I was in my college computer lab, logged into my personal email account, composing an email. When I looked up at what I had written I saw the word “Hi” in the body of the email,instead of what I had typed. It just seemed odd so I deleted it and started writing that “the weirdest thing just happened, I typed a paragraph and all that appeared on the screen was the word ‘Hi.’“
I looked up a second time and AGAIN saw the word “Hi.” I jumped. After a moment of incredulous panic, I figured that my boyfriend had logged into my account (since he was the only other person in the world that had my log in credentials). So I wrote directly to him: “Oh it was you! Ha! Did you laugh when I wrote that the weirdest thing just happened?”
I watched each letter appear on the screen to form the response: “No, but I laughed when I saw you jump.” I caught my own reflection in the computer screen; the terror on my facemagnified the terror I felt internally.
“You don’t know who I am, do you?” I didn’t respond; I just sat there staring at the screen frozen in shock.
“I’m in this room with you.” At that, something clicked; I just had to GET OUT. I shut off the computer and left the lab, never to return again.
I haven’t thought about those few minutes in more than a decade, but thinking of it now still creeps me out. There was no threat of violence, just a mystery, an uneasiness that comes with being watched and an appalling trespass. Nonetheless, I was horrified.
Stalking victims live in a horror movie.
The legal definition of stalking will vary from state to state, but generally refers to a course of conduct that would place any reasonable person in fear.(1) This is a rather vague concept for anyone who hasn’t been exposed to stalking behavior. Stalking should be understood as the intentional and malicious following and harassing of another that works to induce fear.(4) These are predatory criminals; they know what they are doing and derive pleasure from doing it.
The behaviors employed by stalkers to reach and elicit fear from their victims are numerous; they will pursue all avenues at their disposal. Unwanted phone calls, letters, emails, and instant messages are some of the ways stalkers will attempt communication. They may also leave unwanted gifts, follow and spy on their target, and show up or wait for a victim in places that they have no legitimate reason for being. Almost half of all stalking victims report at least one unwanted contact per week.(1)
Imagine being subjected to this kind of torment. Envision wanting nothing to do with a person yet hearing from them at least once a week. Imagine seeing them on the sidewalk in front of your house, or outside of your work. Now consider that the tendency for this trespass to escalate is great.
With all of this considered, it’s easy to understand that victims suffer. “Anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction and severe depression are found more often in stalking victims than the general population.(3) Almost half of all victims live in terror because they simply have no way of knowing what will happen next.(1) Almost a third of victims fear that the stalking will never end.
Stalking is a growing and universal issue that affects as many as 6.6 million Americans each year.(2) January is National Stalking Awareness Month. If you experience stalking, take precautions to protect yourself:
- Start by telling someone.
- Alert the police department every time you feel endangered.
- Even if the law has not been broken, ask to file a police report.
- Whenever possible elicit the help of trusted family or friends to keep you company. Not only will you have an ally in desperate situations but you will also have a witness. This is key because stalking is a “course of conduct;” a pattern has to be established in order to fulfill the legal requirements to pursue recourse. Having a witness will strengthen your evidence.
- Document everything. Again, in order for your tormentor to be arrested and CONVICTED you need to show evidence. Do not delete voicemails, text messages, emails, or instant messages. If unwanted “gifts” are left for you, take pictures or secure these items in a safe place.
- Whenever possible, let your employer know what is happening and what they can do to keep you safe. Perhaps your employer has a security team that will maintain awareness. Maybe your supervisor will change your shift.
- Changing routine may also be helpful; especially if you are being followed. You may need to do this periodically.
- Be alert online. Avoid social media altogether, but if you must use it make sure you understand privacy settings and are stringent about who can access your information.
- Monitor your computer for any suspicious icons/applications. Some tech-savvy stalkers have actually succeeded in installing spyware on their target’s computer.
- Finally, stay true to your boundaries because attempting to communicate with a stalker may only serve to encourage his/her resolve. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REASON WITH A STALKER!
Remember, Stalking is a serious crime and is growing increasingly rampant. If you are experiencing this torment, know that it is not your fault, and that you are not alone. If you or someone you know have questions or need help please contact A Woman’s Place hotline at 800.220.8116, it is 24/7, free, private and confidential.
*If you have additional helpful tips for victims please share them in the comments below.
1 – Baum, K., Catalano, S., Rand, M., & Rose, K. (2009). Stalking Victimization in the United States. Retrieved January 8, 2015, from http://www.victimsofcrime.org/docs/src/baum-k-catalano-s-rand-m-rose-k-2009.pdf?sfvrsn=0
2 – Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M.R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 7, 2015 from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf
3 – Blauuw, E., Winkel, F., Arensman, E., Sheridan, L., & Freeve, A. (2002). The Toll of Stalking, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 17, no. 1. Retrieved January 9, 2015, from https://www.victimsofcrime.org/docs/src/blaauw-e-winkel-f-w-arensman-e-sheridan-l-freeve-a-2002.pdf?sfvrsn=0
4 – Schlesinger, Louis B. (1996). Explorations in Criminal Psychopathology: Clinical Syndromes with Forensic Implications. Illinois: Charles C Thomas.