According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 6.6 million adults in the U.S. were stalked in a one-year period. Three-fourths of those people know their stalker. Stalking is a crime that is pervasive, dangerous, & potentially lethal. It is not a joke, it is not romantic, and it is NOT okay. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 13 men will be victims of stalking in their lifetime. While women are more likely to be stalked than men, anyone can be a victim of stalking. Fortunately, stalking is one of the few crimes where early intervention can prevent violence and death.
Stalking is a crime under the laws of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Territories, and the Federal government. Stalking often intersects with other crimes such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and harassment. It is often a precursor to more violent crimes, so early intervention is important for preventing further violence.
Michigan law defines stalking as “a willful course of conduct involving repeated or continuing harassment of another individual that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested and that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested.”
In Wisconsin, a person stalks a victim when he or she engages in a “course of conduct” that causes the victim to experience serious emotional distress or to fear bodily injury or death to themself, to a family member, or to a member of their household. If the stalker knew or should have known that at least one of the stalking acts would cause the victim to experience this distress or fear, the stalker may be charged. In most instances, a course of conduct means two or more acts carried out over any period of time. However, if a person had previously been convicted of a domestic abuse offense or sexual assault offense against the same victim, the person may be charged with stalking after only one stalking act against the victim.
The majority of stalking cases involve men stalking women, but men do stalk men, women do stalk women, and women do stalk men. A stalker can be someone you know well or someone you don’t know at all. Most have dated or been involved with the people they stalk. Intimate partner stalkers frequently approach their targets, and their behaviors escalate quickly. Two-thirds of stalkers pursue their victims at least once per week, many daily, using more than one method of approach. Weapons are used to harm or threaten victims in 1 out of 5 cases, and almost 1/3 of stalkers have stalked before. Stalking is serious, often violent, and can escalate over time.
Some things stalkers do:
- Follow you and show up wherever you go.
- Send unwanted gifts, letters, cards, or e-mails.
- Damage your property, such as your home or car.
- Monitor your computer and phone use.
- Use technology, such as hidden cameras or global positioning systems (GPS), to track where you go.
- Drive by or hang out at your home, school, or work.
- Threaten to hurt you, your family, friends, or pets.
- Find out as much as they can about you by using public records or online search services, hiring investigators, going through your garbage, or contacting friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers.
- Spreading rumors or posting information about you on the Internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth.
- Other actions that control, track, or frighten you.
You are not to blame for a stalker’s behavior.
If you are being stalked, you may:
- Feel fear of what the stalker will do.
- Feel vulnerable, unsafe, and not know who to trust.
- Feel anxious, irritable, impatient, or on edge.
- Feel depressed, hopeless, overwhelmed, tearful, or angry.
- Feel stressed, including having trouble sleeping, concentrating, or remembering things.
- Have eating problems, such as appetite loss, forgetting to eat, or overeating.
- Have flashbacks, disturbing thoughts, feelings, or memories.
- Feel confused, frustrated, or isolated because other people don’t understand why you are afraid.
These are common reactions to being stalked.
The prevalence of anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression is much higher among stalking victims than the general population, especially if the stalking involves being followed or having one’s property destroyed. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1 in 7 stalking victims move as a result of their victimization and 1 in 8 employed stalking victims lose time from work as a result of their victimization.
Things you can do
Stalking is unpredictable and dangerous. There are no guarantees that what works for one person will work for another, yet there are steps you can take to increase your safety.
- If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
- Trust your instincts. Don’t downplay the danger. If you feel you are unsafe, you probably are.
- Take threats seriously. Danger generally is higher when the stalker talks about suicide or murder, or when a victim tries to leave or end the relationship.
- Contact a crisis hotline, victim services agency, or a domestic violence or rape crisis program, such as DOVE. We can help you devise a safety plan, give you information about local laws, weigh options such as seeking a protection order, and refer you to other services.
- Develop a safety plan, including things like changing your routine, arranging a place to stay, and having a friend or relative go places with you. Decide in advance what to do if the stalker shows up at your home, work, school, or somewhere else. Tell people how they can help you. Click here to learn more about safety plans for stalking.
- Don’t communicate with the stalker or respond to attempts to contact you.
- Keep evidence of the stalking. When the stalker follows you or contacts you, write down the time, date, and place. Keep emails, text messages, phone messages, letters, or notes. Photograph anything of yours the stalker damages and any injuries the stalker causes. Ask witnesses to write down what they saw. Click here to download a stalking incident and behavior log.
- Contact the police. There are stalking laws in all 50 states. The stalker may also have broken other laws by doing things like assaulting you or stealing or destroying your property.
- Consider getting a court order that tells the stalker to stay away from you. These may be referred to as a PPO (Personal Protection Order), a restraining order, or a no contact order.
- Tell family, friends, roommates, and co-workers about the stalking and seek their support.
- Tell security officers or staff at your job or school. Ask them to help watch out for your safety.