sigh. Yesterday, it may have been a coincidence, I saw him against just as I was getting out of my car. The sight of him raised the hairs on my neck and made my skin crawl. I’m tired of this already, definitely tired of him! I’m determined though to keep living my life and this minor annoyance won’t stop me from enjoying it.

  • nicole October 8th, 2014 at 4:41 AM #27

    I got stalked by a female for not being a friend to her anymore. She started showing to places i was at then punched me in the face. I punched her in the face to defend myself then ended up going to court over it–not fun at all. Turns out she was one of those borderline personality types. Whats worse is she took me to court when all i was doing was defending myself. Stalkers suck.

  • Anne Violet Smith October 15th, 2014 at 6:15 AM #28

    I engaged in mental health activities a worker was manipulating a lot of vulnerable woman I stayed some distence away when it was group’s of men he should interest otherwise not now I see him smug in places where I usually go I don’t want to get involved for my mams case

  • Brandy October 15th, 2014 at 3:01 PM #29

    I have a similar problem, as someone who could see my facebook wall at some point was putting me through the ringer. For example, she has copied my pictures and statuses obviously saving them for some reason apparently over a period of time and then manipulates them on a word processing program to make accusations to defame my character. The worst part is that this person hinges on my every word and cites any misspellings as evidence of my intellectual abilities. She degrades how I appear physically, how I mother my children, comments I make and any continuum of information to make it appear as I am degrading myself. And then, when she is satisfied with her remarks, she mails it to my home address. No return address. I cannot say with specificity who the stalker is, as she remains anonymous. However the fact she knows where I live and has sent multiple letters is quiet frightening. Ive called her out via facebook and deleted as many as 230 acquaintences, but the harassment stalking and fear inducing letters continue. Not one of the five agencies investigating has returned a single clue, and I am lost for words…

  • Auris October 22nd, 2014 at 7:11 AM #30

    I am being Stalked by a person I have never spoken to,it is now going into the 5 year,I’ve gone to the Police and they made it worse by believing him,this parasite will drive up beside me and tell me ‘it wont be long before i;m dead,he is now sitting out side my home as I write this, I don’t go out any more, if I do and he catches me I get abused with Vile language and death threats,I am so scared at times I cant think, 2 of my cats have vanished,my dog has been poisoned 4 times, my friends are followed intimidated and abused,this parasite can do what he likes and the police wont do a thing to help,5 of my witnesses were not interview, in the early days when I did go out the stalker drove at me and my dog,pined me to the wall,still the police did nothing even with witnesses,this happened twice,both times the stalker was Drunk, I live by the sea, the stalker watches my home with binoculars all the time,if young people are getting dressed or undressed he watches them,he has been seen in full view of everyone withe the hands in the pockets rubbing himself,the police say the man has to fix himself somewhere….. I could go on and on about the intimidation and abuse day after day,even christmas day…….I dont know how many times I’ve been cautioned by the police,once was for being in my garden, the stalker went to the police and told them I was intimidating him…….. no justice till he kills me… and he will get away with it…..

  • Amanda October 29th, 2014 at 9:50 PM #31

    I’m sure you’ve thought of this already, but have you contacted Facebook? You can also block people and make it so that only people added as friends can contact you, so even if she registers a fake Facebook account she can’t message you. You can preview what your page looks like to non-friends by clicking the “…” Next to “view activity log” on your page. It’s horrible, but usually the police can’t do much until something actually happens. The law makes it really hard for people being stalked.

  • Amanda October 29th, 2014 at 9:57 PM #32

    When I was 18-19 (I’m 26 now), my best friend dated a very abusive guy, physically and emotionally, for about two years. As is typical, she disappeared and he drove most of her friends away. He tried to do the same with me, but I stuck by her, and when I found pictures online of him cheating on her (the girl posted them in a forum), she finally broke up with him.

    When he realized he had lost control of her, he severely vandalized her dad’s house, abused and raped her, just generally terrorized her. In his mind, she couldn’t end the relationship if it wasn’t mutual. Well, he saw me as the reason for their breakup, and began to stalk and intimidate me as well. Death threats, lurking parked outside my house, trying to run me off of a dangerous windy road.

    The good news is that eventually he moved on, and no one was hurt beyond repair. Eventually they will fixate on someone new. It’s just about trying to lay low and survive until then.

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