January is National Stalking Awareness Month
January is National Stalking Awareness Month when we turn our attention toward teaching and learning about the dangers of stalking. Whether you are in a relationship or not, the more you know about what stalking looks like, the methods perpetrators use to stalk their victims and the role of digital technology, the more prepared you’ll be in preventing stalkers from harassing and/or otherwise harming you and your family.
First and foremost, stalking is about gaining power and control over another person by using a repeated pattern of behaviors that include unwanted attention, harassment and/or to make threats that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety and/or the safety of others. That said, definitions of stalking are not universal and may vary by federal, state and Tribal court jurisdictions.
Contrary to what horror movies may lead you to believe, perpetrators of stalking are rarely a complete and total stranger. Instead, the perpetrator is more likely to be a former intimate partner, current partner or may even be a trusted friend or associate. Making matters worse, signs of stalking may also be masked by a romantic gesture such as leaving flowers and chocolates on a car window. However, the signs become more obvious as the perpetrator increases their effort to persuade or gain control over their victim.
According to the National Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence Survey (2010) some of the more alarming stalking statistics include:
- Two-thirds (66.2 percent) of female victims of stalking were stalked by a current or former intimate partner; men were primarily stalked by an intimate partner
- One in six women (16.2 percent) and 1 in 19 men (5.2 percent) in the United States have experienced stalking that elicited fear and believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
In cases of domestic violence, stalking is a form of coercive control that escalates when an intimate partner tries to leave an abusive relationship. Perpetrators use every resource at their disposal and that includes digital technology.
Digital Abuse and Cyberstalking
Digital abuse is a tactic of domestic violence when abusers hurt, threaten or intimidate their partner through the use of cell phones, computers and social media. Digital abusers may take away phones, iPads, or computers to control who the victim can contact. They may also demand access to your online social media accounts, read through your messages and impersonate you when sending threatening or degrading messages to your friends and family.
Digital technology is very useful for parents with young children as they can track and locate their children using a cell phone’s global positioning system (GPS) digital tracking technology. Unfortunately, this same technology can be used to track and stalk current and former intimate partners. The stalker may even use online forums, chat rooms, and message boards to send, post or share negative, harmful, even false information. In many cases, this type of behavior crosses into unlawful or criminal behavior.
Digitally compromised victims may experience:
- Planting devices: Apple Air tags can be planted in cars or hidden in outerwear, purses and luggage to track people without their knowledge.
- Video-voyeurism: involves installing video cameras that give the stalker access to someone’s personal life. Some perpetrators may use undetectable tiny cameras placed in bedroom fixtures or smoke detectors fully equipped with listening devices and cameras to take pictures and record videos.
- Spyware: Spyware allows the abuser to monitor activity on the victim’s computer as well as cell phone or other handheld devices. Monitoring can be done remotely nowhere near an unsuspecting victim.
What You Can Do
If you are being harassed or stalked on-line, there are several things you can do.
Trust your instincts. If you suspect that someone knows too much about you and/or your activities, you could have a stalker.
- Plan for Safety. If you suspect that your computer is compromised, you can download a free anti spyware scanner and removal software or use a computer at the public library, church, or a community center.
- Be hyper vigilant, especially if your abuser is technologically savvy.
- Create new email accounts. Use an anonymous name and eliminate any information that an abuser could use to find you. Change passwords and pin numbers.
- Disable Digital Devices: Consider turning off your cell phone when not in use; and check your cell phone settings to see if it has been GPS enabled and consider turning it off.
- Minimize the use of cordless phones and baby monitors. Turn these devices off if you do not want your conversations overheard.
- Review StrongHearts additional Privacy Tips
Safe Passwords and Other Safety Measures
To maintain safety, victim survivors can also:
- Change passwords: Use gender neutral passwords; and, try to avoid using birth dates, numbers or phrases that your abuser may recognize.
- Use a donated or new cell phone: Consider using a prepaid phone or phone cards and check to see if the local rape crisis center or shelter provides these types of phones.
- Get a private mailbox and don’t give out your real address.
- Search for your name on the Internet. This can help you determine what information is online and if search engines have access to your contact information.
StrongHearts and Other Resources
If you are in an abusive relationship and think you are being stalked, StrongHearts Native Helpline can help you plan for safety and/or connect you to service providers nearest your location. Learn more about the Address Confidentiality Programs (ACP/Safe at Home) in your state. Victim survivors can also reach out to the Stalking Resource Center and the Victim Connect Helpline at 855-4-VICTIM (855-484-2846).
“The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.” 2010 Summary Report, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 187635 (November 2011). Accessed December 13, 2021.